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Applaud Roland Berger's credit rating move

European Central Bank

Manchester: Yesterday European markets were in nervous flux yet again when the rating agency Standard & Poor's cut Spain's sovereign credit rating by two notches to triple B plus and placed the country on a negative outlook.

I am not really interested in the merits of this decision — given Spain's horrible unemployment and collapsing retail sales figures today, S&P has a point — but in the recurring irony that it embodies.

Here we have one of the firms whose failure precipitated the banking crisis and the recession that the world is mired in, standing in judgement on its victims.

Nothing has irritated politicians, business people and ordinary citizens more since the Lehman collapse than their collective impotence in the face of the global credit rating cabal — S&P, Moody's and Fitch — and its power.

This frustration is what makes the intervention of Roland Berger Strategy Consultants so fascinating and attractive.

The strategy firm's manoeuvres to provide an alternative to the established regime, reported here yesterday, are positive and welcome — and they reflect a grievance not confined to the eurozone.

Prompted in part by S&P's threat to cut the US's triple A rating last year, the Bertelsmann Foundation unveiled a blueprint for establishing a global non-profit credit rating agency for sovereign debt at a Financial Times conference in Washington earlier this month.

Such is the monopolistic power of the S&P and its cronies that there is understandable scepticism, not least in Germany, Roland Berger's power-base, as to the viability of either initiative.

But the fact that the firm has committed senior partners to the project publically suggests it is more than talk.

Whether a new credit rating agency of European origin, especially one conceived in Germany, would take a more sympathetic view of sovereign debt in Europe, or of where the balance of austerity and growth measure should lie, is another matter.

But what is not in doubt is that Roland Berger should be applauded for putting its people and its reputation where its strategy consulting mouth is.

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