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S&P president Sharma to leave

August 23, 2011|Bloomberg News

Standard & Poor's, the ratings company that downgraded the U.S. AAA credit ranking for the first time, will replace President Deven Sharma with Citibank North America Chief Operating Officer Douglas Peterson.

Sharma, 55, will leave at the end of the year to "pursue other opportunities," S&P's parent McGraw-Hill Cos. said late Monday. Peterson, 53, will take over Sept. 12 and Sharma will work on the company's strategic review.

S&P's Aug. 5 decision to reduce the U.S. credit rating to AA+ roiled global markets and boosted demand for Treasuries, sending the yield on the 10-year note, the benchmark for home mortgages and car loans, to a record low 2.03 percent. The New York-based company, which was blamed in an April Senate report for helping fuel the credit crisis, was criticized by the world's most successful investor, Warren Buffett, who said the U.S. should be "quadruple-A." The cut conflicted with Moody's Investors Service and Fitch Ratings, which kept their AAA grades.

"It looks like he's being helped out the door," Noel Hebert, a credit strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Securities USA Inc. in New York, said in a phone interview. "If it was a planned retirement, it should have been handled in a different way."

Peterson was approached by McGraw-Hill in March, a person with direct knowledge of the talks said. He was chief executive officer of Citigroup Japan from 2004 to 2010 and was hired by the New York-based investment bank out of business school 26 years ago, according to an internal memo outlining his departure, whose contents were confirmed by Shannon Bell, a Citigroup spokeswoman in New York.

Peterson, who has an undergraduate degree in mathematics and history from Claremont McKenna College and a MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, began his career in Argentina as a corporate banker and became Citigroup's country manager in Costa Rica and then Uruguay, according to the memo.

Sharma, who joined S&P in 2007 as the global credit crisis was unfolding, will exit as McGraw-Hill faces mounting pressure from some of its shareholders to separate into four units. Jana Partners and Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, which together own a 5.2 percent stake, presented a plan Aug. 22 to split the group, saying it has "consistently underperformed its potential" and is trading at "a sizable discount."

Since Aug. 5, the day of the downgrade, McGraw-Hill's shares have lost 11 percent compared with a decrease of 6.3 percent for the S&P 500 Index, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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