Rating Agencies

Guest Post: Equities In Dallas And Sovereign Debt Ratings

“Equities in Dallas” was the worst job a trainee at Salomon brothers could get. I have to believe that the G-20 sovereign debt rating group was the equivalent at the rating agencies. It wasn’t volatile and sexy like Emerging Markets. It had nothing to do with the core business of rating corporate debt. It had even less to do with the fast growing structured product business. It must have been a pretty dull place to work. I think that is important because it means, certainly at this stage that all the decisions on sovereign debt are being made at a very high level within the rating agencies. Someone isn’t running some numbers and coming up with a rating proposal. Some people are sitting around in a room, trying to figure out what rating they want to give, or need to give, or can get away with giving. Knowing that these decisions are being made at the highest levels of the firm and have nothing to do with what any analyst in the area says or does is important in trying to figure out where the ratings go next.

As Treasury Continues Childish Sniping At S&P While Losing Credibility, Investors Lose Sleep

Today at about 4 pm, the Treasury's John Bellows issued a hastily written statement, in which he explained why in his view, a day after a historic downgrade of its debt, the $2 trillion mistake that S&P made "raises fundamental questions about the credibility and integrity of S&P’s ratings action." What is ironic is that in the explanation, it is the Treasury's own credibility that is put at stake. Supposedly the reason for the mix up is as follows: "S&P incorrectly added that same $2.1 trillion in deficit reduction to an entirely different “baseline” where discretionary funding levels grow with nominal GDP over the next 10 years. Relative to this alternative “baseline,” the Budget Control Act will save more than $4 trillion over ten years – or over $2 trillion more than S&P calculated. (The baseline in which discretionary spending grows with nominal GDP is substantially higher because CBO assumes that nominal GDP grows by just under 5 percent a year on average, while inflation is around 2.5 percent a year on average." So let's get this straight: the Treasury department is kicking and screaming at S&P for daring to downgrade the US, when it is using as its baseline a forecast prepared by the same CBO which back in 2001 predicted a net negative debt balance by 2008 (!), and which in the same year expected 2011 US GDP to be $16.9 trillion, and a budget surplus of about $1 trillion, putting any S&P forecast from the peak of the credit bubble, to shame, but far more importantly, Bellows, and his plethora of bosses, is pissed that the S&P did not use a baseline that assumes a 5% GDP annual growth, when current annualized GDP, 2 years after the end of the recession, is under 2%? And this is what is supposed to make S&P less than credible? This is like the pot and the kettle having commenced global thermonuclear warfare.

PIMCO: "U.S. Downgrade Heralds A New Financial Era"

Time for deeply introspective Op-Eds galore. Not too surprisingly, the first one comes from blogging powerhouse Pimco, and its chief literary superstar, Mo El-Erian, titled "U.S. Downgrade Heralds a New Financial Era." While Mohamed's outlook is mostly politically correct fluff, he does bring up the absolutely spot on point that FrAAAnce is about to become FrAAnce, which also means that Germany's worst nightmare: that of backstopping the EFSF entirely on its own, is about to become reality.

USSAAA - S&P Reconsiders Downgrade After White House Challenge

McGraw-Hill: meet Chicago-style negotiations. And there, in one sentence, is all that is broken with this country. The reason for the beyond ridiculous horse trade, according to CNN: S&P analysis of U.S. revenue, deficit picture was questioned. Presumably S&P ignored to add the $10 quintillion dollars that were saved by America not declaring war on Tatooine and its most infamous Hutt resident: Larry Summers. Indeed, again according to CNN, S&P acknowledged some errors in its analysis. Isn't it amazing what being threatened with having your NRSRO license can do for motivation to double check your work, eh you pathetic sellouts? Who would have thought that last week's farce debt ceiling would continue and develop into a national pastime. Below, for the sake of S&P's non-existent conscience and incompetence, are their own guidelines for what constitutes an AAA-rated credit. Readers can decide if the US is one. In other news, in USSAAA, government downgrade rating agency.

Reggie Middleton's picture

The Fearful Flight To Quality Trade stuffs global capital into US treasuries once again, negative yields forthcoming! As Bernanke, et. al. gambled, Europe collapses first - suppressing our gambling costs to record levels. Hey, it was either Europe or China, and our bet was Europe too! Kudos Mr. Bernanke for kicking the can down the road once again.

