A court decision in Australia Wednesday cleared the way for 91 church groups, councils and charities to resume a damages claim against Standard & Poor's over hundreds of millions of dollars they lost on synthetic derivatives.
Bentham IMF Australia, a publicly-listed company that funds large legal claims, filed a case on behalf of the groups last year over losses they suffered on investments rated AAA by S&P which were sold by Lehman Brothers prior to the global financial crisis.
The ratings agency applied to have the claim set aside on the grounds that it was an abuse of process, had no prospect of success and the US-based S&P should not be required to submit to the Australian courts.
But Federal Court Justice Stephen Rares rejected all three arguments on Wednesday, clearing the way for the damages claim to proceed.
"From the beginning S&P has tried to delay and divert any attempt to bring it to account for losses suffered on products that it had no reasonable basis to provide its AAA ratings," Bentham IMF executive director John Walker said.
"This application was one such delaying tactic but it has backfired badly. With the latest S&P roadblock removed, our clients now look forward to resuming their claim against S&P."
S&P said it was disappointed with the decision.
"We continue to believe that the proceedings brought against us lack merit. We will vigorously assert our position with respect to this legal action," it said in a statement.
In lodging the case last year, Bentham IMF alleged S&P "did not have reasonable grounds" to give the products top-notch ratings and falsely represented their assessment as "objective, independent (and) uninfluenced by any conflicts of interest".
A settlement reached with the liquidators of Lehman (Australia) last November will see 80 claimants recover about half of the Aus$180 million ($170 million) in collective losses suffered on the derivative investments, Bentham IMF said.
The claim against S&P is seeking to recover the balance of the losses.
A synthetic derivative is a form of collateralised debt obligation, a high risk product that can offer extremely high yields to investors.