Moody’s Investors Service may not be correctly evaluating Japanese companies, argues a paper released Monday by the Japan Center for International Finance.
None of 25 firms that Moody’s rated poorly five years ago have since defaulted on debt payments, according to the paper.
The American credit-rating firm may not be taking into account the low-default structure that arises from the Japanese form of corporate governance, which features management dependent on main banks and mutual shareholdings among groups of firms, the paper says.
Moody’s gave speculative-grade ratings (Ba or lower) to the 25 Japanese firms five years ago. Although that number is too small to yield statistically significant data, their 0 percent default rate does contrast with the average default rate of 11.4 percent among similarly rated American firms since 1970, the report says.
The report also includes a poll of Japanese firms to compare their views of Moody’s against its two Japanese counterparts, with the majority saying the U.S. firm is doing a worse job in rating Japanese firms. The poll canvassed some 150 major Japanese firms, which responded from the standpoint of investors.
However, the poll found that about 80 percent approved of Moody’s, on the whole, as an excellent rating firm and 90 percent approved of Standard & Poor’s, another U.S. firm. The two Japanese rating firms got less than 70 percent each in approval ratings.
The poll also found that two-thirds of the respondents said the excessive dominance of U.S. rating firms hampers healthy competition in the rating industry.
Some 60 percent said unilateral ratings — for which target firms do not pay — should be clearly distinguished from ratings based on contracts. Nearly 30 percent complained that rating firms use unilateral ratings as a tool to press the target companies to sign contracts.
JCIF conducted the research at the request of its member financial institutions, including banks and insurers, which fund its operations. The head of JCIF, Tomomitsu Oba, is a former senior Finance Ministry official.
Critics of the U.S. rating firms say they have unreasonably fueled financial turmoil in Japan and the rest of Asia. Moody’s downgraded Japanese government bonds for the first time last month.
A Lower House committee held a session earlier this month to discuss the issue.