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Barbara Duka, the ex-head of Standard & Poor’s commercial mortgage-backed securities, is on trial before a Securities and Exchange Commission administrative law judge. Duka is accused of inflating the ratings of commercial mortgage-backed securities and not telling investors that she and her team had changed the way they formulated ratings for the securities in 2011.

The SEC contends that Duka implemented the change after the credit rating agency lost market shares for rating commercial-backed securities using “more conservative criteria” in the wake of the 2008 economic collapse. The regulator believes that Duka began to rate the securities in a way that favored the issuers so S & P could bring in more business.

Meantime, investors  continued to believe that the ratings were conservatively-based.  Now, the Commission wants to bar Duka from associating with ratings organizations. It also wants her to pay financial penalties.

The SEC brought its case against Duka last year around the time that the Commission and two state attorneys general announced that they had reached a $77M settlement with S &P. The regulator’s case was brought after Citigroup Inc.(C) and Goldman Sachs Group(GS) had to withdraw a $1.5B commercial mortgage-backed securities offering because S & P told them about an internal review of the securities ratings. Duka, meantime, sued the SEC, questioning whether it had the right to pursue cases in-house before its own judge instead of in court.  Although a district court judge ruled that the SEC could not move forward with its case against Duka, a federal appeals court decided otherwise.

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Standard & Poor’s (“S&P”) has just downgraded the general obligation rating of Puerto Rico from a rating of B to a rating of CCC +. The ratings agency said the downgrade was because the market access prospects for the U.S. territory have weakened even further and Puerto Rico’s ability to fulfill its financial commitments is becoming more and more linked to the economic and business conditions in the Commonwealth, which are not strong.

The credit rater is also putting the general obligation rating on CreditWatch negative, which means the rating could go even lower into junk bond status and closer to a default. S&P lowered its ratings on the first-lien and second-lien sales tax bonds of the Puerto Rico Sales Tax Financing Corp. from B to CCC + as well. The bonds of the Puerto Rico Employees Retirement System and the Puerto Rico Municipal Finance Agency also received downgrades with a negative outlook.

S&P says that unless the conditions in Puerto Rico get better, the territory won’t be able to sustain its financial commitments. The ratings agency said there was not currently a consensus on key aspects of the 2016 budget and that this could make fiscal pressure and liquidity worse. In a letter from Puerto Rico’s Government Development Bank to its governor, there were concerns about liquidity problems unless the government starts tax reform and enacts a budget. S&P stated that if the budget is delayed or flawed there might be an even further ratings downgrades.

Credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s will pay $1.5 billion to settle a number of lawsuits accusing the company of inflating the ratings of mortgage securities in the lead up to the 2008 economic crisis. As part of the deal, S & P’s parent company McGraw Hill will pay $687.5 million to the U.S. Justice Department and $687.5 million to the District Columbia and 19 states over their inflated ratings cases.

The U.S. sued the credit rater in 2013, asking for $5 billion and claiming that S & P had bilked investors. The company fought the claims, arguing that the First Amendment protected its ratings and contending that the mortgage ratings case was the government’s way of retaliating after S & P downgraded the United States’ own credit rating. As part of the settlement, the credit rating agency said it found no evidence that retaliation was a factor.

S & P is not admitting to violating any law. It noted that its mission is to give the marketplace information that is independent and objective and employees are not allowed to influence analyst opinions because of commercial relationships.

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.

Standard & Poor’s has agreed to settle U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charges accusing the credit rating agency of fraudulent misconduct when rating certain commercial mortgage-backed securities. As part of the settlement, S & P will pay close to $80 million—$58 million to resolve the regulator’s case, plus $12 million to settle a parallel case by the New York Attorney General’s Office, and $7 million to resolve the Massachusetts Attorney General’s case.

The SEC put out three orders to institute resolved administrative proceedings against the credit rater. One order dealt with S & P’s practices involving conduit fusion SMBS ratings methodology. The Commission said that the credit rating agency’s public disclosures misrepresented that it was employing one approach when a different one was applied to rate several conduit fusion CMBS transactions, as well for putting out preliminary ratings on two transactions. To resolve these claims S & P will not rate conduit fusion CMBSs for a year.

The SEC’s second order said that after S & P was frozen out of the market for its conduit fusion ratings in 2011, the credit rating agency published a misleading and false article claiming to show that it’s overhauled credit ratings criteria enhancement levels could handle economic stress equal to “Great Depression-era levels.” The Commission said that S & P’s research was flawed, were made based on inappropriate assumptions, and the data used was decades off from the Depression’s serious losses. Without denying or admitting to the findings, S & P has consented to publicly retract the misleading and false data about the Depression era-related study and rectify inaccurate descriptions that were published about its criteria.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services is close to arriving at a securities settlement with regulators over the way they graded real-estate bonds. The agreement would resolve claims by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

The proposed deal is over six commercial real estate bond ratings issued by the credit rater in 2011. In July of that year, S & P withdrew a preliminary rating on a $1.5 billion security comprised of commercial real-estate loans. The decision made debt issuers and investors very angry. (The deal was later partially overhauled and eventually went to market.)

