Friday, June 20, 2008

A letter in Washington Post: An Aspect of the Bubble

An Aspect of the Bubble

The June 17 installment in the front-page series "The Bubble," though comprehensive, missed one vital piece of the subprime mortgage puzzle. The accompanying glossary defined a "credit rater" as "a company that Wall Street and investors rely upon" to provide analysis but did not tell us that a credit rater's credibility is foremost based on the rater's having been appointed by bank regulators. This arrangement sent the market the loud, clear and false message that risks could be precisely measured and that these entities were capable of carrying out this mission.

Nothing whetted the appetite for securities collateralized with plainly lousy mortgages as much as the combination of high returns and prime credit ratings. Using a regulatory system for banks that is based on following the credit rating agencies will, given that it is human to err, lead us into even greater danger.