Friday, July 08, 2011

europe, free speech, and the sinister repression of the rating agencies

Telegraph | Before we all join the chorus of abuse against the robber agencies, let us not lose sight of what is happening in the eurozone. The EU authorities are attempting to muzzle free opinion, first by threatening Fitch, Moody’s, and S&P with vague retribution, and then by drafting restrictive laws to prevent them from publishing unwelcome messages.

It is financial repression, pure and simple. The same will be done to the press in due course. Then to you, dear reader.

“We must break the oligopoly of the rating agencies,” says German finance minister, Wolfgang Sch√§uble. By “we”, of course, he means the EU apparatus of coercion.

The European Commission has already created a pan-EU oversight body with binding powers to breathe down the necks of these agencies. It will draft restrictive legislation by the end of the year. The Portuguese downgrade ensures that it will be even nastier.” Developments since the sovereign-debt crisis show we need to take a further look at reinforcing our rules,” said Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso.

Mr Barroso came close to accusing the agencies of cartel activities and a malicious agenda.

“It’s quite strang that the market is almost dominated by only three players. It seems strange that there is not a single rating agency coming from Europe. It shows that there may be some bias in the markets when it comes to the evaluation of the specific issues of Europe.”

Leaving aside the not-small matter that Fitch is owned by the French group Fimalac (quoted on the Paris bourse), or that it is largely run by Britons who belong to the EU and contribute to Mr Barroso’s salary, this talk of anti-European bias cannot pass unchallenged.

Currency unions switch exchange risk into default risk. The rating on countries in currency unions ought to be lower therefore (ceteris paribus). States with their own sovereign currency and debt in their own currency can let the exchange rate take the strain when they get into trouble, as the US and the UK have done. Foreign investors lose money on the exchange rate. There may be all kinds of risks and dangers in the US and the UK, but default is not high on the list (discounting the US soap opera over the debt ceiling).

This not the case at all for EMU laggards. They cannot devalue or inflate away debt. The stress shows up in the bond markets instead. The more relevant comparison in this respect is between the Euroland’s Club Med states and California. The Anglo-Saxon agencies do not rate many US states at AAA. California is A- and may lose that soon enough.

To compare the ratios of national debt to GDP levels in the Anglosphere with those in Europe, as the EU elites tirelessly do, is to the miss the point. My gripe against the agencies is not that they are downgrading all these semi-bankrupt states today, but that they totally failed to signal the inherent dangers of EMU a long time ago when the crucial investment decisions were being made. They too were swept up by euro euphoria. They too failed to understand the inherent structure of monetary union, or to spot obvious warning signs as the drama unfolded and the North-South divide became ever-more apparent. They handed out AAAs like confetti.

That is the great indictment of Fitch, S&P, and Moody’s in this sovereign saga, especially Moody’s (which has since replaced much of its French-led sovereign team). Moody’s still had a A3 rating on Greece in May 2010. Unbelievable.

2 comments:

Big Don said...

Golly, when we saw that graphic, we thought perhaps this post would visit the Atlanta Public Schools scandal...

CNu said...

One of these days, I'm gonna write a tell-all book about that very topic BD. What an absolutely tragic collision of politics, self-interest, avoidance of scrutiny, political correctness, generational divide, digital native vs. non-native, etc, etc, etc..., it is an institutional hot mess nationwide that needs to be reinvented from the ground up - and which is absolutely incapable of reinventing itself.

Bottomline, it's going to have to be competitively forced to reinvent itself or die by a harshly disruptive and game-changing alternative.

Thank goodness that's been the object of my last five years of basement research....,

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