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Leaders mull ways to rein in the global credit agencies

Governments and continental organisations are studying Europe's management of commercial credit ratings

The power of the big three credit ratings agencies – S&P Global (Standard & Poors), Moody's and Fitch Ratings – to determine the price of borrowing and debt servicing levels has prompted African governments and the African Union to look for ways to cut their influence.

Arguing that African economies and their debt servicing capacity are penalised more than similar economies in Latin America and Asia, the AU reported that seven rating downgrades and six outlook downgrades were imposed on 11 African states in the first six months of 2023.

A study published by the UN Development Programme in April, suggested that 'subjective' decisions by the big three had cost a group 21 African states around $74.5 billion in additional interest costs.

'Moody's, Fitch and S&P Global continue to make significant errors in their ratings, yet they continue to influence global financing decisions and flow of capital,' the AU stated.

'Unlike in the first half of 2022, rating actions in the first half of 2023 were predominantly negative, with no single African country being upgraded during the period. These developments reversed the optimism among investors on the international financial markets that African countries are recovering from the devastating Covid-19 economic shocks,' the AU said.

As the region's debt woes multiplied, the African Peer Review Mechanism proposed an independent Africa-focused ratings agency. Such a regional plan isn't new.

At the height of the eurozone debt crisis, following a flurry of downgrades, European Union lawmakers debated whether to establish a new regional ratings agency for the continent. But it never won a majority in the European Parliament or among governments, sceptical that it would gain credibility in the markets.

Another option for the AU is to move closer to the regulatory model chosen by the EU, which included the adoption of a framework to have closer supervision of the actions of international ratings agencies. That would require the credit agencies to submit more detail to national regulatory authorities before and after a ratings announcement. 

The AU has also requested the mandatory issuance of a ratings calendar of key events that could prompt a ratings update.

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