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S&P open to settling Justice Department suit

Standard & Poor's intends to vigorously contest the US lawsuit on its mortgage bond ratings, but is open to a "reasonable settlement," a company official said Tuesday.

"We are always open to a reasonable settlement," executive vice president and general counsel Ken Vittor said in a conference call. "If there is a reasonable settlement made to us in any case, we are open to discuss it."

The remarks came in response to a question during a conference call to discuss earnings results for S&P parent McGraw-Hill.

The call was dominated by queries about the Department of Justice lawsuit filed last week alleging S&P knowingly misrepresented credit ratings on mortgage securities in order to win business from issuers.

Thirteen states have filed concurrent actions with the federal case, while other states are conducting investigations.

Vittor said S&P is required to formally respond to the Justice Department complaint within 90 days. Vittor said that while it was hard to predict the date of a potential trial, that "two to three years would be a reasonable estimate."

McGraw-Hill reported a fourth-quarter net loss of $216 million compared with $214 million profit in the year-earlier period.

Shares were up 0.3 percent in late-morning trade in New York. McGraw-Hill shares fell nearly 27 percent last week following news of the Justice Department litigation.

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