Global rating firm to rival 'Big Three'

Updated: 2013-06-26 09:22


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HONG KONG -- Three rating appraisers from China, Russia and the United States launched a new credit rating agency here Tuesday, in a bid to shake up the international credit rating industry traditionally cornered by the Big Three -- Moody's, Standard & Poor's and Fitch.

Chinese Dagong Global Credit Rating teamed up with US Egan- Jones Ratings Co and RusRating from Russia in founding the Universal Credit Rating Group (UCRG), amid growing calls for a more balanced and accurate credit rating regime.

The joint venture was headquartered in Hong Kong, given the city's stature as a major global financial hub and proximity to the world's most dynamic economies and a region that is a net creditor as a whole.

According to its blueprint, the agency is aimed at providing what experts say "some check and balance" to a broken rating industry blamed for underestimating and fueling the global financial crisis.

"Universal is going to provide a desperately needed check on some major assumptions that are provided by the ratings that currently exist in the marketplace," said Sean Egan, UCRG director and president of Egan-Jones.

Guan Jianzhong, chairman of UCRG who is also president of Dagong, said, "Credit ratings are indispensable in global economic operation, and it is obvious that the current rating system needs reforming and introducing new thinking. A new international credit rating regime, which reflects the laws governing the development of our credit-based economy and essential requirements of credit rating, is urgently need."

Asked if the new entrant seeks to replace its Western peers and set up a new rating system, Guan said, "Our goal is to build a ' dual rating' system whereby a new non-sovereign-owned rating system co-exists with the current sovereign-owned rating system and both mutually reining in risks in credit ratings."

Revamping the long-running system, however, is no easy job. The three New York-based rating heavyweights, with enormous revenue, expertise and influence, hold 96 percent of market share as of December, 2012, Robert Mundell, Nobel laureate and economics professor, noted during a forum following the establishment of UCRG.

A wide consensus was reached after discussions at the forum that the highly oligarchic credit rating sector lacks " transparency, accountability, independence and competition." Gold- plated ratings were assigned to bonds and debts that proved to be far more risky than meets the eye, and evaluation of the creditworthiness of corporate and sovereign debt is hamstrung by the "issuer pays" model, which clearly creates a conflict of interest.

UCRG Chief Executive Officer and RusRating President Richard Hainsworth said, "It's not sufficient for the industry to be dominated by just a tiny number of companies or the understanding of analysts sitting in one town, in one city," given the complex nature of the world economy and competing interests among countries.

The group plans to establish by 2020 its new global credit rating service system and methodologies. It aims to set up rating operations in all participating countries and generate credit risk information of every debt economy by 2025.