For the first time, the European Securities and Markets Authority ESMA has reported a decline in market shares in Europe for both of the major US rating agencies. The authority thus discloses a remarkable development. Never before have the two market leaders, who have been issuing their credit ratings worldwide according to recognized standards and criteria for around 100 years, had to give up market shares in favor of agencies that have their headquarters in Europe.
In addition to European agencies, the winners include competitors of the two market leaders Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s in the USA, namely Fitch Ratings with a market share that has increased from 16.62% to 17.55%, and DBRS Ratings, with a market share of 2.46% which increased to 2.99%. The Canadian DBRS Ratings was taken over by Morningstar, a US rating agency that is the undisputed leader in the rating of mutual funds. The insurance specialist A.M. Best Rating Services could also increase its market share, from 0.82% to 0.95%. A.M. Best Rating Services shows, how the decades-long focus on the insurance industry pays off in order to be increasingly perceived in the market as a Credit Rating Agency (CRA). All five agencies named are controlled by parent companies in the United States.
According to the European Securities and Markets Authority ESMA, the largest rating agencies domiciled in Europe still do not each have a full percentage point market share of the European rating market. The largest rating agencies with roots in Europe are the Italian-based Cerved Rating Agency and The Economist Intelligence Unit, which belongs to the Economist Group in London. While the Italian agency, which also offers its services in the European Union, improved from 0.81% to 0.84%, The Economist Intelligence Unit suffered a market share loss from 0.87% to 0.79%. However, this should be understood against the background that The Economist Intelligence Unit shows a clear focus on micro and macroeconomic research and is known for country ratings, i.e. not for ratings for issues and issuers from the group of industrial companies, financial service providers – i.e. banks in particular and insurance companies – and does not compete in the rating of asset-backed securities, etc. The bottom line is that practically nothing has changed in the market shares of the two largest European agencies in the overall European market.
Among the five types of credit ratings distinguished by ESMA, The Economist Intelligence Unit only offers ratings in the “Sovereign and Public Finance” sector. In the other four market segments this agency does not compete with competitors within the European Union. A.M. Best Europe Rating Services achieves its market share only through the activities of this agency in the “Corporate Non-Financial” and “Corporate Financial” market segments (the latter includes the insurance industry). The market share of Cerved Rating Agency must also be analyzed against the background that this agency only reports ratings in the “Corporate Non-Financial” segment and is not in direct competition with other competitors in the other four market segments.
Remarkable changes – if you disregard the reduction in the market shares of S&P Global Ratings Europe and Moody’s Investors Service – there are only among the “further ran”. For example, a rating agency in Berlin superseded Creditreform Rating, ranking 8th. This is remarkable because Creditreform Rating, as a subsidiary of Creditreform AG in association with the Verband der Vereine Creditreform e.V. in Germany, has a very strong brand name and can rely on over 158,000 members of the association worldwide. While Creditreform Rating only has a market share of 0.53%, previously 0.55%, the Berliners now make it to 0.62%, previously 0.49%. This corresponds to a growth in market share of more than a fifth within a year. It remains, however, that of the agencies based in Germany, the one with the largest market share only occupies eighth place in the European Union.
In contrast to A.M. Best Europe Rating Services, Cerved Rating Agency, The Economist Intelligence Unit and Creditreform Rating, Berlin’s Scope Ratings accepts rating orders from any type of issuer, including in the “Corporate Insurance” market segment that is not served by Creditreform Rating, for example. Through so-called “rating shopping”, issuers look for the agency that is best able to serve their interests. If an agency does not even offer certain ratings, the rating agency concerned cannot benefit from this earnings effect from “rating shopping”.
In contrast to all other agencies, the Berlin agency sees itself as – quote – “the leading European provider of independent credit ratings” with a market share of 0.62%. This claim is due to the tireless work over the past 20 years, which was not discouraged by the bankruptcy of the previous agency FondScope, from which today’s agency Scope Ratings emerged. Over the past two decades, the agency has not yet been able to generate profits in any year, but annual deficits have accumulated. The permanent losses are borne by a small group of well-known personalities, financially strong institutional investors and strategically motivated shareholders of rated companies.
There are no really noticeable movements among the other agencies, if one also takes into account that some agencies have given up in the meantime and thus also have given up market share. The dynamic growth of Kroll Bond Rating Agency Europe deserves special mention, as the agency increased its market share tenfold from 0.03% to 0.34%. With this market share, Kroll Bond Rating Agency Europe is now the largest rating agency ahead of all the other 17 names in the last places in Europe.
If one measures the market share not in terms of the sales achieved, but in terms of the sheer number of financial instruments for which ratings were given, an even more differentiated picture emerges. The market shares in the “Structured Finance” segment, which is so important for rating agencies, have shifted significantly in favor of Scope Ratings: While the Berlin agency only achieved a market share of 1.2% in the previous year, it was up 1.5% in 2019, while Moody’s market share fell from 59.5% to just 55%. In this market, Fitch Ratings is in second place with 44.5% (after 45.0%), S&P with a slightly increased 37.5% (after 35.8%) and DBRS with 14.3% also better than before (13.9%). According to this statistic, the market shares do not add up to 100% since the same financial instruments can be assessed by several agencies.
