The tacit negotiation between Governments and debt Rating Agencies in relation to Eurozone debt (and indeed UK debt) illustrates some of the rules of power in negotiating very nicely.
Ratings Agencies seem to have the upper hand. Standard and Poor’s downgrading of the US ‘Triple A’ credit rating sparked a round of market falls and introspective comment concerning US debt and the way its political parties are managing the problem. Its constantly gloomy prognosis concerning Greek debt and the likelihood of default helps promote an air of ongoing crisis surrounding the Euro.
In recent days Moody’s Agency has cut the credit ratings of French Banks Societe Generale and Credit Agricole, partly because of their fears over exposure to Greek debt, immediately causing a further market funk across Europe. Only two days ago Standard and Poor warned that a widening of the debt crisis could have ratings serious consequences for German Banks, against a backdrop of another hastily arranged crisis conference call between Germany, France and Greece, and an anxious gathering of European Finance ministers in Poland
How do the Ratings Agencies do this? Firstly they are seen as having some expertise, because they often get their calls right. They say that a particular debt obligation or debt instrument should have its rating lowered and hey presto the markets respond to that judgement. This is of course self-fulfilling but the Agency’s expertise is nonetheless reinforced.
Ratings Agencies also do something else which devotees of power plays advocate. They win through action not argument. Some say that from the point of view of exercising power, argument or debate weakens your position, and that action is far more important. Standard and Poor’s don’t negotiate, they simply announce their decisions. This may not be good practice in negotiations, but it is quite powerful.
The other power tactic Agencies have been able to employ is to keep other people dependent on them. Amazingly, markets and Governments seem to feel themselves dependent on these Agencies for their pronouncements. From a negotiating point of view this would suggest that step 1 in stabilising the Eurozone should be to neutralise such dependency, either by engaging in direct discussions with the Agencies or setting up competing Agencies to provide alternative data and judgements. In the absence of such a move, Agencies will continue to use their power to pass judgements on countries financial status, with far-reaching consequences in the financial markets…