The War Against The Rating Agencies Begins: Italy Prosecutor Seizes Moody's, S&P Documents

And so the war against the rating agencies is now official as a floundering Europe does anything in its power to scapegoat anyone and everyone, starting with its natural sworn enemy of course, the rating agencies. According to Reuters, "Italian prosecutors have seized documents at the offices of credit rating agencies Moody's and Standard & Poor's in a probe over Suspected "anomalous" Fluctuations in Italian share prices, a prosecutor said on Thursday." Ah yes, it is Moody's fault that Unicredit, Intesa, Fiat and pretty much all other Italian companies now close limit down at least once a day. Either way, this is sure to end well. We will bring you more as we see it.

Guest Post: EFSF - Too Small? Too Big? Or Just Wrong?

The EFSF plan to let countries buy bonds at a discount is a true Catch-22 proposition. If they don’t source many bonds, the benefit to the country is too small to make a difference at the sovereign level, and sovereign contagion risk remains in play. But if they are able to buy a meaningful amount of bonds, those bonds will be coming from banks that had been desperately avoiding taking the mark to market hit, potentially triggering contagion among the banks. The narrow window where this program might stop sovereign contagion without triggering bank contagion is too small to think that a bunch of politicians or economists will be able to steer the course accurately and that some other unintended consequence won’t rear its ugly head.

Daily US Opening News And Market Re-Cap: August 1

Markets reacted positively to news that the White House and senior Congressional leadership had agreed, in principle, a deal to raise the US debt ceiling, which provided support to European equities, and weighed on Bunds, whereas the Eurozone peripheral 10-year government bond yield spreads narrowed across the board. A renewed appetite for risk provided strength to WTI and Brent crude futures, and spot Gold prices came under pressure. Elsewhere, commodity-linked currencies, including AUD, NZD and CAD, remained the prominent beneficiaries at the cost of safe-haven currencies, such as CHF, JPY and USD. In other forex news, GBP came under extensive pressure after manufacturing PMI data from the UK demonstrated a contraction, and reached its lowest level since Jun'09. Moving into the North American open, the economic calendar remains thin, however markets look ahead to the ISM manufacturing data from the US. With regards to the US debt debate, focus now shifts to whether the US debt ceiling deal can go through the House and Senate before an August 2nd deadline, and any reaction from major rating agencies pertaining to US's sovereign ratings.

Highlights From This Morning's "Meet The Press"

Below are the key clips from this morning's Meet The Press which is devoted exclusively to proponents of the status quoTM, whose entire argument boils down to the syllogistic: "cut spending yes... but not today...never today" In fact, it is best to make any cuts the next administration's problem. So assuming Obama gets reelected, and there is another debt ceiling hike, which there will have to be, it means about $7 trillion on top of the currently debated $3 trillion, whoever inherits this mess from Obama (who in turn inherited his mess from Bush, who in turn inherited his mess from Clinton, and so on), will have $24 trillion debt to deal with on day 1, with about $16-17 trillion of GDP. And that person will have to cut spending? What idiot would want that job? Anyway, we fully expect the paid government workers from the rating agencies to shortly upgrade the US to AAA+ on renewed growth prospects courtesy of 140% debt to GDP in 5 years...and that excludes the $7 trillion in off balance sheet GSE debt.

Guest Post: Whack-A-Mole

Bernanke and the Fed have to re-evaluate the grade they gave to QE2. How we have such a massive revision in Q1 GDP is hard for me to understand. Seriously, we need to find a way to get better data, but with a 0.4% quarter right in the heart of QE2, it is clear it did nothing to help the real economy. And yes, it is getting old, but I will say it again, the market is not the economy. I am now cutting all my short. I had cut some coming into this week, as I was scared of the rally, but kept enough on that I can't complain too much. I am flat and tempted to go long. We've had a big move, and government resolution is likely to come, but it feels like that is a crowded trade. No one seems really afraid, and everyone seems to expect a bounce. Just because everyone expects it, doesn't make it wrong, but I'm concerned that all the longs will pop out of their holes the second a deal is announced. They will look around for someone to panic and take them out of their positions on the debt ceiling news. Then they will look some more, and then realize that no one is caught short or surprised and they will scurry to get out of their positions. Well, I just convinced myself to go back to putting on a small short.

Frontrunning: July 29

Amid Debt Battle, More Americans Say Economy Getting Worse (Gallup)
Treasury Faces Pressure to Detail Backup Plan (WSJ)
Debt-Increase Dispute Tests Boehner’s Power (Bloomberg)
U.S. Economic Growth Probably Slowed (Bloomberg)
IMF Board Holds Informal Board Meeting On EU's Greek Financing Deal (WSJ)
Why are we in this debt fix? It’s the elderly, stupid (WaPo)
France Seeks Rapid Adoption of Greek Bail-Out (FT)