Experimental feature

Listen to this article

Experimental feature

Calling all farmyard animals. Material presented to the US Congress last week suggested that credit ratings agencies were less than picky about who (or what) structured deals in the good times. Analysts from Standard & Poor’s made the now-infamous remark that the agency would rate a deal “structured by cows”, but results on Wednesday from Moody’s underlined the agencies’ latest challenge. US structured finance revenues fell by 65 per cent, on a dearth of issuance, as overall revenues dropped 17 per cent on the third quarter of last year.

Expectations were sufficiently dismal, however, for Moody’s to beat forecasts. No matter – the outlook becomes ever worse. The agency is more dependent on debt issuance than S&P, which benefits from education and media businesses. With spreads on investment grade industrial debt approaching levels not seen since the 1930s, there is little hope of a recovery before year’s end in spite of a backlog in issuance. International markets look set to join the US’s slump. Moody’s will struggle to cut costs to support the bottom line, and shaved its full-year outlook on Wednesday. The agency more than doubled its staff from the beginning of 2002 to 2007 and, while it is squeezing compensation, headcount has risen fractionally this year.

The analytics business, which provides research, valuation and risk management tools, now comprises 30 per cent of revenues, against 20 per cent last year, but will slow as financial institutions retrench. It could benefit if wary investors opt to do more number-crunching themselves. Structured finance markets, now surviving on issues destined for central banks’ funding programmes, will likely recover in a smaller, simpler and less lucrative form. The rhetoric from Washington grows increasingly hostile, with debate raging over whether issuers or investors should, in the future, pay for ratings. Meanwhile, the question is when will revenue growth return and in what form – without, that is, resorting to bovine-backed securities.

To e-mail the Lex team confidentially click here


To post public comments click here

Lex is the FT’s agenda-setting column, giving an authoritative view on corporate and financial matters. It is also one of the few parts of FT.com available only to Premium subscribers. This article is provided for free as an example. A Premium subscription gives you unlimited access to all FT content, including all Lex articles and the FT mobile Newsreader.

Subscribe now

If you have questions or comments, please e-mail help@ft.com or call:

US and Canada: +1 800 628 8088

Asia: +852 2905 5555

UK, Europe & Rest of the world: +44 (0)20 7775 6248

Get alerts on Financials when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.

Comments have not been enabled for this article.

Follow the topics in this article