Can We Please Stop Calling S&P an 'Agency'?

Jonathan Weil joined Bloomberg News as a columnist in 2007, and his columns on finance and accounting won Best in the Business awards from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers in 2009 and 2010.
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Now that the Justice Department has filed its lawsuit accusing McGraw-Hill Cos. and its Standard & Poor's unit of fraud, I have a plea for my fellow scribblers in the press: Please stop calling S&P a "ratings agency."

Call it a ratings company, or a rater, or a publisher, or an opinion merchant. Take your pick. Or come up with your own moniker clearly signaling that S&P is a commercial enterprise that makes its money by selling rating services to bond issuers.

The term "agency" makes S&P seem like it's an arm of the government, which it isn't. The U.S. government formally deems some rating companies, including S&P and Moody's Investors Service, as nationally recognized statistical rating organizations. But they are not government agencies, or any other kinds of agencies.

They are for-profit corporations. That is all. We should stop exalting them.

(Jonathan Weil is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)

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