U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission inspectors said a large credit rating firm “appeared to allow” for a pending rating decision to be disclosed to certain people before the action was publicly announced.
The finding, issued in a report today, comes about a month after the agency began a review of whether Standard and Poor’s employees improperly told certain investors about its decision to downgrade U.S. debt before doing so on Aug. 5.
The finding was part of the SEC’s first report of annual inspections of credit-rating firms, mandated by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act. Carlo di Florio, head of the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations, declined to identify any of the firms referenced in the report.
“If we find any concerns or significant violations of law we make referrals to the Enforcement Division and they take appropriate action,” di Florio said in a conference call with reporters today.
S&P’s downgrade of the U.S.’s AAA grade to AA-plus contributed to an equity rout that erased about $6.8 trillion from global stocks since late July. The rating company had already warned on July 14 that it would reduce the ranking in the absence of a credible plan to decrease deficits even if the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt limit were lifted.
SEC inspectors have examined whether meetings between S&P staff and certain investors to discuss the possible rating cut violated rules that prohibit confidential information from being disclosed selectively to some market participants, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter. The SEC has also reviewed S&P’s methodology for the downgrade and whether proper review procedures were followed, the person said.
Ed Sweeney, an S&P spokesman, said today that the firm is reviewing the report and declined further comment.
In August, Sweeney said the firm “takes its confidential information and securities trading policies, and the related securities regulation, very seriously. Our policies prohibit analysts or rating committee members from trading and holding securities or options of the companies or governments they rate.”
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