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Should We Trust Companies to Rate Their Own Asset-Backed Securities?

by Carol Villegas
Eyes On Wall Street |

Last week, the SEC proposed new rules that would require issuers, instead of credit rating agencies, to vouch for the soundness of their asset-backed securities. The types of securities that would be affected by these regulations are bundles of loans that generate profits through regular payments, such as residential mortgages, student loans and commercial loans.

While current rules require that such asset-backed securities be rated "investment grade" by a nationally recognized statistical rating organization, the 667 page proposal would require asset-backed securities issuers to (1) certify that the assets will likely produce the type of return described in the prospectus; (2) keep at least a 5% stake in the asset backed securities; (3) provide investors with a way to confirm that the assets conform to the issuer's representations and warranties; and (4) update the SEC with Exchange Act reports on an ongoing basis (as opposed to only updating the SEC with Exchange Act reports after the first year, as these issuers are currently allowed to do).

Credit rating agencies generated large fees in the years leading up to the recent financial crisis when they offered AAA ratings to catastrophically risky bundles of home loans made to unqualified buyers. These ratings failed to give investors sufficient notice of the true risk associated with many asset backed securities, a phenomenon that played a significant role in the financial sector collapse. The SEC has stated that the rule changes, which would also seek to regulate expedited "shelf offerings," are intended to "eliminate the appearance of an imprimatur" that might result from a rating issued by a government-approved agency.

There is no question that proposed regulations' intent "to better protect investors in the securitization market" is a laudable one.However, some might suggest that the proposed rules serve mainly to distance the government from the acts of the credit rating agencies, without addressing the conflicts of interest that give rise to flawed ratings in the first place.