Moody's, S&P settle suits with King Co., bank over debt ratings

Moody's, S&P settle suits with King Co., bank over debt ratings
McGraw-Hill Cos., which owns S&P, Moody's Corp. and Morgan Stanley confirmed that ratings agencies Standard & Poor's, Moody's and investment bank Morgan Stanley have settled two lawsuits dating back to the financial crisis that accused them of hiding risky investments. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
NEW YORK (AP) - Ratings agencies Standard & Poor's, Moody's and investment bank Morgan Stanley have settled two lawsuits dating back to the financial crisis that accused them of hiding risky investments.

The lawsuits from King County in Washington state and Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank claimed that the ratings agencies and Morgan Stanley hid the risk of investing in a fund that purchased bonds backed by subprime mortgages.

Judge Shira Scheindlin dismissed the lawsuits on Friday, in federal court in New York, with prejudice, which means they can't be filed again.

Spokesmen for the McGraw-Hill Cos., which owns S&P, Moody's Corp. and Morgan Stanley confirmed the settlements but did not disclose terms.

"This settlement allows us to put the significant legal defense and related costs, as well as the distraction, of these very protracted litigations behind us," said Moody's spokesman Michael Adler in an emailed statement. "We are satisfied that it is in the best interests of our company and shareholders."

McGraw-Hill spokesman Jason Feuchtwanger said the cases were settled without any admission of liability or wrongdoing.

Ratings agencies came under intense scrutiny following the 2008 financial crisis for giving top-notch ratings to investments backed by subprime mortgages. As defaults and losses mounted in the housing market, especially among subprime loans, the value of bonds backed by the bad debt plummeted.

As the mortgage market collapsed, the ratings agencies sharply lowered their ratings on the investments.

With the value of such investments declining, funds that purchased the bonds filed for bankruptcy. King County and Abu Dhabi sued the ratings agencies and Morgan Stanley claiming the banks misled them about the safety of some investments that were part of a structured investment vehicle.

A structured investment vehicle is a fund that borrows money by issuing short-term securities at a low interest rate and then lends that money by purchasing long-term securities at higher interest. That process can make a profit for its investors from the difference.