Letters 02-08-2016

Less Ageism, Please The January 4 issue of this publication proved to me that there are some sensible voices of reason in our community regarding all things “inter-generational.” I offer a word of thanks to Elizabeth Myers. I too have worked hard for what I’ve earned throughout my years in the various positions I’ve held. While I too cannot speak for each millennial, brash generalizations about a lack of work ethic don’t sit well with me...Joe Connolly, Traverse City

Now That’s an Escalation I just read the letter from Greg and his defense of the AR15. The letter started with great information but then out of nowhere his opinion went off the rails. “The government wants total gun control and then confiscation; then the elimination of all Constitutional rights.” Wait... what?! To quote the great Ron Burgundy, “Well, that escalated quickly!”

Healthy Eating and Exercise for Children Healthy foods and exercise are important for children of all ages. It is important for children because it empowers them to do their best at school and be able to do their homework and study...

Mascots and Harsh Native American Truths The letter from the Choctaw lady deserves an answer. I have had a gutful of the whining about the fate of the American Indian. The American Indians were the losers in an imperial expansion; as such, they have, overall, fared much better than a lot of such losers throughout history. Everything the lady complains about in the way of what was done by the nasty, evil Whites was being done by Indians to other Indians long before Europeans arrived...

Snyder Must Go I believe it’s time. It’s time for Governor Snyder to go. The FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the EPA Criminal Investigation Division are now investigating the Flint water crisis that poisoned thousands of people. Governor Snyder signed the legislation that established the Emergency Manager law. Since its inception it has proven to be a dismal failure...

Erosion of Public Trust Let’s look at how we’ve been experiencing global warming. Between 1979 and 2013, increases in temperature and wind speeds along with more rain-free days have combined to stretch fire seasons worldwide by 20 percent. In the U.S., the fire seasons are 78 days longer than in the 1970s...

Home · Articles · News · News · Poor Standards
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Poor Standards

None - August 19th, 2011  

By Stephen Tuttle

So, now we’ve been “downgraded” by the estimable Standard and Poor’s (S&P). We’ve fallen from a top-of-the-line AAA rating to AA+. No one is certain exactly how far the ripples from this will extend. The giant mortgage houses known as Freddie Mac (Federal Home Mortgage Association) and Fannie Mae (Federal National Mortgage Association) have already been similarly downgraded.

The rating system is supposedly designed to help lenders understand the creditworthiness of potential borrowers and for borrowers to receive a kind of credit score.

The coveted AAA rating simply means the recipient is a solid, stable country or corporation that fully pays its debt and is likely to do so in the future.

For corporations, the AAA rating means they can more easily borrow and that their stock is a safe investment. For a country, it means they can more easily borrow and have little trouble selling government bonds and treasury notes.

Standard & Poor’s is one of three rating services (the other two being Moody’s and Fitch’s, neither of which have similarly downgraded our rating from AAA). It was started in 1860 by Henry Poor as a service to analyze the financial condition of railroads. They eventually merged with the Standard Statistics Bureau, becoming Standard & Poor’s. They were gobbled up by international publishing and financial information giant McGraw-Hill in 1966.

So why does anybody care what Standard & Poor’s thinks? Good question.

The theory is there has to be some sort of “independent” guideline for lenders. S&P has become the leader because of their enormous size and media savvy. They’ve essentially created the metrics they use to determine credit-worthiness.

The problem is there is just no way to judge their judgment. The ratings are opinions based on several factors, many of which are almost entirely subjective. S&P doesn’t like our current political environment and suggests the problems are untenable. They don’t think there will be enough deficit reduction in the next two years and were nice enough to give us a figure to shoot for.

Some might consider that meddling where they best not. Others have suggested they are just doing their jobs. Either way, they’re speculating based on the anticipation of congressional behavior, a fool’s mission in the extreme.

It’s also troubling to many that on the corporate side, the rating agencies are paid by the companies they rate.

There is no evidence of overt quid pro quo, payments in exchange for high ratings. At the same time, all three are top heavy with well-rated companies. And there is a danger of a kind of osmotic corruption. Even the most honest analysts must be at least subconsciously aware they’re looking at a company that may have paid them a great deal of money. If the rating is poor there is really no point in that company repeating the process, or the payments, in the years to come.

There is also a question of accuracy.

The ratings services pretty much missed the tech bubble bursting in the late '90s and then completely botched, and in fact helped contribute to, the housing crash that started in 2007.

As you likely recall, the housing market was a spreading brushfire in the first few years of this century. More and more people with lower and lower credit were buying in a housing market that was nearing the peak of runaway prices. Lending institutions were handing out sub-prime and adjustable rate mortgages like they were free samples at a trade show.

Some bright folks at the London offices of Goldman Sachs thought it would be a swell idea to figure out a way to bundle thousands of the high-risk mortgages into investment instruments that weren’t really insurance or stocks or securities so they couldn’t really be regulated by anybody.

Other branches of Goldman Sachs and other investment houses thought this was a swell idea, too. Banks, insurance companies, pension funds and others invested in these collateralized debt obligations (CDO).

Things were going just swimmingly until the economy started to stagnate. Homeowners, especially those who obtained sub-prime mortgages at or near the zenith of the pricing frenzy, began to default on their loans and the bundled investment packages crashed. Billions were lost.

This is significant because S&P gave those CDOs the ballyhooed AAA rating despite the fact that any return on investment was dependent on people that, at least statistically, were significantly more likely to default. That rating encouraged even more investment in what was a doomed product.

The high-risk CDOs received the AAA rating. The United States, which hasn’t defaulted on external debt in 221 years or internal debt in 78, is downgraded to AA+. The logical conclusion is that Standard & Poor’s uses poor standards.

No poorer, however, than the celebratory reaction of some Republicans to the news of the downgrade. They just couldn’t be happier.

Sarah Palin spewed out a delighted “I told you so” and suggested we should have been listening to her. Other Republican presidential wannabes followed suit. There were additional rhetorical smiles as the stock market tanked. None of them have their own specific plan but, hey, if it hurts Obama they figure it’s good for them.

The rest of us don’t really factor into the equation.

It is not especially encouraging that a rating service and some politicians have become gleeful fellow travelers on what has seemed like a long downward economic spiral. Even less so given that Standard & Poor’s seems intent on contributing to a continued downturn and some folks who want to be president seem to be hoping for it.

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