Audit Roundup: Bloomberg Bites the Raters

Looks at S&P, Moody's flops; what price junk? etc.

While the focus now is rightly on how to prevent a (possible) economic apocalypse, let’s not forget the key players who got us into this fiasco. Bloomberg keeps the spotlight on the credit-ratings agencies, which were essential in the making of this crisis, in an in-depth two-part series.

The lede is a terrific synopsis of how abysmal the ratings agencies were:

Frank Raiter says his former employer, Standard & Poor’s, placed a “For Sale” sign on its reputation on March 20, 2001. That day, a member of an S&P executive committee ordered him, the company’s top mortgage official, to grade a real estate investment he’d never reviewed.

The Times looks at just how hard it is to figure out a price for all this junk gumming up the financial works. It’s a problem that could cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars in a bailout.

Harold Meyerson in this morning’s Washington Post, reminds us that despite the fact that all the politicians are scrambling on the regulation train, the parties’ fundamental philosophies belie the heinie-covering.

“…America may be a republic of amnesiacs, but deep in some seldom-used brain lobe, it does recall that its two political parties have differed on questions of regulation and stimulating the economy, a comparison that does not now work in Republicans’ favor.”

In my post this morning, I listed five questions the press should be asking right now about the crisis and the bailout plan. Columbia Business School professor Amar Bihde sort of gets at the “too big to fail” question in Forbes, arguing that these behemoth financial companies need to be dismantled.

Politico also hits that angle, with a look back at the 1999 repeal of the Glass Steagall Act, which split up banks and investment banks. It quotes Rep. John Dingell before the vote, “in words that sound unusually prescient now”:

“[W]hat we are creating now is a group of institutions which are too big to fail,” he said then in words that sound unusually prescient now. “Not only are they going to be big banks, but they are going to be big everything, because they are going to be in securities and insurance, in issuance of stocks and bonds and underwriting, and they are also going to be in banks.

Floyd Norris has a good rundown of yesterday’s hearings on Capitol Hill, and catches Sen. Elizabeth Dole blaming Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for the credit crisis, probably leaning on the work of people like Kevin Hassett, who co-wrote “Dow 36,000” a year before the tech bubble burst (and is now a senior McCain adviser).

Adding, this Jon Weil piece at Bloomberg on how the bailout plan is a big feint to inflate asset values is a must-read. Weil’s framing of the issues throughout the crisis has been tremendous.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.