Standard & Poor's

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article

Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC
TypeSubsidiary of The McGraw-Hill Companies, limited liability company
IndustryFinancial services
Founded1860, present corporation status in 1941
Founder(s)Daryl Lethbridge
HeadquartersNew York City, United States
RevenueIncrease$2.61 billion US$ (2009)[1]
Employees10,000 (approximate)
ParentThe McGraw-Hill Companies
Jump to: navigation, search
Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC
TypeSubsidiary of The McGraw-Hill Companies, limited liability company
IndustryFinancial services
Founded1860, present corporation status in 1941
Founder(s)Daryl Lethbridge
HeadquartersNew York City, United States
RevenueIncrease$2.61 billion US$ (2009)[1]
Employees10,000 (approximate)
ParentThe McGraw-Hill Companies
Company headquarters at 55 Water Street in New York City (2008)

Standard & Poor's (S&P) is an American financial services company. It is a division of The McGraw-Hill Companies that publishes financial research and analysis on stocks and bonds. It is well known for its stock market indices, the U.S.-based S&P 500, the Australian S&P/ASX 200, the Canadian S&P/TSX, the Italian S&P/MIB and India's S&P CNX Nifty. The company is one of the Big Three credit-rating agencies, which also include Moody's Investor Service and Fitch Ratings.[2] Its head office is located on 55 Water Street in Lower Manhattan, New York City.[3]



The company traces its history back to 1860, with the publication by Henry Varnum Poor of History of Railroads and Canals in the United States. This book was an attempt to compile comprehensive information about the financial and operational state of U.S. railroad companies. Henry Varnum went on to establish H.V. and H.W. Poor Co. with his son, Henry William, and published annually updated versions of this book.[4][5]

In 1906, Luther Lee Blake founded the Standard Statistics Bureau, with the view to providing financial information on non-railroad companies. Instead of an annually published book, Standard Statistics would use 5" x 7" cards, allowing for more frequent updates.[4]

In 1941, Poor and Standard Statistics merged to become Standard & Poor's Corp. In 1966, the company was acquired by The McGraw-Hill Companies, and now encompasses the Financial Services division.[4]

Credit ratings

As a credit-rating agency (CRA), the company issues credit ratings for the debt of public and private corporations. It is one of several CRAs that have been designated a nationally recognized statistical rating organization by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

S&P issues both short-term and long-term credit ratings. Below is a partial list; see S&P's website for more information.

Long-term credit ratings

World countries by Standard & Poor's Foreign Rating:[6][7]
Green - AAA
Turquoise - AA
Lighter blue - A
Dark blue - BBB
Purple - BB
Red - B
Grey - not rated

The company rates borrowers on a scale from AAA to D. Intermediate ratings are offered at each level between AA and CCC (e.g., BBB+, BBB and BBB-). For some borrowers, the company may also offer guidance (termed a "credit watch") as to whether it is likely to be upgraded (positive), downgraded (negative) or uncertain (neutral).

Investment Grade

Non-Investment Grade (also known as junk bonds)

Short-term issue credit ratings

The company rates specific issues on a scale from A-1 to D. Within the A-1 category it can be designated with a plus sign (+). This indicates that the issuer's commitment to meet its obligation is very strong. Country risk and currency of repayment of the obligor to meet the issue obligation are factored into the credit analysis and reflected in the issue rating.

Stock market indices

It publishes a large number of stock market indices, covering every region of the world, market capitalization level and type of investment (e.g., indices for REITs and preferred stocks)

These indices include:

Governance scores (GAMMA)

A GAMMA score reflects S&P's opinion of the relative strength of a company's corporate-governance practices as an investor protection against potential governance-related losses of value or failure to create value. GAMMA is designed for equity investors in emerging markets and is focused on non-financial-risk assessment, and in particular, assessment of corporate- governance risk.

History of CGS and GAMMA scores

S&P has developed criteria and methodology for assessing corporate governance since 1998 and has been actively assessing companies' corporate-governance practices since 2000.

In 2007, the methodology of stand-alone governance analysis underwent a major overhaul to strengthen the risk focus of the analysis based on the group's experience assigning governance scores. GAMMA analysis focuses on a number of risks that vary in probability and expected impact on shareholder value. Accordingly, S&P's analysis seeks to determine the most vulnerable areas prompt to potential losses in value attributable to governance deficiencies. Recent developments in the international financial markets emphasize the relevance of enterprise risk management and the strategic process to governance quality. GAMMA methodology incorporates two new elements, addressing these areas of investor concern. It also promotes the culture of risk management and long-term strategic thinking among companies.

