Mon, Dec 26, 2011 - Page 10 News List

Zhou queries China reliance on foreign ratings firms

SKEPTICAL:The central bank governor’s comments demonstrated that the nation is open to alternatives to Moody’s, S&P and Fitch, whose independence is questioned

Bloomberg

China should reduce its reliance on overseas ratings companies by encouraging large financial institutions to strengthen their research and make their own judgements, People’s Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan (周小川) said.

The nation is also considering establishing credit-rating companies backed by the government, Zhou said at a financial forum in Beijing yesterday. A copy of his speech transcript was posted on financial news portal hexun.com.

Zhou’s remarks reflect China’s desire to seek alternatives to the top-three global ratings companies amid skepticism among officials about the firms’ independence.

The nation set up its first ratings company that makes investors rather than borrowers pay, called China Credit Rating Co, in September last year.

“With the rapid expansion in China’s bond market, we need ratings companies that are familiar with the Chinese situation,” said Lu Zhengwei (魯政委), Shanghai-based chief economist at Industrial Bank Co, who was rated the nation’s best analyst last year by China Business News newspaper. “We see comments from ratings companies during this round of the crisis have influenced the financial market to a large degree. It’s no surprise China is paying attention to them.”

Overseas ratings companies’ earnings models cause “a strong beneficial alliance between the issuer and the ratings agency that cannot avoid influencing the agency’s independence,” said the National Association of Financial Market Institutional Investors in a draft report seen by Bloomberg in July. The association was formed by the central bank in 2007 to help develop the country’s over-the-counter financial markets.

One possibility for nurturing local ratings companies is to require that a domestic firm also rates a local financial product if one of the international companies does so, Zhou said.

Moody’s Investors Service, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings are the three biggest ratings companies.

Domestic ratings firms can play a larger role by researching the finances of local or municipal government, an area in which foreign companies lack expertise, he said.

The State Council, China’s Cabinet, has designated the central bank to regulate the country’s credit-rating companies, making it the sole regulator of the industry, local media reported last week.

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