Not many people may realize that BusinessWeek and S&P are owned by the same company: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. This fact is disclosed in small, discolored font at the bottom of a story in BusinessWeek quoting...wait for it...S&P! In fact, ever since they became one company, BusinessWeek relies heavily on S&P for much of its perspective about the stock market and investing. There is not much problem with that except for a couple of small facts that people may want to consider:
1. This is basically free advertising for S&P. How many competing stock analysis services wouldn't love to be liberally quoted by the authoritative BusinessWeek? No doubt this drives revenues and customers for S&P that could go to alternative providers. Providers that might be better than S&P.
2. S&P may suck at investment analysis. Seriously, how did they do with rating CDOs and SIVs? Exactly.
This is what you call machinery of the market but I'm not sure this machinery works for anyone but McGraw-Hill shareholders. It certainly didn't work for investors in AAA-rated real-estate CDOs and SIVs!
Update: I didn't realize this, but S&P also owns an exchange for ABS' called ABSXchange! So they're making money on all sides of the structured securities market...sounds like motivation to rank structured securities highly to me. (How many people would want to buy securities that are rated junk? Not as many that want to buy investment-grade.)