Moody’s Investors Service has agreed to pay more than $16 million to settle allegations that it failed to ensure the accuracy of statistical models used in its ratings and apply rating symbols consistently.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday said the credit rating agency’s quality-control failures resulted in incorrect ratings of more than 650 residential mortgage-backed securities with a notional value exceeding $49 billion.
Moody’s will pay a fine of $15 million to resolve the RMBS-related investigation and another penalty of $1.25 million to settle the SEC’s first enforcement action involving rating symbol deficiencies.
According to an administrative order, for 26 ratings of securities known as “combo notes” with a total notional value of about $2 billion, Moody’s assigned ratings in a manner that was inconsistent with other types of securities that used the same rating symbols.
“Investors expect and the law requires that symbols used by rating agencies be clearly defined and consistently applied,” Reid Muoio, an official in the SEC’s enforcement division, said in a news release. “Today’s proceeding is the SEC’s first enforcing the Universal Ratings Symbol requirement and we will continue to pursue failures that render rating symbols unclear or inconsistent.”
According to a separate administrative order, Moody’s in 2010 revised its methodology for rating RMBS by, among other things, incorporating cash flow “waterfall” models that had been developed by its Moody’s Analytics division.
However, the SEC said, Moody’s Analytics did not establish “a consistent or rigorous quality control process” to ensure its engineers properly coded data about RMBS into the waterfall models, resulting in “coding errors in a group of models that, ultimately, caused [Moody’s] to undertake corrective re-ratings of hundreds of RMBS.”
The commission also said that in 54 instances, Moody’s failed to document its rationale for issuing final RMBS ratings that deviated materially from the respective model-implied ratings with respect to each current credit rating.
“Rating agencies play a critical role in our capital markets and need to have effective controls over their rating processes,” Antonia Chion, associate director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, said.