It was easy to miss the news about the $864 million legal payout by Moody’s Investors Service over its ratings of crisis-era mortgage securities. It was announced on a Friday afternoon, just as the last of the Obama Justice Department staff was cleaning out their desks to make way for the new administration.
Moody’s quietly settled its long-running legal fight with the Department of Justice and several state attorneys general who had accused the company of exaggerating the quality of mortgage bonds it rated during the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis.
It marked the end of a long and dreary ordeal for Moody’s. But it was also a muted ending for law enforcement and public officials, who were eager to hold Moody’s accountable for its role in the crisis. Instead, they picked up a check from Moody’s shareholders, instructed the company to implement a few vague compliance measures and moved on.
Expertly timed for the Friday before a long holiday weekend, the settlement received little attention. A few online articles (here and here) covered the news, but that’s about it. The business editors at New York Times couldn’t be bothered to have one of their own write a piece; they ran an AP item instead. The $864 million settlement is slightly below that paid by rival Standard & Poor’s to resolve similar claims, and it doesn’t come close to the sums extracted from major banks for their conduct in the mortgage market. But it’s still a large number.
It might have been interesting to see a little more reporting on the settlement. Perhaps a comment from CEO Ray McDaniel or former president Brian Clarkson, who led the company’s ratings business when it never saw a structured finance deal it didn’t like. Many of them collapsed in the crisis.
Perhaps too, a Moody’s shareholder might have been asked how it felt to bear the cost of the actions of managers who were not held accountable. Or an investor whose mutual fund relied on the Moody’s ratings when purchasing securitized subprime mortgages might have been asked to offer a comment. But since it’s unlikely investors will get much of the settlement once the lawyers and federal and state regulators carve it up, the comment might not be printable in a respectable news outlet.