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Why They Keep Missing: An Empirical Investigation of Rational Inattention of Rating Agencies

Sovereign ratings have frequently failed to predict crises. However, the literature has focused on explaining rating levels rather than the timing of rating announcements. We fill this gap by explicitly differentiating between a decision to assess a country and the actual rating decision. Thereby, we account for rational inattention of rating agencies that exists due to costs of reassessment. Exploiting information of rating announcements, we show that (i) the proposed differentiation significantly improves estimation; (ii) rating agencies consider many nonfundamental factors in their reassessment decision; (iii) markets only react to ratings providing new information; (iv) developed countries get preferential treatment.

26. January 2017

Authors Gregor von Schweinitz Makram El-Shagi

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Why They Keep Missing: An Empirical Investigation of Sovereign Bond Ratings and Their Timing

Gregor von Schweinitz Makram El-Shagi

in: Scottish Journal of Political Economy, forthcoming

Abstract

Two contradictory strands of the rating literature criticize that rating agencies merely follow the market on the one hand, and emphasizing that rating changes affect capital movements on the other hand. Both focus on explaining rating levels rather than the timing of rating announcements. Contrarily, we explicitly differentiate between a decision to assess a country and the actual rating decision. We show that this differentiation significantly improves the estimation of the rating function. The three major rating agencies treat economic fundamentals similarly, while differing in their response to other factors such as strategic considerations. This reconciles the conflicting literature.

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