The Bond Rating Fiasco Is Back

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.

The Wall Street Journal reports that bond rating firms are once again in brutal competition, which allows bond issuers to promote only the highest rating their funky new products receive:

Fierce competition among ratings firms in a fast-growing corner of the bond market is allowing issuers to cherry pick the most favorable ratings. The result is that securities deemed safe by the ratings firms have increasingly smaller cushions against losses.

The security in question is a cross between two of Wall Street’s hottest markets—commercial mortgage bonds, which are backed by mortgage payments on apartment buildings, malls and the like—and collateralized loan obligations, which are pools of bonds backed by payments on corporate borrowings.

I won’t pretend that the ratings fiasco of the aughts was a huge driver of the 2008 financial collapse. Still, it played a role. By routinely slapping AAA ratings on opaque and complicated securities, rating agencies helped make them more popular than they otherwise would have been. When the collapse came, this meant the world was flooded with trillions of dollars worth of CDOs that had iffy counterparties and lots of hidden risk, essentially causing the entire market to freeze up because no one knew for sure which issues were solid and which ones weren’t. This made an already bad situation even worse.

And now it’s happening again. Of course it is. Because Wall Street is incapable of keeping lessons in its tiny collective head for more than about five or six good years. Then the Minsky cycle seizes them yet again.

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate