WASHINGTON — Standard & Poor's has launched a web application that allows users to create rating scenarios for local governments based on the agency's actual methodology.
The U.S. Local Governments Credit Scenario Builder, which was launched on Friday, is a web-based version of Standard & Poor's Ipad app that was introduced last year. The tool is available to anyone who registers for a free account with the agency, and provides a blank slate into which users can input information about a local government of their choice.
The tool does not provide access to Standard and Poor's databases, but factors the same criteria with the same weight as agency analysts in determining a credit rating.
"It allows the user to experience our local government criteria," said Jeffrey Previdi, managing director of U.S. public finance at Standard & Poor's. "It allows the user to see the impact of various assumptions."
Previdi said the rating agency decided to create a web app because not everyone has an Ipad, and there was demand for a version that could be accessed by a wider group.
"There were a lot of people clamoring for it," he said.
The app includes the seven criteria Standard & Poor's uses to assign a credit to a municipality: economy, management, budgetary flexibility, budgetary performance, liquidity, debt and contingent liability, and institutional framework.
If a user has some data about a local government based on a previous agency report or from financial documents, he or she can duplicate the rating and then project how it might change under certain conditions. The app produces ratings in all lowercase letters to distinguish it from real Standard and Poor's ratings, which are given in uppercase letters.
By clicking on the economy tab, for example, users can adjust the per capita income to indicate a thriving economy or a struggling one. By clicking on the liquidity tab, they can adjust the amount of cash available to the government as a percentage of its debt service. Users can name and save their scenarios and compare them with one another to see how events like a major expenditure of cash reserves might move a local government's credit rating.
Previdi said that the tool is not absolute, as some aspects of ratings also come from the conclusions of analysts who closely watch and study the political and social developments in the municipalities they rate. For users with some information, though, it can provide a good indication of what might happen to a rating in case of certain developments.
"We think it's a pretty powerful tool," Previdi said.