GAMMA methodology components

  1. Shareholder influence
  2. Shareholder rights
  3. Transparency, audit, and enterprise risk management
  4. Board effectiveness, strategic process and incentives

GAMMA scale

For the GAMMA score, the S&P uses a numeric scale from one to ten (with ten being the best possible score). At the S&P's discretion, a GAMMA score can be publicly disseminated or used privately.

Downgrade of U.S. long-term credit rating

On August 5, 2011, following enactment of the Budget Control Act of 2011, S&P lowered the US's sovereign long-term credit rating from AAA to AA+.[9] The press release sent with the decision said, in part:

  • " The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the Administration recently agreed to falls short of what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government's medium-term debt dynamics.
  • " More broadly, the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges to a degree more than we envisioned when we assigned a negative outlook to the rating on April 18, 2011.
  • " Since then, we have changed our view of the difficulties in bridging the gulf between the political parties over fiscal policy, which makes us pessimistic about the capacity of Congress and the Administration to be able to leverage their agreement this week into a broader fiscal consolidation plan that stabilizes the government's debt dynamics any time soon."[9]

The United States Department of the Treasury, which had first called S&P's attention to its $2 trillion error in calculating the ten-year deficit reduction under the Budget Control Act, commented, "The magnitude of this mistake – and the haste with which S&P changed its principal rationale for action when presented with this error – raise fundamental questions about the credibility and integrity of S&P’s ratings action."[10] The following day, S&P acknowledged in writing the US$2 trillion error in its calculations, saying the error "had no impact on the rating decision" and adding:[11]

In taking a longer term horizon of 10 years, the U.S. net general government debt level with the current assumptions would be $20.1 trillion (85% of 2021 GDP). With the original assumptions, the debt level was projected to be $22.1 trillion (93% of 2021 GDP).[11]

Downgrade of France's long-term credit rating

On November 11, 2011 S&P erroneously announced the cut of France's triple-A rating (AAA). French leaders said that the error was inexcusable and called for even more regulation of private credit rating agencies (CRA's).[12][13][14][15] On January 13, 2012 S&P truly cut France's AAA rating, lowering it to AA+. This was the first time since 1975 that Europe's second-biggest economy, France, had been downgraded to AA+. The same day S&P downgraded the rating of eight other European countries: Austria, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Malta, Slovenia, Slovakia and Cyprus.[16]


The company publishes The Outlook, a near-weekly (48 times a year) stock market analysis newsletter, which is issued both in print and online to subscribers.

Standard & Poor's Governance Services analysts issue a monthly GAMMA Newsletter containing comments and views on corporate governance-related matters in emerging markets (BRIC and beyond).


CRAs such as S&P have been subject to criticism in the wake of large losses beginning in 2007 in the collateralized debt obligation (CDO) market that occurred despite being assigned top ratings by the CRAs.

Credit ratings of AAA (the highest rating available) were given to large portions of even the riskiest pools of loans. Investors trusting the low-risk profile that AAA implies, purchased large amounts of CDOs that later became unsaleable. Those that could be sold often took staggering losses. For instance, losses on $340.7 million worth of CDOs issued by Credit Suisse Group added up to about $125 million, despite being rated AAA by S&P.[17]

Companies pay S&P to rate their debt issues. As a result, some critics have contended that S&P is beholden to these issuers and that its ratings are not as objective as they ought to be and that, in fact, this "pay to play" model makes their ratings meaningless at best and perhaps would more accurately be compared to the role of the "shill" in a game of three card monte.

In April 2009, the company called for "new faces" in the Irish government, which was seen as interfering in the democratic process. In a subsequent statement they said they were "misunderstood".[18]

