Deal on stricter EU rules for sovereign debt ratings

29-11-2012 — / — Credit rating agencies will have to obey additional rules on sovereign debt ratings, including three set dates per year for issuing them, under a deal agreed by Parliament, the Council and the Commission on Tuesday. Cross-ownership of agencies and the entities that they rate will be limited to prevent conflicts of interest.

“It was a very difficult process, but we have taken the existing legislation a step forward on a path which will have to be explored further”, said lead MEP Leonardo Domenici (S&D, IT).

Some MEPs argued that more must be done to curb the behaviour of agencies whose ratings may be ill-timed or ill-founded and thus aggravate the economic crisis. They believe that  the rating market needs more competition, and that rated entities should develop their own rating capacities to counterbalance those of the agencies.

Rating calendar

Parliaments’ negotiators ensured that sovereign debt ratings will not come “out of the blue”, at the most inappropriate times, by fixing three set dates per year when credit rating agencies may issue them.

Sovereign debt ratings will have to be prepared with due consideration for the specific circumstances of each member state. The deal also says that the research and assumptions underlying agencies’ sovereign debt ratings must be made clear.

It is essential that the EU should assess member states’ creditworthiness, and the European Commission should the possibility of developing a European creditworthiness assessment, added Parliament’s negotiators.

End automatic reliance on ratings

To reduce reliance on ratings and improve the agencies’ credibility, all references to “external ratings” in EU law will be checked to see whether they trigger automatic reactions to ratings. If so, these references are to be deleted by 2020, subject to appropriate alternatives to credit risk assessment being identified and implemented.

Conflicts of interest

To ensure that conflicts of interest do not impair the quality of ratings, MEPs inserted limits on cross-shareholdings. Where an investor simultaneously holds shares in more than one credit rating agency, these shares must not exceed 5% and must be disclosed to the public. Furthermore, agencies must not hold a stake of more than 10% in any entity that they rate.

Civil liability

Where an agency has committed, intentionally or with gross negligence, any of the infringements listed as having an impact on a credit rating, an investor or issuer may claim damages from that agency for losses due to the infringement. In the case of share issues, however, the issuer will have to first establish that the infringement was not caused by misleading and inaccurate information supplied by the issuer to the credit rating agency, directly or through publicly available information.

Next steps

The political text agreed by the three parties will now be polished in three-way technical meetings between the institutions, before Parliament puts it to a plenary vote in January 2013 (tbc).



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