Why Credit Rating Agencies Exist

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Robert Rhee has posted Why Credit Rating Agencies Exist to SSRN. The abstract reads,

Although credit rating agencies exist and are important to the capital markets, there remains a question of why they should exist. Two standard theories are that rating agencies correct a problem of information asymmetry and that they de facto regulate investments. These theories do not fully answer the question. This paper suggests an alternative explanation. While rating agencies produce little new information, they sort information available in the credit market. This sorting function is needed due to the large volume of information in the credit market. Sorting facilitates better credit analysis and investment selection, but bond investors or a cooperative of them cannot easily replicate this function. Outside of their information intermediary and regulatory roles, rating agencies serve a useful market purpose even if credit ratings inherently provide little new information. This alternative explanation has policy implications for the regulation of the industry.

I do not think that there is much new in this short paper, but it does summarize recent research on the function of rating agencies. Rhee’s takeaway is that, “given their dominant public function, rating agencies should be subject to greater regulatory scrutiny and supervision qualitatively on levels similar to the regulation of auditors and securities exchanges.” (15) Amen to that.

Monday’s Adjudication Roundup

S&P’s Upbeat Outlook on Mortgage Market

S&P posted U.S. RMBS Roundtable: Mortgage Origination And Securitization In The Post-Qualified Mortgage/Ability-To-Repay Market. The roundtable discussion offers views on many aspects of the 2015 mortgage market, but I found this passage to be particularly interesting:

Originators agreed loans that fall outside of the safe harbor by virtue of interest-only (IO) features have been and will continue to be attractive non-QM lending products. These loans have been originated post-crisis, and originators expect to continue lending to high-quality borrowers with substantial equity in their properties. There was general consensus that IO loans should not have been automatically excluded from QM treatment.

However, large bank depository lenders have shown a desire to originate and hold larger balance IO loans on their balance sheets rather than including them in securitizations. One participant from a major depository institution indicated that, given the increasing IO concentration on those institutions’ balance sheets, there may be a desire to securitize these loans upon meeting balance sheet thresholds. (1)

After Dodd-Frank, there was a lot of concern that the Qualified Mortgage and Ability-to-Repay rules would shut down the mortgage markets. It seems pretty clear to me that lenders are figuring out how to navigate both the plain-vanilla world of the Qualified Mortgage and the exotic world of the non-Qualified Mortgage, with its interest-only and other non-prime products. Lenders are still figuring out how far afield they can roam from a plain-vanilla product, but that is to be expected during a major transition such as the one from the pre- to the post-Dodd-Frank world.