Some critics have pointed out that the company and other rating agencies were part of the cause of the global financial crisis of 2008–2009, for example when Moody's downgraded Freddie Mac[19] or, to quote Time, when "both agencies granted AAA rating to Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs) that were chock-full-of crap mortgages, thereby helping to precipitate the 2008 financial collapse"[20]). Ezra Klein wrote for The Washington Post that "Standard Poor's didn't just miss the bubble. They helped cause it," but he said S&P took the right action to downgrade the U.S.[21] On the other hand, Paul Krugman wrote, "it’s hard to think of anyone less qualified to pass judgment on America than the rating agencies," and, "S&P’s demands suggest that it’s talking nonsense about the US fiscal situation".[22] Perhaps more revealing and supportive of Paul Krugman's comment, David Wyss, who was chief economist at S&P till July 2011 noted to a reporter on August 17, 2011: "The credit agencies don't know any more about government budgets than the guy in the street who is reading the newspaper."[23] Such insider comments lay fresh doubts about the key ratings decisions by S&P. And, in a recent Wall Street Journal article, Mark Adelson, S&P's chief credit officer since June 2008, openly decried the quality of S&P analysis and analysts; yet the majority of them (including Clifford Griep, the former chief credit risk officer) remain employed by S&P. While Mark Adelson reviewed and edited the U.S. downgrade notice, he did not really question the reasoning, nor spot the $2 trillion error in the computations. Furthermore, on August 6, 2011, the CEO Deven Sharma publicly stated that he had no prior knowledge that such a rating change was even in the works for the prior day, but quickly went on to defend the move; in a surprise development, Deven Sharma left S&P in early September amid mounting criticism of the firm's ratings and research.

With the US downgrade some have accused S&P of causing further damage for its own agenda. S&P acknowledged making a US$2 trillion error in its justification for downgrading the US credit rating,[24] but stated that it "had no impact on the rating decision".[25] "A judgment flawed by a $2 trillion error speaks for itself,"[26] said a spokesman for the United States Department of the Treasury. Jonathan Portes, director of NIESR, Britain's longest established independent economic research institute, has observed that "S&P's record . . . is remarkable. The agency downgraded Japan's credit rating in 2002, since when it has had the lowest long-term interest rates in recorded economic history. That did not, however, stop S&P rating numerous sub-prime mortgage-backed securities as AAA, or maintaining its rating on Lehman Brothers until the bitter end."[27]

The SEC is investigating whether the intent to downgrade the U.S. was leaked prior to the public announcement, since the stock market fell sharply for no apparent reason a day earlier, fed by rumors of an impending downgrade. Another issue that has concerned commentators is that an S&P rating — for example, of the US government or any other national government — can have, and has had, a distinct effect on a truly global scale, but the decision on these ratings are made by the company's employees who are not elected by the public, and are not accountable for their decision making process. There is no appeals process against a credit-rating decision.

In August 2011, S&P filed a letter with the SEC in an attempt to water down a proposal requiring credit rating agencies to publicly disclose "significant errors" in how they calculate their ratings. The SEC proposal, issued in May 2011, would require credit raters to disclose more about their methods and strengthen internal controls to protect against conflicts of interest.[28][29]

Antitrust review

In November 2009, ten months after launching an investigation, the European Commission (EC) formally charged S&P with abusing its position as the sole provider of international securities identification codes for U.S. securities by requiring European financial firms and data vendors to pay licensing fees for their use. "This behavior amounts to unfair pricing," the EC said in its statement of objections which lays the groundwork for an adverse finding against S&P. "The (numbers) are indispensable for a number of operations that financial institutions carry out – for instance, reporting to authorities or clearing and settlement – and cannot be substituted.”[30]

S&P has run the CUSIP Service Bureau, the only International Securities Identification Number (ISIN) issuer in the US, on behalf of the American Bankers Association. In its formal statement of objections, the EC alleged "that S&P is abusing this monopoly position by enforcing the payment of licence fees for the use of US ISINs by (a) banks and other financial services providers in the EEA and (b) information service providers in the EEA." It claims that comparable agencies elsewhere in the world either do not charge fees at all, or do so on the basis of distribution cost, rather than usage.[31]

