Articles Posted in Moody’s

According to a letter written by prosecutors to Moody’s (MCO), the U.S. Department of Justice intends to sue the credit rating agency and its Moody’s Investors Services unit over valuations that the latter assigned to mortgage-backed securities leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. The MBS fraud case is expected to make claims about the way the agency rated collateralized debt obligations and residential mortgage-backed securities, as well as allege violations of the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act as it pertains to rating RMBSs and CDOs. Moody’s disclosed the expected case in an update that also included third quarter earning results.

Aside from the DOJ case, several states’ Attorney Generals are expected to pursue their own claims against Moody’s, except that their cases would be brought under state law.

A number of ratings companies have come under fire over their alleged failure to provide accurate warnings about the risks involved in investing in MBSs and CDOs leading up to the economic crisis. In 2013, the DOJ sued Standard & Poor’s over similar allegations, along with the claim that the agency misled investors for its own profit while misrepresenting the actual risks involved in the securities. Last year, S & P settled with the DOJ, the District of Columbia, and 19 states for almost $1.4B. The government and the states took issue with the way S & P rated the CDOs and RMBSs that it issued from ’04 to ’07.

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1st Circuit Reinstates Lawsuit Against Moody’s
The First Circuit Court of Appeals has reinstated the $5.9 billion residential mortgage-backed securities fraud case brought by the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston against Moody’s Investor’s Service, Inc. and Moody’s Corp. The bank claims that the credit rating agency knowingly issued false ratings on certain RMBSs that it had purchased.

A district court judge in Massachusetts had dismissed the lawsuit citing lack of personal jurisdiction. The judge also held that the court could not move the lawsuit to a different court where jurisdiction would be proper because cases dismissed for lack of jurisdiction could only be transferred if the dismissal was for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, not personal jurisdiction.

Now the First Circuit has vacated that ruling and found that transferring a case that has dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction is also allowed. It is moving the RMBS case to the district court, which will decide whether to move the case to New York.

Former Barclays Trader Pleaded Guilty to Libor Rigging
According to prosecutors in the U.K., ex-Barclays Plc. (BARC) trader Peter Johnson pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manipulate the London interbank offered rated in 2014. The government announced the guilty plea this week after lifting a court order that had prevented the plea from being reported until now. The disclosure comes as the criminal trial against five of Johnson’s former Barclays co-workers into related allegations is underway.

The defendants on trial are Jay Merchant, Stylianos Contogoulas, Alex Pabon, Ryan Reich, and Jonathan Matthew. They have pleaded not guilty to the charge of conspiracy to commit fraud. The U.K.’s serious fraud office claims that the men acted dishonestly when they turned in or asked others to submit rates for Libor.

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The State of California is suing Morgan Stanley (MS) for allegedly selling bad residential mortgaged backed securities. According to lawmakers, the firm sold residential mortgage-backed securities as risky loans to subprime lenders while downplaying or hiding the risks and at times encouraging credit raters to bestow the securities with high ratings that were not warranted. Because of these RMBS sales, contends the state, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CALPERS) and California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS) sustained devastating losses.

California claims that the firm violated the state’s False Claims Act and securities laws. A significant part of the case challenges Morgan Stanley’s behavior when marketing the Cheyne SIV, which was a structured investment vehicle that failed nine years ago. State Attorney General Kamala Harris is seeking $700M from the firm, as well as over $600M in damages.

Meantime, Morgan Stanley has argued that the case is meritless. It contends that the RMBSs were sold and marketed to institutional investors who were sophisticated enough to understand the investments. They claim that the RBMBs performed in a manner that was in line with the sector to which it belonged.

It was just recently that Moody’s Corp. reached an agreement with CalPERS to pay the California pension fund $130M to resolve allegations that the credit rating agency may have acted negligently by giving high ratings to toxic investments. CalPERS contended that its purchase of the investments cost it hundreds of millions of dollars.

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UBS to Pay $33M to NCUA Related to MBS Sold to Credit Unions
UBS AG (UBS) will pay $33 million to resolve a lawsuit filed by the National Credit Union Administration accusing the bank of selling toxic mortgage-backed securities to credit unions. The case revolves around MBS that were underwritten and sold by UBS. The securities were purchased by Members United Corporate Federal Credit Union and Southwest Corporate Federal Credit Union for almost $432.4M from ’06 to ’07.

NCUA alleged that offering documents for the securities sold included untrue statements claiming that the loans were originated in a manner that abided by underwriting guidelines when, in fact, the loans’ originators had “systematically abandoned” said guidelines. The false statements made the securities riskier than what was represented to the credit unions. Eventually, the MBS failed, resulting in substantial losses.

To date, NUCA has recovered almost $2.46B from banks over MBS sales that occurred prior to the 2008 financial crisis.

US, UK Regulators May Pursue More Banks Over Libor
According to the The Wall Street Journal, the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the UK Financial Conduct Authority are working on pressing the last civil charges against a number of banks for alleged rigging of the London interbank offered rate. LIBOR is the benchmark that underpins interest rates on trillions of dollars of financial contracts around the globe.

Sources tell WSJ that the firms under scrutiny include Citigroup (C), J.P. Morgan Chase & Co (JPM)., and HSBC Holdings (HSBC)—although the FCA has already dismissed its probe into J.P. Morgan.

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Credit rating agency Moody’s Investor Service has downgraded the credit rating for the city of Chicago, Illinois to junk, reducing the rating of its $8.1 billion of general obligation by two to Ba1, along with a negative outlook. That’s right under investment grade.

