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Ratings agency aims to rival 'big three'

Updated: 2012-10-25 10:22
By Wei Tian ( China Daily)

Three ratings companies from China, the United States and Russia said on Wednesday they will jointly launch a new agency to challenge the current global ratings system dominated by the "big three" US agencies.

The new agency, which will be known as Universal Credit Rating Group, will be co-initiated by China's Dagong Global Credit Ratings Co, US-based Egan-Jones Ratings, and Russia's RusRating.

The agency will be formally established in the next six months, and will be headquartered in Hong Kong, Dagong's President Guan Jianzhong said at a news conference in Beijing.

Although details on the amounts to be invested by each company still need to be finalized, it will be a balanced structure among the three sponsors, said Richard Hainsworth, president of RusRating.

Dozens of companies from more than 20 countries have expressed interest in participating in the project, Guan was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse. But the "big three" US agencies will not be considered for membership because of a divergence in principles and positions, said Guan.

Moody's Investors Service, Standard & Poor's Ratings Services and Fitch Ratings - the "big three" - currently control 95 percent of the global ratings market.

However, the three companies were widely criticized for failing to sound an alert before the 2008 global financial crisis. Many debt instruments linked to the US housing market that sparked the crisis had been given highest ratings by the agencies.

Sean Egan, president of the US-based Egan-Jones Ratings, said there is nothing more unethical than the current global credit ratings system, which sometimes downgrades a rating from the highest triple-A level to junk status within months.

"If you're going to make a judgment on the future of a company, you should stick to it, if you're wrong, you have to accept it," said Hainsworth.

"The old credit rating system has been necessary and useful in the past century, but we must remember it was developed in one segment in one economy, that was the public trading company in the US, whereas 60 percent of the global economy is made up of other companies," he added.

The new agency's mission is to "construct a new credit ratings system within five years, and to meet the credit ratings needs of the world", according to the Beijing Declaration, unveiled at the news conference.

"It will be a multilateral, independent, and international credit ratings agency comprised of private organizations whose responsibilities do not conflict with the ratings, and do not represent the interest of any particular country or group," Hainsworth said.

The selection of Hong Kong as its headquarters also reflects the company's vision, because it's a place where Chinese culture was mixed with the legacy of the Western way of doing things, Hainsworth added.

The new ratings are not intended to immediately replace the old system by the "big three" agencies, but to provide investors with more choices, Guan said.

"If what we're saying is true, the old system will have to change, if not, then we'll fail. But I don't think we're going to fail," said Hainsworth.

He said that the agency will strive to make profits via diversified sources of revenue, and he is confident that revenues will increase as credit ratings have become an increasingly important reference for regulators, in addition to the ratings paid by debt issuers and investors.

The agency will engage in rating affairs worldwide, but the initial customers will mainly come from the US and European markets, said Jones.

"The credit ratings system needs more voices," said Zhong Liang, director of public industry and sovereign ratings at Standard & Poor's. "Our job as a credit ratings agency is to make independent assessments and to release the information to the market."

Ye Yiwen contributed to this story.