See also


  1. ^ "S&P | About S&P | Americas - Key Statistics". Standard & Poor's. Retrieved August 7, 2011. 
  2. ^ Blumenthal, Richard (May 5, 2009). "Three Credit Rating Agencies Hold Too Much of the Power". Juneau Empire - Alaska's Capital City Online Newspaper. Retrieved August 7, 2011. 
  3. ^ "Office Locations." Standard & Poor's. Retrieved on August 12, 2011. "Corporate 55 Water Street New York New York "
  4. ^ a b c "A History of Standard & Poor's". Retrieved October 19, 2011. 
  5. ^ "Corporations: Standard & Unpoor". Time magazine. October 13, 1961.,9171,939281,00.html. Retrieved October 19, 2011. 
  6. ^ "S&P | Ratings Sovereigns Ratings List | Americas". Standard & Poor's. Retrieved August 7, 2011. 
  7. ^ Reference for the United States: "United States of America Long-Term Rating Lowered To 'AA+' On Political Risks And Rising Debt Burden; Outlook Negative". Standard & Poor's. Retrieved August 5, 2011. 
  8. ^ "S&P SmallCap 600 –Overview". Standard and Poors.,3,2,2,0,0,0,0,0,2,1,0,0,0,0,0.html. Retrieved June 29, 2009. 
  9. ^ a b Swann, Nikola G et. al (August 5, 2011). "United States of America Long-Term Rating Lowered To 'AA+' Due To Political Risks, Rising Debt Burden; Outlook Negative" (Press release). McGraw-Hill Companies: Standard & Poor's. Retrieved August 5, 2011. 
  10. ^ Bellows, John (August 6, 2011). "Just the Facts: S&P's $2 Trillion Mistake". United States Department of the Treasury. Retrieved August 7, 2011. 
  11. ^ a b "Standard & Poor's Clarifies Assumption Used on Discretionary Spending Growth" (Press release). McGraw-Hill Companies: Standard & Poor's. August 6, 2011. Retrieved August 6, 2011. 
  12. ^ Horobin, William (November 11, 2011). "France Slams S&P for Downgrade Gaffe". The Wall Street Journal. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ Nazareth, Rita (November 10, 2011). "U.S. Stocks Advance as S&P Says It Did Not Downgrade France". The San Francisco Chronicle. 
  15. ^ Dilorenzo, Sarah (November 14, 2011). "France frets about prized AAA debt rating". The San Francisco Chronicle. 
  16. ^ Gauthier-Villars, David; Forelle, Charles (January 14, 2012). "Europe Hit by Downgrades". The Wall Street Journal: p. A1. 
  17. ^ Tomlinson, Richard; Evans, David (May 31, 2007). "CDO Boom Masks Huge Subprime Losses, Abetted by S&P, Moody's Fitch". Bloomberg. Retrieved August 6, 2011. 
  18. ^ GAA Video: (April 1, 2009). "Cowen Attacks Call for 'New Faces' in Cabinet". Irish Independent. Retrieved August 7, 2011. 
  19. ^ Associated Press (August 22, 2008). "Freddie Mac Courts Investors, Buffett Passes". International Herald Tribune (via Internet Archive). Archived from the original on 2008-09-15. Retrieved August 6, 2011. 
  20. ^ Klein, Joe (August 6, 2011). "Standard & Poor's Downgrades Itself". Time. Retrieved August 6, 2011. 
  21. ^ Klein, Ezra (August 6, 2011). "Standard & Poor's Has Been Wrong Before, But They're Right Now". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 6, 2011. 
  22. ^ Paul Krugman (August 5, 2011). "S&P and the USA". The New York Times. Retrieved August 8, 2011. 
  23. ^ Crutsinger, Martin; Rexrode, Christina (August 17, 2011). "Fitch Ratings keeps its rating on long-term U.S. debt at the highest grade of AAA". Retrieved October 19, 2011. 
  24. ^ Paletta, Damian (August 5, 2011). "U.S. Debt Rating in Limbo as Treasury Finds Math Mistake by S&P in Downgrade Warning". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved August 5, 2011. 
  25. ^ Adams, Richard (August 6, 2011). "US Stripped of AAA Credit Rating by S&P over Political Weakness". The Guardian (London). Retrieved August 7, 2011. 
  26. ^ Goldfarb, Zachary A. (August 5, 2011). "S&P Downgrades U.S. Credit Rating for First Time". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 5, 2011. 
  27. ^ Jonathan Portes (24 August 2011). "The coalition's confidence trick". New Statesmen. Retrieved 17 February 2012. 
  28. ^ Lynch, Sarah (August 10, 2011). "S&P balks at SEC proposal to reveal rating errors". Reuters. Retrieved August 10, 2011. 
  29. ^ Wang, Marian (August 10, 2011). "What’s a ‘Significant Error’? Standard & Poor’s Says Leave It To Us". ProPublica. Retrieved August 10, 2011. 
  30. ^ Securities Technology Monitor, ed. (2009). "EC Charges S&P With Monopoly Abuse". 
  31. ^ Finextra, ed. (2009). "European Commission Accuses S&P of Monopoly Abuse over Isin Fees". 

External links