Thu, Dec 01, 2011 - Page 10 News List

S&P cuts ratings for big banking firms

EQUAL MEASURE:The downgrades for 15 companies came after the ratings agency adopted a new methodology intended to provide more accurate global comparisons

Reuters, NEW YORK

Standard & Poor’s reduced its credit ratings on 15 big banking companies, mostly in the Europe and the US, on Tuesday as the result of a sweeping overhaul of its ratings criteria.

JPMorgan Chase & Co, Bank of America Corp, Citigroup Inc, Wells Fargo & Co, Goldman Sachs Group Inc, Morgan Stanley, Barclays PLC, HSBC Holdings PLC, Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC and UBS AG, were among the banks that had their ratings reduced by one notch each. A notch is one third of a letter rating.

S&P also left the ratings of 20 banks as they were and raised the ratings of two in announcing results from its new ratings criteria for 37 of the world’s biggest banking companies. The agency also updated ratings for dozens of bank subsidiaries of the companies.

The two banks which received higher ratings are Bank of China Ltd (中國銀行) and China Construction Bank Corp (中國建設銀行). Ratings on both rose to “A” from “A-.”

The announcement by S&P comes at a time when the markets for bank debts are on edge because of the European debt crisis. It could increase already soaring funding costs for some banks.

S&P began warning the markets more than a year ago that it was revising its ratings and the move is part of a broad, multi-year drive by the agency to improve its products and repair its reputation. S&P badly tarnished its image by wrongly putting “AAA” ratings on securities backed by subprime mortgages.

Although Tuesday’s move was broadly expected, it sent shares in each firm down in after-hours trade.

Goldman Sachs shares fell 1 percent in after-hours trade, Bank of America and Citi were down 0.6 percent, Wells Fargo was down 0.8 percent and JPMorgan was down 0.4 percent. Morgan Stanley was down 1.7 percent.

S&P officials expect the new system to allow the agency to more quickly change ratings when it sees new threats to bank funding or sees governments become less willing to bailout creditors.

The criteria are also intended to make better comparisons of banks around the world by applying consistent measurements of bank capital, S&P officials said.

The downgrades come after Monday’s warning by competing rating agency Moody’s Investors Service that it could soon downgrade subordinated debt of 87 banks across 15 EU nations on concerns that governments would be too cash-strapped to bail out holders of the riskier securities.

S&P officials said earlier this month they would gradually roll out the updated ratings for more than 750 banking companies worldwide, starting with an announcement about the biggest banks. The remaining announcements are due in coming weeks.

The new ratings method puts more emphasis on the health of the banking industry in the countries where the banks operate, Craig Parmelee, an S&P managing director for financial services ratings, said in an interview.

S&P officials have said they expect the ratings changes will illustrate the increased strength of banks in emerging economies compared with Western Europe and the US.

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