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'Financial Destruction,' But Up 46%

Updated to reflect share gains this week and to emphasize FCIC conclusion.

NEW YORK (TheStreet) --

Even as most big financial stocks have taken a beating this year as economic and political fallout from the mortgage crisis continues to reverberate in the markets, shares of Moody's Investors Corp. (MCO) are a notable exception.

Moody's shares have returned more than 46% year to date as of Friday morning, far better than any other financial stock in the S&P 500. The No. 2 performer, Discover Financial Services (DFS), has risen by 27.40% over the same time period. Shares of McGraw-Hill (MHP), parent of Standard & Poor's Ratings, have also performed well, returning 15.6% year to date through Tuesday.

Because of its large publishing business, McGraw-Hill is less of a "pure play" on ratings than Moody's.

While the shares of the ratings agencies are still well off their pre-crisis highs, they have proven to be solid long-term investments. Moody's shares are up 131.05% over the past decade, vs. 22.41% for McGraw Hill and 1.87% for the S&P 500.

Moody's 10-year share price performance also far outshines banks initially thought of as "winners" from the credit crisis such as Goldman Sachs (GS), Wells Fargo (WFC) and JPMorgan Chase (JPM), though those banks' shares have all outperformed Moody's over the past five years.

It is hard to believe it hasn't even been a year since many thought Moody's faced an existential threat. The ratings agencies were under intense scrutiny from government officials and plaintiffs' attorneys for assigning triple-A ratings to mortgage securities and helping to inflate the housing bubble. A Moody's spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

Moody's top shareholder, Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.B), was steadily selling down its stake, and while Berkshire chief Warren Buffett said he still liked Moody's as an investment, he was not very forceful in his attempts to defend the company's record leading up to the crisis. An email to Carrie Kizer, assistant to Berkshire chief Warren Buffett, was not returned.

Meanwhile, Greenlight Capital's David Einhorn, famous for sounding early warnings about Lehman Brothers while shorting the stock, had Moody's in his sights. Einhorn declined to comment through a spokesman.

Following up last week on a directive from Congress under the Dodd Frank Act, the Securities and Exchange Commission unveiled a 500-page rule proposal on ratings agency reform. But the effect, according to Ed Atorino, an analyst who follows Moody's stock for Benchmark Company, may be exactly the opposite of reform.

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