S&P Admits in Court That Its Ratings Are Ridiculous and No One Should Ever Take Them Seriously

Fight disinformation. Get a daily recap of the facts that matter. Sign up for the free Mother Jones newsletter.


Today, you should give thanks that you aren’t the attorney who has to defend Standard & Poor’s from charges that it misled investors about the objectivity of its bond ratings. Here’s their defense:

It’s true that courts have long allowed sellers to engage in what’s called “puffery.” If McDonald’s says they make the world’s best hamburgers, that’s OK. It may be a ridiculous claim, but what do you expect them to say? “Our burgers are pretty good if nothing else is available”? Basically, you’re allowed to make vague claims about your greatness without inviting lawsuits from folks who don’t like your burgers.

So when S&P says they use “market leading software,” they’re probably on firm ground. That’s standard puffery. Unfortunately, “transparent,” “independent,” and “objective” are a little trickier. Those words have actual meaning, and there’s only so far you’re allowed to stretch them. When your bond ratings are secretly based on the fact that bond issuers are paying you heaps of money for inflated scores, your claims of mere puffery are a lot less likely to succeed.

But hey! There’s no harm in trying. Well, there’s no harm aside from the endless mockery this defense is producing. After all, S&P is basically saying, sure, our ratings are completely meaningless because we just produce whatever rating the bond issuer pays us for, but everyone already knows that. Only a fool would ever have believed anything else.

Should be a fun trial.

HERE ARE THE FACTS:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

payment methods

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate