Last month was a quiet watershed in debt capital market history, reversing the decades-old, untrammeled legal privilege of rating agencies to express their credit views.
Superficially, the cases were very different—one in Hong Kong involving emerging market corporate research, another in the state of California involving a highly structured money market type investment—but both featured substandard credit information and spillover volatility into related, non-credit markets. The essence of the California case was whether ratings are automatically protected by the American Constitution, even if negligently produced. In a nutshell, the California courts said “no.” The essence of the Hong Kong case was whether its securities regulator, the SFC, had jurisdiction over credit research published by the agencies it licenses. In a nutshell, the Hong Kong Tribunal said “yes.”