, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 288-299
Date: 11 Jun 2011

PIGS or Lambs? The European Sovereign Debt Crisis and the Role of Rating Agencies

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Abstract

This paper asks whether rating agencies played a passive role or were an active driving force during Europe’s sovereign debt crisis. We address this by estimating relationships between sovereign debt ratings and macroeconomic and structural variables. We then use these equations to decompose actual ratings into systematic and arbitrary components that are not explained by previously observed procedures of rating agencies. Finally, we check whether systematic, as well as arbitrary, parts of credit ratings affect credit spreads. We find that both do affect credit spreads, which opens the possibility that arbitrary rating downgrades trigger processes of self-fulfilling prophecies that may drive even relatively healthy countries towards default.

We are grateful to Andreas Kleiner, Simon Knaus and Giovanni Mellace for many helpful comments and suggestions.