Just over two years ago, we reported that "The Farce Is Complete: S&P Downgrades Moody's To BBB+ From A-2", or in other words, one rating agency downgraded another rating agency, with the following rationale: "While we believe it is likely that the new pleading standard will lead to an increase in litigation-related costs at Moody's and therefore poses an element of risk, whether the new pleading standard may increase the likelihood of successful litigation against Moody's will be determined in the future by the courts.... Moody's management has stated that it plans to adapt its business practices in an effort to offset any potential new litigation-related costs associated with the legislation. Nevertheless, we believe that Moody's will likely face higher operating costs, lower margins, and increases in litigation-related event risk that we believe may present risks to the company's reputation." Well talk about irony, and of course role-reversal, now that it is not Warren Buffett's pet company Moody's (which is just as guilty as US-downgrading S&P was in rating financial toxic garbage as AAA), but S&P that was just sued by the DOJ and the kitchen sinks. And the last laugh - the piece de resistance as it were - sure enough, belongs to Moody's, which just downgraded S&P parent McGraw Hill.
Just a purely accidental modest to quite modest increase in the Heinz June $65 call open interest yesterday, and an even more accidental $1.5 million profit in one day? Surely the new Morgan Stanely head of the SEC will get right on it, and market "credibility" will be preserved.
While Moody's slipped over 20% when the DoJ announced its cajillion dollar lawsuit against S&P for knowing the crisis was coming but not telling anyone, it later bounced back over 10% as investors believed the non-US-downgrading rating agency (that happened to be owned by Buffett) was too-big-to-jail. After-hours today, Reuters is reporting that the Justice Department and multiple states are discussing also suing Moody's Corp for defrauding investors, according to people familiar with the matter, but any such move will likely wait until a similar lawsuit against rival Standard and Poor's is tested in the courts. The stock is trading down 3% after-hours as sources (not authorized to speak publicly) added "don't think Moody's is off the hook." We can't help but think about the pending sequester-delaying deficit spike as perhaps, to appear impartial, the DoJ will keep the threat of a lawsuit against Moody's alive... during the entire period when the US may and should be downgraded.
We urge readers to do a word search for "Moody's" in the official department of justice release below. Here are the highlights:
DOJ COMPLAINT ALLEGES S&P LIED ABOUT ITS OBJECTIVITY - when it downgraded the US?
HOLDER SAYS S&P'S ACTIONS CAUSED `BILLIONS' IN LOSSES - did Moody's actions, profiled previously here, which happens to be a major holding of one Warren Buffett, cause billions in profits?
HOLDER SAYS `NO CONNECTION' BETWEEN S&P SUIT, U.S. DOWNGRADE - just brilliant
Pure pathetic political posturing, because it was the rating agencies, whose complicity and conflicts of interest everyone knew about, who were responsible for the financial crisis. Not Alan Greenspan, not Ben Bernanke, and certainly not Wall Street which made tens of billions in profits selling CDOs to idiots in Europe and Asia. Of course, the US consumer who had a gun held against their head when they were buying McMansions with no money down and no future cash flow is not even mentioned.
- Obama to meet with Goldman's Blankfein, other CEOs Tuesday (Reuters)
- Chinese Firms Shrug at Rising Debt (WSJ)
- McGraw-Hill, S&P Sued by U.S. Over Mortgage-Bond Ratings (BBG)... but not Moody's or Fitch
- Dime a Dozen: Dollar Stores Pinched by Rapid Expansion (WSJ)
- Dell Board Said to Vote Monday Night on $24 Billion LBO (BBG)
- BOJ Governor Shirakawa to step down on March 19 (Reuters)
- Alberta may offer more to smooth way for Keystone (Reuters)
- Facebook Is Said to Create Mobile Location-Tracking App (BBG)
- Barclays takes another $1.6 billion hit for mis-selling (Reuters)
- Apple App Advantage Eroded as Google Narrows IPhone Lead (BBG)
- Texas School-Finance System Unconstitutional, Judge Rules (BBG)
- World Risks ‘Perfect Storm’ on Capital Flows, Carstens Says (BBG)
Egan-Jones may have been barred from rating sovereigns for 18 months due to missing a comma here or there in its NRSRO application (when everyone knows this was merely retribution for downgrading the US ahead of all the other rating agencies), but now the time has come for that other rating agency which dared to follow in EJ's footsteps and downgrade the US of AmericaAA+ in August 2011 to be punished: Standard & Poors. Moments ago we learned that federal and state prosecutors will five civil charges against S&P for its mortgage bond ratings during the housing crisis.
Gold fell $4.00 or 0.24% in New York yesterday and closed at $1,654.90/oz. Silver climbed to $31.30 in Asia before it eased off to $30.73 and finished with a loss of 1.09%.
Early in the 4th century, Emperor Diocletian issued an infamous decree to control spiraling wages and prices in the rapidly deteriorating Roman Empire. As part of his edict, Diocletian commanded that any merchant or customer caught violating the new price structures would be put to death. This is an important lesson from history, and a trend that has been repeated numerous times. When nations are in terminal economic decline, governments will stop at nothing to keep the party going just a little bit longer. I thought of Diocletian’s desperation a few days ago when I read about the recent sanctions imposed on US rating agency Egan-Jones. Given that all this is happening at a time when Congress is voting to suspend the debt ceiling entirely, these actions are the clearest sign yet of just how desperate the government has become. Could the warning signs be any more obvious?
