Standard & Poor's Getting Heat for Downgrade Decision.


According to a Reuters report, the Securities and Exchange Commission is “reviewing” the decision of rating agency Standard & Poor’s to downgrade the federal government’s credit rating.

The decision to issue a downgrade—despite the fact that interest rates for US Treasury bonds remain at near-historic lows, and a lack of any evidence the country won’t be able to honor its obligations—has already been criticized by several powerful Washington players. Senator Tim Johnson, chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, blasted the decision last week in a statement. “In the minds of serious, reasonable, and informed individuals there is no doubt that the US will meet its debt,” he said. “I am deeply disappointed in S&P’s decision to enter into the game of political punditry.”
An aide told me the Banking Committee is “looking into the issue and gathering information.”

The SEC’s review is made possible by the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, which gave the agency expanded power to review the actions of rating agencies like Standard & Poor’s. The SEC cannot second-guess a rating decision outright, but can, however, make sure the issuing agency followed its own guidelines.

The current review into the downgrade decision is focused on Standard & Poor’s transparency rules, according to one Reuter’s source—whether, for example, the Standard & Poor’s committee held the necessary meetings on the decision. Given the very curious nature of the downgrade, it will be interesting to see if Standard & Poor’s complied with transparency rules in making it.
The SEC is also already undergoing a broader examination of all rating agencies, as required by the Dodd-Frank reforms. The agency will issue that report sometime in December. It has already removed references to the opinion of private rating agencies from federal guidelines, and created a separate metric for evaluating investments that could be used as an alternative to the current rating agencies.

If Standard & Poor’s was motivated to issue their downgrade as an assertion of power against increasing regulation, the SEC review would indicate the government is not cowed.

An alternate, or perhaps complimentary, theory of Standard & Poor’s downgrade decision is that the agency was trying to appear tough after having endorsed the mortgage-backed securities that eventually destroyed the economy. Last week, University of Massachusetts professor Robert Pollin told me that perhaps Standard & Poor’s was trying to create the impression that “they’re hardnosed, they’re courageous; this is their best objective analysis. All of a sudden, after being shill for the financial bubble, they’re going to be hard-nosed.” He added that perhaps Standard & Poor’s was trying to appear more decisive than the other two rating agencies, Fitch and Moody’s.

If that was indeed the strategy, it too may be backfiring. Amidst SEC and Senate “reviews,” and harsh comments from other prominent politicians about Standard & Poor’s, the rival agency Fitch announced this morning it is reaffirming the United States’ AAA rating and said it doesn’t anticipate downgrade.


Fishing inquiry must shine a light into dark places

"We want to have the fishing and processing
done by New Zealand operators employing
New Zealand workers on decent wages and
conditions” MUNZ General Secretary Joe Fleetwoo
The Maritime Union of New Zealand has welcomed today's announcement by the Government of the terms of reference and panel for an official and wide ranging inquiry into foreign owned vessels in the fishing industry.

Maritime Union General Secretary Joe Fleetwood says the Government's objectives sound good on paper, but the Union wants real answers.

"Enforceable rules and regulations for labour standards, and the need for New Zealand to benefit from our own resources, including jobs, are the big issues. This inquiry will need to shine a light into dark places."

"This inquiry is long overdue and the Maritime Union have been calling for one for many years. But we know in advance that this inquiry will confirm what we already know, that disgraceful practices have become the norm and accepted by the industry."

This has caused great harm, says Mr Fleetwood.

He says in 2006 new regulations were brought in to tighten up the rules around overseas crews on joint venture vessels, but the inquiry was effectively an admission that previous efforts had not cleaned up the industry.

"This is a problem that has been allowed to grow and grow for decades."

Mr Fleetwood says the Maritime Union's goal for the fishing industry was simple.

"We want to have the fishing and processing done by New Zealand operators employing New Zealand workers on decent wages and conditions. We want the phase out of joint ventures. They've been a failure, that has resulted in New Zealand being identified internationally as a place where disgraceful practices are condoned."

"If overseas crews are phased out, the abuse, exploitation and underpayment will be solved."

Mr Fleetwood says the Maritime Union would be working with other bona fide unions and the International Transport Workers' Federation to discuss ways to organize local and international labour in the industry.

Download the Inquiry Terms of Reference


"Not in New Zealand´s waters, surely?
Labour and human rights abuses aboard foreign fishing vessels"

Read to story Stuff, NZH