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EXCLUSIVE-Europe's markets watchdog wants narrower sovereign rating release time

time@ (Adds comment from Moody's)

LONDON, July 5 (Reuters) - Europe's markets watchdog ESMA has told credit rating agencies to publish their European sovereign ratings reports in a tighter window, between 9 pm and 11 pm on Friday London time, sources have told Reuters.

The idea, they said, is to create a "more level playing field".

Under European Union regulations, rating agencies including S&P Global, Fitch, Moody's and DBRS have to set out their planned review dates for any country rated by an analyst based in Europe.

ESMA, the European Securities and Markets Authority which regulates the agencies and brought in the rule, already requires the publication to be on a Friday evening after markets in the relevant region have closed.

It has created some disparities, however. S&P tends to publish most of its reviews between 5-6 pm London time (currently 1600-1700 GMT) whereas the other main agencies tend to publish theirs later.

For markets it has also created issues. U.S. trading is still in full flow when Europe's markets close, meaning futures and derivatives that can move on rating changes are still changing hands, potentially disadvantaging solely European-based investors.

"It is part of the role as a regulator to ensure there is level playing field," a source who spoke on the condition of anonymity told Reuters.

The source said nothing formal has been written down but the agencies had been made aware of what ESMA wanted.

ESMA declined to comment on whether it had urged the changes. The rating agencies were first given the guidance in the middle of last week, a source at one of the firms told Reuters.

A spokesman for S&P would not comment on whether it had been told to push its publications to later on Friday evenings.

Fitch said it continued "to act in accordance with EU regulation around the publication of sovereign ratings."

Moody's said its "sovereign rating actions are published in accordance with our policy for sovereign ratings and our regulatory obligations."

DBRS said it was already following the guidance.

Despite ESMA pushing for the changes last week, some European reviews were still published just after Europe's main markets closed on Friday. But it expects the agencies to start falling in line, the first source said.

"We hope to see some convergence (in timing of publications)." (Editing by Jeremy Gaunt and John Stonestreet)