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Wednesday, 19 October 2011

The Curse of the Ratings Agency

Now I’m not an expert and I guess many of us aren’t but we are all probably beginning to form an opinion about this new being on the horizon: the credit rating agency. These faceless organisations who seem able to dictate an incredible amount of news and shape opinion about banks and countries.

I know they are not new and there have been many a similar organisation offering the same damning opinions on individuals who have had trouble with banks over the years. I was never comfortable with the concept as judgement was passed on people with no real knowledge of their personal circumstances. Simply a blunt ‘computers says no’ response, pushing the desperate victim into the jaws of sharks.

None us will have much sympathy for the debate round the board room table of a bank for a trash rating as it’s unlikely anyone individually would lose much sleep. Maybe they would be forced to turn over in the beds as to whether they could still afford the third house by the sea. The thing that disturbs me most is that they seem to be able to form an opinion stream that results in pretty damning economic consequences. There ability to mark a plague cross on any organisation or country can begin a chain reaction that costs people livelihoods. The facts that the debate are the same in voting chambers and media offices makes no difference, as at least they have a remote accountability for what they produce. These agencies have no accountability and the cynic in me suggests they have a clear motive for profit.

It could work one of two ways. I can imagine a battle among the agencies to be the first to shout ‘Plague’ for any of the organisations rumoured to be in trouble. There has to be a race because there’s nothing for coming second in this media scrum. They want to be first in the news because now everyone will know who they are. The agency whose second to shout will not be in with a sniff of attention. Assuming that attention is what these agencies seek, the media clamber over a new announcement must create a pressure to shout at the absolute earliest opportunity, and maybe ultimately before absolutely necessary therefore ruining a reputation with no justification. This has now turned into a rumour of rumour which leads to more uncertainty in a market place which is already dithering.

The second tactic, and the really cynically option is that these agencies are complying with short selling. They are deliberately driving down the reputation of an organisation for someone to profit on the reduced share price. This may absolutely not be the case, and is purely a point of view from the layman, but with the various dark rooms in which the financial market operates, it’s hard to see that somewhere from all of this doom and gloom there isn’t someone laughing his arse off.

It’s an inevitable conclusion, because it would be absolutely straightforward to start a rumour of success and stability. Start talking up the market, start reassuring financiers that the world will not end tomorrow. If a few trillion is wiped off a stock exchange the sun will still rise. People will still need to eat and do all the things that make the world go round. They may do it off less money and struggle a while, but it will still happen. Why? Because it has to. The world keeps turning and the wheel is relentless.

The game of politics and economics is just that, it’s a game played round the roulette wheel. The money doesn’t go anywhere. It’s like energy it recycles itself. In the end financiers can’t stop that roulette wheel turning because if they did, society would descend into oblivion and the comfortable life they created would die with it. That’s why if they wanted to and when the financiers believe they’ve made enough profit from doom, they can respin the wheel of fortune.

© S.G.Norris

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