Goldman Sachs has again been singled out as the biggest villain of the financial crisis, Cramer said Thursday.
As chair of the Permanent Subcommittee of Investigations, Sen. Carl Levin on Wednesday released the findings of a two-year inquiry into the 2008 financial crisis. The report found evidence that Goldman pressured rating agencies Moody's and S&P until they caved in. It seems to put all of the blame on Goldman and that's off base, Cramer said. While the report does recognize both Moody's and McGraw-Hill's S&P had a role in the financial meltdown, Cramer doesn't think it's enough.
"Unlike the brokers, who are being censured and drawn and quartered perhaps by the Justice Department, the ratings agencies are only being blasted for the past without much consequence," Cramer complained. "They came out smelling like roses when it comes to their business models and their earnings generation, which is all we care about in Cramerica."
Cramer can't blame Goldman for putting pressure on the agencies. A movie studio likely puts pressure on movie critics for good reviews, he said, but that doesn't mean the reviewer is going to cave in. Likewise, the banks are going to pressure the ratings agencies because they pay them to rate the merchandise. So pressure is to be expected, but the agencies aren't supposed to give into it, Cramer argued. The agencies are supposed to provide independent ratings.
"In my view, the ratings agencies are the biggest villains here, but they are also the biggest winners by far," Cramer said. "These agencies turned out to be near worthless, or worse, abettors of the whole darned financial travesty. They were our defense and they were the worst. The toxic paper behind the mortgage mess could not have been sold without their seal of approval and it was given out like confetti."
With financial regulatory reform now law, the whole of the financial space is hobbled except for the ratings agencies, Cramer said. Dozens of lawsuits have been filed against Moody's and McGraw-Hill, but the agencies have prevailed by asserting their ratings are merely opinion and therefore protected by the First Amendment, he said. Nearly two dozen lawsuits have been dismissed in all.
Cramer said he wants to hate the ratings agencies, but said he simply can't hate a winner. Not only have they gotten away with everything, Cramer said they are now stronger than ever. The market continues to use their ratings are still used for countries, leveraged buyout bonds and more. Both Moody's and McGraw-Hill shares are flirting with their 52-week highs. Yet Cramer thinks their stocks look too cheap — Moody's is selling for 14 times forward earnings with a 12 percent long-term growth rate, which is more than 30 percent below its average range from 2000 to 2007. McGraw-Hill is trading at 12 times forward earnings with an 11 percent long-term growth rate, a 40 percent discount to its old levels before the financial crisis. Cramer thinks both names are a buy.
"The ratings agencies may be discredited, they may be despised, but the fact is, compared to the investment banks, these villains have barely paid any price for their role in the financial crisis and it doesn’t look like they ever will," Cramer said. "Moody’s and McGraw-Hill have a terrific, unchanged duopoly business that never got hit—time to acknowledge that they got away with it and buy the villains that came out scot-free."
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