S & P discovered discrepancies in the way its ratings methodology applied for commercial real estate deals. However, it said the incongruence was not outside what is considered an acceptable range. Still, investigators were compelled to look at the withdrawn rating and other deals from that period.

Even though Puerto Rico’s debt has been downgraded to “junk” status by the three major ratings agencies (Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s, and Fitch Ratings), OppenheimerFunds (OPY) has increased its holding of Puerto Rican debt in two of its municipal bond funds that carry lower risk. The credit raters downgraded the US Commonwealth over worries about its failing economy and decreased ability to finance its deficits in capital markets.

According to Reuters, Lipper Inc. says that at the end of last year, the Oppenheimer Rochester Short-Term Municipal Fund’s (ORSCX) exposure to Puerto Rico’s debt had risen 13% from a year ago, while its Intermediate-Term Municipal Fund more than doubled its exposure to 17%. (Details of the holdings in both funds since then are still unavailable.) Both have a 5% limit on how much junk-rated debt they can contain. However, because the US territory’s debt was downgraded after the buys were made, Oppenheimer, which is part of MassMutual Financial Group, may not obligated to unload the assets.

The company has continued to support Puerto Rico municipal bonds, even as a lot of other mutual fund firms have lowered their exposure to Puerto Rico debt. This week, Oppenheimer downplayed the investment risk involved, noting that most bonds involved are insured (Reuters reports that 27% of the holdings in the intermediate-fund and another 4% in the short-term fund, do not have insurance).

This week, Standard & Poor’s (“S&P”) cut the credit rating for Puerto Rico’s general obligation debt to junk-bond status due to concerns about an inability to access capital markets. S&P had put the US territory’s rating on notice for such a downgrade late last year. Now, the credit rating agency announced, it is officially issuing that downgrade to a “BB”-a level under investment grade.

The credit rating agency believes that the Caribbean island’s ability to sell additional debt in $3.7 trillion municipal bond market is limited and cash shortages could happen. Because of such “liquidity constraints,” S & P does not feel that an investment-grade rating is warranted. The agency also cut its rating on Puerto Rico’s Government Development Bank to a BB, as well.

Puerto Rico has been in peril of getting a ratings downgrade by all three US credit raters for some time now in part because of its $70 billion of tax-free debt. Responding to the junk status downgrade, Puerto Rico’s Treasury Secretary and Government Development Bank said that S & P’s decision was a disappointment but they remained “confident” that the US territory had enough liquidity to meet such needs through the fiscal year’s conclusion.

The losses that investors in Puerto Rico bonds and UBS Puerto Rico bond funds have suffered continue to mount, and the downgrade to high risk, or “junk bond” status is only going to make things worse. In 2013 alone, investors in Puerto Rican bonds saw losses of over 20%. However, those losses do not include the leverage that many investors were ultimately exposed to. Many investors were sold proprietary investments funds created by UBS. Those funds borrowed additional funds to be able to purchase even larger amounts of Puerto Rican bonds. This strategy increases the potential gains an investor can make, but also increases the potential losses. Investors in funds that were 50% leveraged, which many UBS funds were, saw losses closer to 40%.

This permitted these UBS funds to see losses of over $1.6 billion. Moreover, these losses do not take into account the losses of investors who were convinced to buy Puerto Rico bonds outside of these funds, or investors who lost additional money through extra leverage sold by their brokers.

Many investors were convinced to borrow more money, either through a margin account, a bank loan, or through a second mortgage, to make even larger investments, exponentially increasing their risk. These layers of borrowed money made it possible for some investors to see their entire accounts get wiped out.

The attorneys general of Washington, Arizona, South Carolina, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Colorado, North Carolina, Delaware, Missouri, Idaho, Maine, Mississippi, Indiana, Tennessee, and Iowa want their securities cases against Standard & Poor’s Rating Services and its parent company The McGraw-Hill Companies Inc. sent back to their state courts. They contend that the cases don’t have federal jurisdiction.

The AGs submitted their consolidated brief in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. They say that the states’ respective complaints are exclusively state law action causes and the credit rating agency can’t use affirmative defenses to put together federal jurisdiction.

It was the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation that moved the 15 state securities lawsuits against Standard & Poor’s to New York’s federal court. Panel chairman Judge Kathryn Vratil, who presides over the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas, said that they had determined that the “actions involve common question of fact” and centralizing them would be more convenient and expedient for everyone involved. One common “question of fact” was over whether the credit rater “intentionally misrepresented” that its structured finance securities analysis was unbiased, autonomous, and not impacted by its business ties with securities issuers.

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