The reduction lets banks demand that the Illinois city pay back the debt it owes them early. It also makes Chicago vulnerable to fees to terminate swap contracts.

Aside from the Michigan city of Detroit, Chicago is the lowest-rated of any large city in the U.S. Moody’s downgrade comes after the Illinois Supreme Court decision over retirement benefits last week. The court unanimously decided that a state pension law to reduce government worker benefits, which would get rid of $105 billion in retirement system debt, was unconstitutional. Now, there is skepticism over whether Chicago can keep its $20 billion pension fund short fall under control.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Department of Justice has been meeting with ex-Moody’s Investor Service (MCO) executives to talk about the way the credit ratings agency rated complex securities prior to the 2008 financial crisis. Sources say that the probe is still in its early stages and it is not certain at the moment whether the government will end up filing a bond case against the credit rater.

DOJ officials are trying to find out whether the company compromised its standards in order to garner business. The government’s focus is on residential mortgage deals that took place between 2004 and 2007.

Moody’s and credit rating agency Standard and Poor’s gave triple A ratings to the deals so that even conservative investors were buying the subprime loan-backed securities. The investments later proved high risk. When the housing market failed, the bond losses cost investors billions of dollars.

American Realty Capital Properties’ (ARCP) credit rating was just downgraded to junk status by Moody’s Investors Service (MCO). The credit rater is now rating the real estate investment trust with a Ba1, which is just under investment grade. Moody’s has also given ARCP a negative outlook. The downgrade comes following this week’s management shakeup at the REIT and its disclosure several weeks ago of massive accounting irregularities that were covered up.

This week, American Reality Capital Properties’ chairman and founder Nicholas Schorsch stepped down, as did COO Lisa Beeson and chief executive David Kay. In October, ARCP’s chief accounting officer and CFO also resigned after an $23 million accounting mistake was announced.

The change in management comes weeks after the REIT disclosed that it misstated financial results in 2014’s first quarter and purposely concealed the error by misrepresenting second quarter results. After the REIT revealed the $23 million accounting error, a number of firms suspended trading in nontraded real estate investment trusts that were run and backed by companies under Schorsch. The firms included Fidelity, Charles Schwab (SCHW), Pershing, LPL Financial (LPLA), AIG Advisor Group, National Planning Holding, Securities America, and even Schorsch’s Cetera Financial Group broker-dealer network.

Liquidators are suing Moody’s Investors Service (MCO), Standard & Poor’s, and Fitch Ratings over their issuing of allegedly fraudulent and inflated ratings for the securities belonging to two offshore Bear Stearns (BSC) hedge funds. The plaintiffs are seeking $1.12 billion.

The credit raters are accused of misrepresenting their autonomy, the timeliness of their residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) and collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) ratings, and the quality of their models. Because of the purportedly tainted ratings for securities that were supposedly “high-grade,” the funds lost $1.12B.

The funds, which were operated by Matthew Tannin and Ralph Cioffi, failed in 2007. The US government later pursued the two men for securities fraud, but they were acquitted. They did, however, settle an SEC securities case over related allegations last year.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has affirmed a lower court’s ruling to dismiss the ARS lawsuit filed against Merrill Lynch (MER), Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner, and Smith Inc. ( MLPF&S), Moody’s Investor Services (MCO), and the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. (MHP). Pursuant to state and federal law, plaintiff Anschutz Corp., which was left with $18.95 million of illiquid auction-rate securities when the market failed, had brought claims alleging market manipulation, negligent misrepresentation, and control person liability. The case is Anschutz Corp. v. Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc.

According to the court, Merrill Lynch underwrote a number of the Anchorage Finance ARS and Dutch Harbor ARS offerings in which Anschutz Corp. invested. To keep auction failures from happening, Merrill was also involved as a seller and buyer in the ARS auctions and had its own account. Placing these support bids in both ARS auctions allowed Merrill to make sure that they would clear regardless of the orders placed by others. The financial firm is said to have been aware that the ARS demand was not enough to “feed the auctions” unless it too made bids and that its clients did not know of the full extent of these practices.

Per its securities complaint, Anschutz contends that the description of Merrill’s ARS practices, which were published on the financial firm’s website beginning in 2006, were misleading, untrue, and “inadequate.” The plaintiff accused the credit rating agency defendants of giving the ARS offerings ratings that also were misleading and false and should have been lowered (at the latest) in early 2007 when Merrill knew or should have known that the ratings they did receive were unwarranted.

Evergreen Investment Management Co. LLC and related entities have consented to pay $25 million to settle a class action securities settlement involving plaintiff investors who contend that the Evergreen Ultra Short Opportunities Fund was improperly marketed and sold to them. The plaintiffs, which include five institutional investors, claim that between 2005 and 2008 the defendants presented the fund as “stable” and providing income in line with “preservation of capital and low principal fluctuation” when actually it was invested in highly risky, volatile, and speculative securities, including mortgage-backed securities. Evergreen is Wachovia’s investment management business and part of Wells Fargo (WFC).

The plaintiffs claim that even after the MBS market started to fail, the Ultra Short Fund continued to invest in these securities, while hiding the portfolio’s decreasing value by artificially inflating the individual securities’ asset value in its portfolio. They say that they sustained significant losses when Evergreen liquidated the Ultra Short Fund four years ago after the defendants’ alleged scam collapsed. By settling, however, no one is agreeing to or denying any wrongdoing.

Meantime, seeking to generally move investors’ claims forward faster, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has launched a pilot arbitration program that will specifically deal with securities cases of $10 million and greater. The program was created because of the growing number of very big cases.