Journal: Credit Raters In Line for “Windfall”

The Journal has a smart story on page one today making the good point that the TALF program will result in a “windfall” for the credit-ratings agencies. You know, those are the folks as responsible as anybody for the fact that we need to have a TALF program in the first place.

Each bond issue will need to be blessed by at least two of the three big rating firms: Moody’s Investors Service, Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services and Fitch Ratings.

The Journal appropriately pointing out the glaring problems with that. What has changed from how these guys did business in the bubble?

Critics say Moody’s, S&P, a unit of McGraw-Hill Cos., and Fimalac SA’s Fitch have made few fundamental changes to the way they assess debt. Officials at all three firms say they have taken steps to avoid a repeat of past mistakes in assigning ratings.

They are still paid for their ratings by the companies whose bonds they rate, a potential conflict of interest. And much-anticipated competition for the three companies has failed to materialize so far.

We’re still all-too-dependent on this corrupt system. It’s a system rigged to where those who create the mess get paid at every stage: They get big bucks to create the mess (see entire financial industry to 2007). They get big bucks for threatening to make the mess messier (see AIG bonuses). And they get big bucks to clean up the mess (this story, and many others).

And now they cower in fear in their mansions as the mobs grow angrier and angrier.

Good for the Journal for pointing this out.

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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.