"Still, as future bond issuers belly up to the bar with their rating agency seals of approval, it is incumbent on the buying public to treat those IDs with a healthy skepticism. Firms such as PIMCO with large credit staffs of their own can bypass, anticipate and front run all three, benefiting from their timidity and lack of common sense.
Take these recent examples for instance: S&P just this past week downgraded Spain “one notch” to AA from AA+, cautioning that they could face another downgrade if they weren’t careful. Oooh – so tough! And believe it or not, Moody’s and Fitch still have them as AAAs. Here’s a country with 20% unemployment, a recent current account deficit of 10%, that has defaulted 13 times in the past two centuries, whose bonds are already trading at Baa levels, and whose fate is increasingly dependent on the kindness of the EU and IMF to bail them out. Some AAA!
Now let’s go the other way. GMAC, that only too recently near-bankrupt finance company, carries recently upgraded B ratings from the rating services. Profiles in courage for all three, I say! I mean the U.S. government has injected $20 billion of capital and owns 65% of the company. It’s the auto industry’s equivalent of FNMA and FHLMC, except those are AAA and GMAC is B with a “positive outlook!” For that, you can buy a GMAC two-year bond at 6½% (8% with what are called “smart notes” that Investment Outlook readers can buy through their broker), while you receive only 1.2% at Fannie and Freddie."