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French Investors Prefer They, Not Bond Sellers, Pay for Ratings

By Hugo Passarello Luna PARIS--French investors would prefer to finance credit ratings themselves rather than rely on the current system dominated by three U.S.-based companies, criticised for failing to spot strains leading to credit crises, who charge debt issuers for their services, according to senate-commissioned poll released Wednesday. The survey showed 74% of investors believe the current model creates a conflict of interest, said centrist senator Aymeri de Montesquiou, one of the authors of report. Standard & Poor's Corp., Moody's Investors Service Inc. and Fitch Ratings are paid by governments and companies who want to sell bonds. The three agencies control 95% of the market for ratings. The survey was conducted by Ifop for the French Senate after S&P downgraded the country's credit rating earlier this year. Ifop interviewed 352 professional investors by telephone. The survey highlighted questions among investors on the role of ratings firms during tthe time of the U.S. subprime-lending difficulties, which led to the 2008-09 global credit squeeze, and Europe's sovereign-debt crisis. As many as 84% of those polled said agencies kept their ratings "manifestly over-valued" on many securities, only to "brutally devalue them" at the last moment. However, the report also showed that 59% of investors have a "good image" of agencies and 65% believed they do a "meticulous" job. "It is a paradox. We consider that agencies have gigantic power, even excessive, but at the same time we are constrained to go through them," said Mr. de Montesquiou. The lack of competitors in the credit-rating sphere is another concern expressed by 64% of investors polled. "There are only three agencies that control the whole market. Competition does not really exist," said Mr. de Montesquiou. European leaders have frequently blamed the three main rating agencies for worsening the debt crisis. -Write to Hugo Passarello Luna at hugo.passarello@dowjones.com

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