The S&P downgrade of U.S. credit has understandably dominated headlines, but S&P was by no means the first mover. At least three other credit rating agencies had already downgraded the United States.
Egan-Jones was the first Nationally recognised Statistical Rating organisation (NRSRO) to downgrade. It lowered the U.S. rating from AAA to AA+ in mid-July.
NRSROs are the companies that the SEC officially recognises as credit rating agencies. They number 10 in total, with Fitch, Moody’s, and Standard & Poors the most famous (or, in some circles, infamous).
Weiss Ratings was the first U.S.-based rating agency to rate the U.S. below AAA. It initiated official coverage in April at the equivalent of BBB and lowered to the equivalent of BBB- in mid-July, just one notch above junk. Back in May 2010, Weiss challenged the three major agencies to downgrade the United States, but hadn’t yet rated the U.S. itself. Weiss is not an NRSRO.
And then there’s Dagong, the Chinese rating agency. It initiated coverage with a AA rating in July 2010. It then cut the U.S. to A+ in November and to A last week.
So who was first?
Weiss, if you count its May 2010 announcement that the U.S. ought to be downgraded. Dagong if you go by the first published rating below AAA. And Egan-Jones if you focus on the NRSROs.
Anyway you slice it, though, S&P wasn’t first.
S&P may want to make that point during the inevitable congressional hearings in September. And committee staffers should consider inviting Weiss or Egan-Jones as well.