The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC ) is now looking into potential insider trading by Standard & Poor's employees before the rating agency's decision to downgrade the U.S.'s long-term debt, according to Financial Times.
The SEC has asked S&P to disclose which employees knew of the downgrade decision before the public announcement, as part of a preliminary examination into potential insider trading.
The examination staff will likely try to decipher whether any person's with knowledge of the decision shorted stocks, or in any way benefitted from the U.S.'s downgrade to AA+ from an AAA credit rating.
The SEC may not be the only organization to take a look at S&P, though. The Senate Banking committee has also begun to look into the decision, according to a committee aide.
Multiple investigations into S&P could cause damage, especially if they come up unfounded. In an interview earlier this week with International Business Times, The Benchmark Company media analyst Edward Atorino does not think a SEC investigation is the wisest move for the United States.
"Mr. Obama could call up the head of the SEC and say get those bastards (at S&P) but I'd imagine that would leak out," Atorino said. "I don't know what they could do; it seems that the government has no recourse. All of the media would come to its aid if it leaked out."
As of yet no media has come racing in to defend McGraw-Hill's rating agency, but that doesn't mean it won't happen at some point.
Atorino admits the government is likely "pissed off," but there was little it could do to an independent ratings agency. Clearly if it can prove that the company's employees are guilty of insider trading it can make a big dent in S&P's reputation, but that at best is in the preliminary stage.
Right now both the SEC and Senate Banking committee could just be doing their due diligence, but the longer and costlier an investigation goes on, the more potential embarrassment for Preside Obama's administration, according to Atorino.
In the end, assuming the SEC charges don't turn up anything, S&P was just doing its job, says Atorino.
"(S&P) didn't do anything illegal or unethical," he said. "(S&P) did what it is supposed to do."