Friday, August 12, 2011

S&P in charge

Who died and left Standard & Poor's—a single, private company that specializes in credit rating and financial research—in charge of the nation's economy and its politics?

Last week, S&P decided that Congress might—just might—get into another political dustup sometime in the future over an artificial, congressionally mandated line in the budget sand called the debt ceiling.

Apparently, the company preferred a target of $4 trillion in future budget cuts over the smaller cuts finally included in the most recent congressional deal to raise the debt ceiling.

Then, it issued a downgrade of the credit worthiness of the United States, tipping off a panic that has roiled the stock market all week long.

It is inexplicable why anyone would listen to S&P.

In its financial analysis of the impact of U.S. deficits, its analysts made a $2 trillion arithmetic error. Then, they admitted that their downgrade was based entirely on American politics and not on that financial analysis.

It isn't like S&P has a great record judging the financial health of national economies. Countries in real financial trouble now were the darlings of S&P not long ago. High finance gems like credit default swaps were rated AAA, right up to the time those gems collapsed. If individual investors had followed the advice of this company during the last five years, they would indeed be poor.

So what are we to do with the craziness S&P helped generate? Go outside, take a deep breath and ignore the blather. American companies are fine, and the market will recover, if we all stop listening to the likes of S&P.

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