Beyond the Big Three

A new option from Mexico for credit ratings

A new option from Mexico for credit ratings in the U.S.

By Doreen Hemlock

In the world of credit-rating agencies, three U.S.-based firms dominate: Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s, and Fitch. But a Mexican company that has become a major player in its homeland is now making its mark in the United States too, with an office opened in the Miami area.

HR Ratings recently moved its U.S. headquarters to Miami-Dade County’s leafy city of Coral Gables, where founder and chairman Alberto Ramos now splits his time with his Mexico City hub. Plans call for hiring a team of research analysts at the Gables office over the next few years, he says.

Gaining ground in the credit-rating market has been no easy feat for HR Ratings. The industry is heavily regulated, with authorizations needed from government agencies in each country, including the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Organizations that require credit-rating reports are accustomed to dealing with the three longtime leaders. Only a few rivals have built significant market share in their countries, mainly in Japan – and now, Mexico. “In India, when local credit-rating agencies gained a strong presence, the big firms bought them out,” says Ramos.

HR Ratings got its start in 2007 when Ramos and business partner Anibal Habeica opted to leave their jobs as research analysts with top global banks in Mexico and embark on their own. “It was one of those crazy ideas that you think of when you’re young,” he jokes. The unfolding global financial crisis raised questions about the world’s financial architecture, and the duo saw an opportunity – at least in their nation of 120 million-plus people.

By 2012, with a solid base in Mexico, the duo decided to expand into the United States, securing SEC approval and setting up in Texas, often the first stop for Mexican ventures in the U.S. Ramos then shifted the U.S. office to New York City to grow further. But with many New York finance companies moving to Miami since the start of the pandemic, he too saw opportunity to the south – especially with the multi-cultural talent available in Miami that’s familiar with both U.S. and Latin American financial markets.

“We also were looking for a hub with easy transport links to Mexico and across the U.S.,” says Ramos, noting that multiple airlines offer daily flights between Miami and HR Ratings’ home base in Mexico City, the metro area now home to more than 22 million people.

To expand in the U.S. market, HR Ratings has been working mainly with private firms, many required by insurance companies or banks to obtain credit ratings for their debt issues. So far, it’s completed more than 300 ratings for U.S. clients, competing with market veterans by offering more detailed credit analyses with greater transparency, and by emphasizing the independence of their research. Over time, the company aims to broaden its U.S. client base, like it has in Mexico, where it works with such giants as state-owned oil company Pemex and finance-retail group Elektra, rating assets from infrastructure to public finance and stock issues.

HR Ratings’ expansion comes amid strong growth in Mexican investments in the Miami area. More than two dozen Mexican companies now operate in South Florida, according to Jonathan Chait Auerbach, Mexico’s consul general in Miami. Among the largest ones: Grupo Mexico, the mining-railroad giant that bought Florida East Coast Railways in 2017 in a $2.1 billion deal, and Agave Holdings, linked to the Jose Cuervo tequila family, which is developing the $700 million-plus The Plaza Coral Gables with offices, residences, a Loews hotel, and retail. That Gables complex is right near HR Ratings’ new office on Ponce de Leon Boulevard.

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