Today saw fully $1.5 billion in CMBS bonds out for the bid from bank portfolios and insurance companies and CMBX AAAs down 2 points. Sellers were locking in price improvements, while buyers were loading up on bonds they think will tighten into a TALF/PPIP bid. But the real fun came from the rating agencies which downgraded or warned of downgrades all the way up the capital structure. S&P took several AAA-rated classes down tosingle-A or below, and Moodys was making noises about its own bout of upcoming downgrades. Given that AAA/Aaa ratings are needed for TALF eligibility, market consternation ensued.
What's happening is that the Rating Agencies have realized they are the arbiter of credit quality in TALF, on behalf of a Fed which, according to section 13 of the Federal Reserve Act of 1913, can't take on any credit risk. How else to explain the accelerated waiting periods between negative watch and downgrade? How awkward would it be if the AAA/Aaa bonds the Fed took on balance sheet were to inconveniently default! Better to downgrade into ineligibility now than testify before a congressional panel later.