S.& P. E-Mails on Mortgage Crisis Show Alarm and Gallows Humor
The executive at Standard & Poor’s was clear: “This market is a wildly spinning top which is going to end badly.”
That sober assessment of certain mortgage-related investments, delivered to colleagues in a confidential memo in December 2006, is now part of a trove of internal e-mails and documents that have come to light in a federal suit against S.& P., the nation’s largest credit ratings agency.
The correspondence, made public in court documents late Monday, provide a glimpse at the inner workings of an institution that the Justice Department says fraudulently inflated credit ratings, with dire consequences for the entire economy. In a series of e-mails, tensions appeared to be escalating inside the firm’s headquarters in Lower Manhattan as it publicly professed that its ratings were valid, even as the home loans bundled into mortgage-backed securities, or M.B.S., were failing at accelerating rates.
One comes from an S.& P. analyst in March 2007 borrowing from the Talking Heads song “Burning Down the House,” creating new lyrics: “Subprime is boi-ling o-ver. Bringing down the house.” S.& P. said prosecutors cherry-picked e-mails and that it would vigorously defend itself from “these unwarranted claims.”
In another 2007 e-mail, an analyst responds to a question about his new job: “Job’s going great. Aside from the fact that the M.B.S. world is crashing, investors and the media hate us and we’re all running around to save face … no complaints.”
Together, the documents show a portrait of some executives pushing to water down the firm’s rating models in the hope of preserving market share and profits, while others expressed deep concerns about the poor performance of the securities and what they saw as a lowering of standards. Read More