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The credit ratings game

The spectacular failure of top-rated structured finance products has brought renewed attention to the conflicts of interest of Credit Rating Agencies (CRAs). We model both the CRA conflict of understating credit risk to attract more business, and the issuer conflict of purchasing only the most favorable ratings (issuer shopping), and examine the effectiveness of a number of proposed regulatory solutions of CRAs. We find that CRAs are more prone to inflate ratings when there is a larger fraction of naive investors in the market who take ratings at face value, or when CRA expected reputation costs are lower. To the extent that in booms the fraction of naive investors is higher, and the reputation risk for CRAs of getting caught understating credit risk is lower, our model predicts that CRAs are more likely to understate credit risk in booms than in recessions. We also show that, due to issuer shopping, competition among CRAs in a duopoly is less efficient (conditional on the same equilibrium CRA rating policy) than having a monopoly CRA, in terms of both total ex-ante surplus and investor surplus. Allowing tranching decreases total surplus further. We argue that regulatory intervention requiring upfront payments for rating services (before CRAs propose a rating to the issuer) combined with mandatory disclosure of any rating produced by CRAs can substantially mitigate the con.icts of interest of both CRAs and issuers.

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Paper provided by Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra in its series Economics Working Papers with number 1149.

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Date of creation: Jan 2009
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Handle: RePEc:upf:upfgen:1149
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.econ.upf.edu/

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  1. Marco Pagano & Paolo Volpin, 2012. "Securitization, Transparency, and Liquidity," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 25(8), pages 2417-2453.
  2. Benmelech, Efraim & Dlugosz, Jennifer, 2009. "The alchemy of CDO credit ratings," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 56(5), pages 617-634, July.
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  6. Dion Bongaerts & K.J. Martijn Cremers & William N. Goetzmann, 2009. "Tiebreaker: Certification and Multiple Credit Ratings," NBER Working Papers 15331, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Roland Strausz, . "Honest Certification and the Threat of Capture," Papers 018, Departmental Working Papers.
  8. Bo Becker & Todd Milbourn, 2008. "Reputation and competition: evidence from the credit rating industry," Harvard Business School Working Papers 09-051, Harvard Business School, revised Sep 2010.
  9. Reinhart, Carmen & Levich, Richard & Majoni, Giovanni, 2002. "Ratings, rating agencies and the global financial system: Summary and policy implications," MPRA Paper 13249, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  10. Antoine Faure-Grimaud & Eloïc Peyrache & Lucía Quesada, 2009. "The ownership of ratings," RAND Journal of Economics, RAND Corporation, vol. 40(2), pages 234-257.
  11. Emmanuel Farhi & Josh Lerner & Jean Tirole, . "Fear of Rejection? Tiered Certification and Transparency," Working Paper 78856, Harvard University OpenScholar.
  12. Roman Inderst & Marco Ottaviani, 2009. "Misselling through Agents," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(3), pages 883-908, June.
  13. Alessandro Lizzeri, 1999. "Information Revelation and Certification Intermediaries," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 30(2), pages 214-231, Summer.
  14. Arnoud W. A. Boot & Todd T. Milbourn & Anjolein Schmeits, 2006. "Credit Ratings as Coordination Mechanisms," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 19(1), pages 81-118.
  15. Ashcraft, A. & Goldsmith-Pinkham, P. & Vickery, J., 2010. "MBS Ratings and the Mortgage Credit Boom," Discussion Paper 2010-89S, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
  16. Hand, John R M & Holthausen, Robert W & Leftwich, Richard W, 1992. " The Effect of Bond Rating Agency Announcements on Bond and Stock Prices," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 47(2), pages 733-52, June.
  17. Beatriz Mariano, 2008. "Do Reputational Concerns Lead to Reliable Ratings?," FMG Discussion Papers dp613, Financial Markets Group.
  18. Jose A. Scheinkman & Wei Xiong, 2003. "Overconfidence and Speculative Bubbles," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 111(6), pages 1183-1219, December.
  19. Navin Kartik, 2009. "Strategic Communication with Lying Costs," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 76(4), pages 1359-1395.
  20. Efraim Benmelech & Jennifer Dlugosz, 2010. "The Credit Rating Crisis," NBER Chapters, in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 2009, Volume 24, pages 161-207 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  25. repec:rje:randje:v:37:y:2006:1:p:155-175 is not listed on IDEAS
  26. Jean-Jacques Laffont & Jean Tirole, 1993. "A Theory of Incentives in Procurement and Regulation," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262121743, June.
  27. Kartik, Navin & Ottaviani, Marco & Squintani, Francesco, 2007. "Credulity, lies, and costly talk," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 134(1), pages 93-116, May.
  28. Stolper, Anno, 2009. "Regulation of credit rating agencies," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 33(7), pages 1266-1273, July.
  29. Harrison, J Michael & Kreps, David M, 1978. "Speculative Investor Behavior in a Stock Market with Heterogeneous Expectations," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 92(2), pages 323-36, May.
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