Fitch Ratings on Monday announced the promotion of two company veterans to key senior positions. John Olert was named chief credit officer, and Mary Griffin Metz was named chief compliance officer.

Olert has worked at Fitch for 15 years. Most recently, he was responsible for the U.S. asset-backed securities and structured credit groups. Prior to that he led or co-led a variety of rating groups including U.S. corporates and U.S. financial institutions.

As chief credit officer, Olert’s new responsibilities include overseeing ratings and criteria, ensuring quality assurance, and writing market commentary and research. He reports to Fitch president Paul Taylor.

Metz has spent 20 years with Fitch, most recently as the regional credit officer for the Americas. She has also worked on a variety of rating teams, including co-heading U.S. commercial mortgage-backed securities.

Her compliance group is responsible for regulatory and professional conduct compliance, including the compliance audit function, Fitch said in a news release. Metz will report to Steve Joynt, the agency’s chief executive officer, and to Fitch’s board of directors.

“Fitch is constantly enhancing its efforts to provide market participants with credit opinions developed with the highest possible level of transparency, rigor and integrity,” Joynt said, calling both appointments “another important step in that direction.”

Taylor added that the “high-caliber contributors” demonstrate the agency’s commitment “to ensuring that our practices are best in class.”

Separately, a recent press release from Fitch noted that in each quarter of 2009, public finance downgrades outnumbered upgrades.

In the final quarter of the year, 70 credits were downgraded, accounting for 7.8% of all rating actions and $24.3 billion in par value. Meanwhile, 58 credits representing 6.5% of all rating actions, or $18.2 billion, were upgraded.

The trend is expected to continue into this year as negative outlooks currently outweigh positive outlooks by four to one, and negative watches outweigh positive watches by seven to one.

“However, a majority of the actual rating changes, 71.3%, during the quarter were affirmations, with no change in outlook or watch status,” the agency said. The remaining 14.4% of actions comprise new ratings and outlook changes.

Fitch also noted that 87.3% of public finance credits had a stable outlook at the end of 2009.

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