The Financial Crisis and Credibility of Corporate Credit Ratings
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Credit ratings on certain structured finance products significantly underestimated default risk prior to the recent financial crisis. Rating agency executives acknowledge that these failures damaged the agencies' credibility with respect to credit ratings on structured finance products. I investigate whether the agencies' credibility with respect to corporate credit ratings also suffers as a result of the financial crisis, as well as how credibility damage affects the use of corporate ratings and accounting information in debt pricing. I find evidence consistent with credibility concerns motivating debt market participants to simultaneously decrease their reliance on corporate credit ratings and increase their reliance on accounting data in the post-crisis period. Additional tests are consistent with corporate ratings being viewed as optimistically biased as opposed to simply inaccurate. Most directly, my study provides insight as to the credibility effects of the financial crisis on the credit rating agencies. More broadly, my study provides new empirical evidence on the relation between credit rating credibility and usage, and also informs the literature about the substitutability between corporate credit ratings and accounting information in debt markets.