A new bond rating firm will be grading cities’ credit by looking at the cumulative fiscal effect of inequality — such as expenses related to police brutality and other social justice issues.
The Fiscal Justice Credit Rating Agency is looking to sell research and ratings to investors one year after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement and spurred many money management firms to look more closely at social issues. The debt grader, a new arm of municipal market researcher Activest LLC, plans to start issuing ratings as soon as next month, and will have to persuade bondholders to buy such research even as cases of injustice typically don’t hurt bond prices.
But expenses linked to injustice can weigh on a city’s budget, strain its finances and erode its economic growth, exposing investors to risk they may not be getting paid for, said Ryan Bowers, a co-founder of the firm. That’s happened at least once, when Ferguson, Missouri saw its credit rating cut seven notches to junk in the fallout from the police killing of an unarmed black 18-year-old in 2014. Protests and litigation ensued, and the city had to reduce its reliance on traffic tickets and court fees to help balance its budget after entering a federal consent decree.