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Asia, Europe Look to End US Credit Ratings Supremacy

Greek officials slammed Moody's latest decisionto push its rating lower into junk territory, saying it does not take into account the government's efforts to cut the debt.

Nanjing street shopping district.
Grant Faint | The Image Bank | Getty Images
Nanjing street shopping district.

Privately, European officials and analysts have been complaining that the bulk of the main rating agencies – two out of three – are based in the US and not always objective when it comes to rating European countries.

In Asia and Europe, officials are looking for solutions.

In China, by downgrading the credit rating of the UK last week, rating agency Dagong set out yet another signal that it is out to shake up the world of rating agencies.

Dagong is a relative newcomer to this arena, and it could soon be joined by a new European ratings agency.

Last June, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said that the Commission was evaluating a rival centralised European credit agency.

“Is it normal to have only three relevant actors in such a sensitive issue where there is a great probability of conflict of interest?” he asked.

The Commission has been rather quiet on plans for the agency since then. Calls to the Commission on Wednesday by Cnbc.com, asking whether the agency was going to happen, were not returned.

In a world where three credit agencies: Standard & Poor’s; Moody’s

and Fitch dominate the agenda, there is appetite for more diversity of opinion.

"There are too few of them, too many American and not enough non-American," Jan Randolph, Director of Sovereign Risk at IHS Global Insight, told CNBC.com.

Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s are both US-based, while Fitch is European.

Hu Jintao, the President of China, last year called for a more consistent methodology for rating sovereign debt.

The big three's reputations have been damaged during the credit crisis, firstly for failing to spot the crisis before it started, with Moody’s in particular linked to overly optimistic ratings of sub-prime mortgages.

During the course of the crisis, critics of the major ratings agencies argued that they took too long to downgrade struggling economies such as Spain and Greece.

Dagong was founded by the People‘s Bank of China and the Chinese government in 1994, as the country’s economic growth began to take off.

However, it did not issue its first report into sovereign debt until July 2010.

The downgrade of the UK from AA- to A+ - the same grade as Belgium, Chile and the US – came because of the country’s sluggish growth prospects for the next two years.

"The downgrade reflects the true status of the deteriorating debt repayment capability of the UK and the difficulty in improving its sovereign credit level in a moderately long term in the future," Dagong said.

"Considering that the uncertainty arising from (future) monetary policy adjustments of the Bank of England and the spillover effect of the European countries...are likely to further worsen the government's fiscal status, Dagong gives the negative outlook on the local and foreign currency sovereign credit rating of the UK (for the next) one to two years," it said.

Dagong has won attention for downgrading credit ratings for developed economies such as the US, while keeping China’s credit rating at AA+, three notches above the UK and US.

Western credit agencies typically rate China below these countries.

"Obviously this is not one of the main rating agencies that markets pay close attention to," said Sarah Hewin, European head of economic research at Standard Chartered.

A new centralised European ratings agency might command more attention from Western sources.

The Chinese agency has emphasized "wealth creating capacity" in its assessments, which helps tip the balance in favour of emerging economies.

It claims to not be “affected by ideology".

Contact Europe: Economy

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