Justice Department Investigating Standard & Poor's

An investigation opens to see if an analyst's decision was ever influenced by the business.

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The Justice Department has begun an investigation into shady business practices at Standard & Poor's before the financial collapse in 2008, The New York Times reports. The investigation into the world's largest credit agency began before S&P downgraded the United States' credit rating from AAA to AA+>. S&P scored huge profits off bestowing high ratings on over-valued mortgage bundles making them "less risky and more valuable," without foreseeing the oncoming housing collapse or its effects. The Justice Department is investigating whether or not the business side of Standard & Poor's used their leverage to skew the ratings on any of the loan in a quest for more profit:

In the mortgage inquiry, the Justice Department has been asking about instances in which the company’s analysts wanted to award lower ratings on mortgage bonds but may have been overruled by other S.& P. business managers, according to the people with knowledge of the interviews. If the government finds enough evidence to support such a case, which is likely to be a civil case, it could undercut S.& P.’s longstanding claim that its analysts act independently from business concerns.

The SEC are also investigating S&P for any "possible wrongdoing." For now, S&P is the only ratings agency being looked at by the SEC and the Justice Department. The SEC "may be" looking at Moody's or Fitch, and it's "unclear" if the Justice Department is. Richard Sylla, a professor at NYU, told The Times a case from the Justice Department would have "a major impact if there was a successful fraud case that would suggest there would be momentum for legislation that would force them to change their business model." Right now, the ratings agency makes money off the companies they rate, which leaves the door open for an improved rating in exchange for customer satisfaction.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.