I wrote yesterday about two studies on the effectiveness of the rating agencies (link here). Another interesting study on the agencies and their performance was published in Spring 2012 issue of the Journal of Structured Finance (vol 81 number 1, pages 71-75). Authored by Malesh Kotecha, Sharon Ryan, Roy Weinberger and Michael DiGiacomo and titled Proposed Reform of the Rating Agency Compensation Model, the study looks at the current model of rating agencies compensation - the so-called issuer-pay model whereby issuer of securities being rated paying for the rating delivery - in light of the apparent conflicts of interest implicit in the model. The authors propose an alternative model based on fee levied on new issues and secondary markets trade. Fees would be deposited in a dedicated fund which will pay these out to the rating agencies. The agencies will be rotated on a performance basis, taking into account accuracy of their ratings over time.
The criticism of such an approach to compensation model - as noted by the authors - stems from
-- the disincentive to rating agencies under the proposed changed model to innovate in ratings models development (higher potential errors etc)
-- the fact that the US bonds market is global in coverage and thus requires competitive pricing systems,
-- difficulty of devising a merit-based rotating system and setting appropriate levels of fees; and
-- the new model introducing a transactions tax.
Overall, the weakest point of this proposal is undoubtedly its failure to consider the US markets role as global issuance platform with any transaction tax eroding cost competitiveness and the failure in recognising that global scope of rating agencies and the US markets also implies severe limits on new compensation model ability to capture the activities of these agencies.