Anyone who already has a rating from Moody’s or S&P can afford to add the rating of a lesser-known, local agency without having to expect any disadvantages when placing the bond, especially not if a smaller agency delivers an even more favorable credit rating. An example of this is given by the issuer Grenke, who received a long-term rating of BBB+ from Standard & Poor’s, but A from GBB Rating, domiciled in Germany.
According to Article 8d of the EU Regulation on Credit Rating Agencies, the European Securities and Markets Authority ESMA is only required to calculate the market shares of the rating agencies it supervises. Therefore, there is no information in the authority’s document on the absolute basis on which the figures were calculated. Since the market shares in the EU are only calculated on the basis of the figures that must be reported to ESMA, the relevant world market shares are actually considerably lower than the EU market shares calculated by the EU authority.
If, for example, the 57 Chinese rating agencies or even the more than 200 other rating agencies worldwide based outside Europe and with no activities in the European Union market were included in the calculation, the world market shares for the 27 agencies recorded in the EU in 2019 would naturally be considerably lower.
According to Section 267, the German Commercial Code describes the size classes of companies that are exempt from certain disclosure obligations. Small corporations are those that do not exceed at least two of these three criteria: total assets of € 6 million, sales of € 12 million in the twelve months prior to the reporting date or an annual average of fifty employees; medium-sized corporations are those that exceed at least two of the three characteristics specified in paragraph 1 and do not exceed at least two of the three following characteristics: € 20 million balance sheet total, € 40 million revenue in the twelve months before the reporting date or an annual average of two hundred and fifty employees.
The agencies based in Germany – even the ones describing themselves as “leading” – do not exceed these thresholds, so that, unlike the US agencies, they are not obliged to disclose their financial statements. From this fact it can be concluded that these German agencies are located at most in the range of one thousandth of the sales volume of the market leaders S&P Global and Moody’s, especially since the German agencies – unlike the US American giants – are almost unknown in Africa, Asia and America. Moody’s, for example, has a global presence with more than 11,400 employees in 33 offices around the world and serves customers in more than 100 countries.
Moody’s Corporation recorded TTM (Trailing Twelve Months) sales of US $ 5.3 billion in the third quarter of 2020 with an operating profit margin of around 45%. S&P Global achieved even higher total sales, with a large part being generated by services beyond credit rating services. For example, S&P has secured market dominance by taking over IHS Markit for US $ 44 billion. All agencies established in Europe are far from being able to participate in these business arenas, which are important for institutional investors as well as for public and private issuers. Moody’s secured e.g. In 2017, with the takeover of Bureau van Dijk, information on around 375 million companies, so Moody’s can be considered the most important point of contact for company data.
In this respect, S&P Global Ratings with a market share of 40.40% in the EU alone (previously 42.09%) and Moody’s Investor Service with a market share of 33.12% (previously 33.39%) are unlikely to see the market share gains of the small agencies as a dangerous “game changer”, even if Scope Ratings has already collected data on hundreds of companies and has formed its own opinions on many issuers. Especially since these rating classifications from the Berlin agency hardly differ – if available – from the ratings of the market leaders, there is no disruptive effect and no reason for investors to concern themselves with these ratings. More than 70% of all sales in the recognized ratings business in the European Union remain on the books of Moody’s and S&P, and if you add Fitch Ratings, more than 90% of all payments from Europe go to these three US agencies alone .
Hardly any professional investor knows to enumerate smaller rating agencies supervised by ESMA, let alone report on their current ratings. In the practice of the financial markets, most of these small agencies really do not play any role. With a combined market share of more than 90%, the importance and role of the three leading US agencies S&P, Moody’s and Fitch Ratings are therefore still significantly underestimated, because the sales do not reflect the interests of investors, who mainly rely on the opinions of these experienced rating agencies. If a smaller credit rating agency is commissioned by an issuer to develop and disseminate a rating, this says nothing about the effectiveness of this mandate. Because of the small number of ratings issued, there is no statistical, scientifically based evidence that ratings from these small agencies bring the assessed issuer a significant cost advantage.
Since the fees charged to rating agencies by the European Securities and Markets Authority are calculated based on their business volume, the leading US agencies have an interest to report low sales volumes to ESMA. Thus their market shares in the EU appear as low as possible. Additional fees for other services are charged by their other subsidiaries. Accordingly, the market shares of the smallest agencies are overestimated, because they are not burdened with proportionally higher administrative fees from their supervisory authority when reporting higher sales. This is due to the fee table applicable to the smaller agencies. In addition, the mini-agencies have an interest in being reported with high market shares to comfort their partners or shareholders, who are plagued by ongoing losses of their rating enterprise.
The highly complex EU regulation of rating agencies, which was launched in 2009 with the aim of breaking the US oligopoly, has not changed the fact that only the leading agencies provide issuers with the required “entry ticket” to the world financial markets. Nothing has changed in their dominance – on the contrary: the market share of these three agencies, S&P, Moody’s and Fitch Ratings, was 87.02% in 2012, and now is 91.07%, even higher than it was when politicians in Europe believed that the opportunity of the financial crisis could be used to restrict the power of US credit rating agencies. After a lost decade, it is time to think about deregulation and finally to abolish the privileges granted to all agencies registered or certified in the EU.