It is refreshing to see that the SEC has taken a much needed break from its daily escapades into midgetporn.xxx and is focusing on what is truly important, such as barring outspoken rating agency Egan-Jones from rating the US and other governments. From the SEC: "EJR and Egan made a settlement offer that the Commission determined to accept. Under the settlement, EJR and Egan agreed to be barred for at least 18 months from rating asset-backed and government securities issuers as an NRSRO. EJR and Egan also agreed to correct the deficiencies found by SEC examiners in 2012, and submit a report – signed by Egan under penalty of perjury — detailing steps the firm has taken." Hopefully the world is no longer insolvent in July of 2014 when this ban runs out.
Call it "X Date", call it "D(elinquent/efault)-Day", call it what you will: it is simply the day past which the US government will no longer be able to rely on "extraordinary measure" to delay the day of reckoning, and will be unable to pay all its bills without recourse to additional debt. It is not the day when the US defaults, at least not defaults on its debt. It will begin "defaulting" on various financial obligations, such as not paying due bills on time and in full, but since this is something Europe's periphery has been doing for years, it is hardly catastrophic. It will hardly be pleasant, however, as some 40% of government obligations go unfunded, and the US is converted to a walking, talking bankruptcy as unsecured claimants rush to demand priority, as the market, long living on hope and prayer, realizes that only now is it truly without a cliff under its feet, and most importantly, as suddenly $500 billion in maturing debt between February 15 and March 1 finds itself in a very, very precarious position.
With precisely one month left until the early bound of the debt ceiling crunch and a possible US government shut down and/or technical default, and with M.A.D. warnings from the president and treasury secretary doing nothing to precipitate a sense of urgency (which will not arrive until there is a 20% market drop, so far consistently delayed but which will eventually happen), here comes the most toothless of rating agencies, French Fitch which somehow kept its mouth shut over the past 18 months, when US debt rose by over $2.1 trillion and debt to GDP hit 103%, shaking a little stick furiously, no doubt under guidance by its corporate HoldCo owners: French Fimilac SA.
The debt limit was formally reached last week, and we expect the Treasury's ability to borrow to be exhausted by around March 1 (if not before) and while CDS are not flashing red, USA is at near 3-month wides. Like the previous debt limit debate in the summer of 2011, the debate seems likely to be messy, with resolution right around the deadline. That said, like the last debate we would expect the Treasury to prioritize payments if necessary, and Goldman does not believe holders of Treasury securities are at risk of missing interest or principal payments. The debt limit is only one of three upcoming fiscal issues, albeit the most important one. Congress also must address the spending cuts under sequestration, scheduled to take place March 1, and the expiration of temporary spending authority on March 27. While these are technically separate issues, it seems likely that they will be combined, perhaps into one package. This remains a 'very' recurring issue, given our government's spending habits and insistence on its solvency, as we laid out almost two years ago in great detail.
Having passed the 'easy-do-nothing' bill that created a 5% uplift in US equities, D.C. have left the most difficult set of issues for last: entitlement reform, which Republicans have said they will insist upon in return for raising the debt limit, and tax reform, which the President has said he will insist on in return for entitlement reform. The upshot is that reaching an agreement on the next debt limit increase could be at least as difficult as the last increase in August 2011. As Goldman notes, the next debate on the debt limit will be the fifth "showdown" on fiscal policy in the last two years. Adding further angst, in the summer of 2011 politicians had started the debate some three months prior to the real deadline. This time it appears that nothing serious will happen until the 11th hour as usual, meaning far more last minute volatility. However, one new twist to this now familiar routine may come from the rating agencies, which look likely to be more active in 2013 than they have been since 2011.
Moody's has stepped forward with the first warning shot across the bow that:
- *MOODY'S: MORE MEDIUM TERM ACTIONS MAY BE NEEDED TO SUPPORT Aaa
Has contradicted itself (from September) on the debt-ceiling breach; and warns that while the deal 'mitigates' some fiscal drag, it does not remove it. To wit: the IMF piles on:
- *IMF SAYS `MORE REMAINS TO BE DONE' ON U.S. PUBLIC FINANCES
- *IMF SAYS U.S. DEBT CEILING SHOULD BE RAISED `EXPEDITIOUSLY'
Full statements below.
- Grand Bargain Shrinks as Congress Nearing U.S. Budget Deadline (BBG)
- Budget Talks Cloud Outlook (WSJ)
- Obama to cut vacation short to deal with fiscal crisis (Reuters)
- Stop-gap fix most likely outcome of "fiscal cliff" talks (Reuters)
- Aso Named Japan’s Next Finance Chief as Abe Primes Fiscal Pump (BBG)
- Aluminum Glut No Bar to Gains as Barclays Says Sell (BBG)
- Morsi signs controversial charter into law (FT)
- Children, many ill, would be victims of Russia ban on U.S. adoption (Reuters)
- Turkey Central Bank Unveils New Tool to Limit Bank Debt Risk (BBG)
- Refi Program Expansion Eyed (WSJ)
- India Joins Indonesia Facing Heightened Policy Dilemma (BBG)