Why Moody's Won't Downgrade Berkshire Hathaway

Warren Buffett called derivatives “financial weapons of mass destruction”
Lacy O'Toole | CNBC
Warren Buffett called derivatives “financial weapons of mass destruction”

Don't expect Moody's to downgrade Berkshire Hathaway.

Standard & Poor's on Thursday took its counterparty credit rating on Berkshire Hathaway down by a notch, to AA from AA Plus.

The cynics in our midst immediately cast smirks in the direction of Moody's, which just happens to have a chunk of stock (11.5 percent) owned by Berkshire. Would the credit raters at Moody's have the temerity to downgrade their patron Sage of Omaha?

But—perhaps for the first time in the history of credit ratings agencies—this cynicism is misplaced. Moody's already gives Berkshire a long term rating of Aa2—which is the equivalent of the double A without a plus from S&P. In other words, Moody's already had a slightly more negative view of Berkshire than S&P did until Thursday morning. Now they agree.

If the notion that some action by a ratings agency may not be corrupt is too novel to bear, you may take some comfort in the fact that S&P also clipped a "negative outlook" onto its diminished rating. Moody's outlook is "stable." Unfortunately for the cause of cynicism, no one has ever discovered a specimen of investor who would pay even a wooden nickel for the "outlook" of either Moody's or S&P.

_By CNBC's John Carney; Follow him on Twitter @Carney