The Justice Department’s lawsuit against Standard & Poor’s this week has revived focus on the role of the rating agencies in causing the financial crisis. Yet four years after shoddy mortgage investments bearing top grades nearly took down the country’s economy, government attempts to revamp the rating-agency industry have stalled.
Nearly everyone agrees there needs to be an overhaul of the way complex financial products get rated for their riskiness. But attempts to change the system keep running into the same roadblock: The rating agencies, however flawed, have become so crucial to the workings of Wall Street that no one can live without them.
Experts say that the Justice Department lawsuit is not enough — and that the longer the government delays broad solutions, the more vulnerable the economy is to the risks that took it down in 2008.
The lawsuit “may help the government appear to be dealing with the problem and holding the S&P to account, but that isn’t dealing with the core problems,” said Jeffrey Manns, associate professor of law at George Washington University.