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Keywords:

  • credit ratings agencies;
  • conflict of interest;
  • financial crisis;
  • mortgage-backed securities

The credit rating agencies that dominated the ratings of mortgage-backed securities were Moody's and Standard & Poor's. The two agencies rated some 4.3 trillion dollars of bonds as triple AAA, yet within a period of 18 months these same rating agencies downgraded these bonds to below investment grade. This paper seeks to show that the ratings agencies business model, the issuer pays approach, led to major conflicts of interest with both the ratings agencies unable to walk away from a rating. The evidence given by analysts to Congressional Inquiries confirms a cultural revolution within the rating agencies, with analysts feeling unable to question the quality of a rating. Analysts who were described as being awkward by issuers were removed from the rating process. In the meantime, the income for the rating agencies increased from 3 billion dollars to 6 billion dollars, with the CEOs of the rating agencies receiving incomes comparable to the incomes to the CEOs of investment banks.