Credit rating agencies in the hot seat

By Blake Ellis, staff reporter


New York (CNNMoney.com) -- Until now, banks have been taking much of the heat for the recent financial crisis. But the credit rating agencies that blessed dodgy mortgage backed securities are coming under fire too.

On Friday, the CEO of Moody's and the former president of Standard & Poor's, in addition to a number of other credit rating agency leaders, testified on Capitol Hill.

The hearing, before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, was the third in a series exploring the causes of the financial crisis and focused specifically on the involvement of credit rating agencies.

In addition, the work of rating agencies will be scrutinized by the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission at an upcoming hearing. The date hasn't been announced, but it will take place before Labor Day, a spokesman for the commission said.

In the mean time, the commission is scheduled to hold a separate hearing on May 5-6, titled "The Shadow Banking System."

The hearing won't specifically concentrate on credit rating agencies, but their role in the financial collapse "would be hard not to look at," commission Chairman Phil Angelides said Wednesday on a conference call.

"I think it's fair to say that credit agencies were involved broadly in the products and practices involved with this crisis," Angelides said. "The activities of credit agencies are of interesting concern to the commission."

The hearings come as fraud allegations against Goldman Sachs have revived public debate about the cause of the financial meltdown.

On Friday, the Securities and Exchange Commission accused the investment bank of defrauding investors by failing to disclose a conflict in which hedge fund Paulson & Co. helped pick risky loans for a portfolio of mortgage securities it was also betting against.

Moody's Investors Service and Standard and Poor's Ratings Services both gave part of the portfolio an AAA rating, indicating that it was a safe bet for investors.

As part of the crisis inquiry commission's investigation, the panel subpoenaed Moody's on Wednesday after the agency failed to hand over documents "in a timely manner," Angelides said.

The commission requested the information more than a month ago, on March 10. But until the subpoena's issuance, Moody's had not provided any of the requested documents.

"Moody's has and continues to devote substantial resources to producing documents and making our people available to the FCIC, our regulators, State Attorneys General, Congress and many others tasked with understanding the financial crisis and the role of the rating agencies," Moody's said in a statement.

"We hope and expect they will comply," said Angelides. "They have now begun to supply some materials, but they have many more documents to produce." To top of page

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