Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

February 15, 2013

California’s S&P Suit

By David Reiss

The California complaint follow on the heels of the DoJ complaint but it hangs its hat on an aggressive theory — that S&P’s ratings violate California’s False Claims Act.  While I do not yet have an opinion about whether that is a stretch, I do note the allegations in the complaint add to the tragicomic ones that we have seen in the other complaints filed against rating agencies.  Here are some of the more quote-worthy ones:

  • S&P executives “suppressed development of new, more accurate rating models that would have produced fewer AAA ratings -and therefore lower profits and market share. As one senior managing director at S&P later confessed, “I knew it was wrong at the time.” (3)
  • “S&P knew that its rating process and criteria had become so degraded that many of its ratings were, in the words of one S&P analyst, little better than a “coin toss.” During those years, its models were “massaged” using “magic numbers” and “guesses,” in the words of other senior S&P executives.” (3)
  • “it rated notes issued by structured investment vehicles (“SIVs”) another type of security central to this case-without obtaining key data about the assets underlying the SIVs. A reporter later asked the responsible executive about this failing: “If you didn’t have the data, and you’re a data-based credit rating agency, why not walk away” from rating these deals? His response was remarkably candid: “The revenue potential was too large.” (4)

This complaint, like the others, highlights the chasm between S&P’s representations of its own conduct and the alleged behavior set forth in the complaint.  Indeed, the complaint states that representations by employees which were authorized by S&P “about its integrity, competence, and the quality of its ratings were knowingly false.” (19)

If the facts in this complaint prove to be true, some of the statements by employees seem hard to explain away:

  • “As explained by Kai Gilkes, an S&P managing director of quantitative analysis at the time, analysts were encouraged to loosen criteria:  The discussion tends to proceed in this sort of way. “Look, I know you’re not comfortable with such and such assumption, but apparently Moody’s are even lower, and if that’s the only thing that is standing between rating this deal and not rating this deal, are we really hung up on that assumption?” (21)
  • “[w]e just lost a huge … RMBS deal to Moody’s due to a huge difference in the required credit support level … [which] was at least.1 0% higher than Moody’s. . . . I had a discussion with the team leads here and we think that the only way to compete is to have a paradigm shift in thinking.” (21)
  • “S&P’s highest management ordered a credit rating estimate even though S&P lacked vital loan data to perform the necessary analysis. This resulted in the “most amazing memo” Mr. Raiter had “ever received in [his] business career.” When Mr. Raiter requested the necessary loan level data, Richard Gugliada, the head of S&P’s CDO group at the time, rejected the request, stating: “Any request for loan level tapes is TOTALLY UNREASONABLE!!! : .. Furthermore, by executive committee mandate, fees are not to get in the way of providing credit estimates…. It is your responsibility to provide those credit estimates and your responsibility to devise some method for doing so.” (22)


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