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Credit Ratings

There are 3 big credit ratings agencies.

  1. S&P 500
  2. Moody’s
  3. Fitch

Financial investments such as stocks and bonds are given credit ratings by these credit ratings agencies.  AAA, Aaa are credit ratings example by S&P and Moody’s respectively.  They have different labels and methods to rate stocks and bonds.

Using S&P ratings, AAA is the highest rating and C means currently vulnerable.  You can find out more below.

S&P Ratings

Credit Ratings Definitions & FAQs

Credit ratings are forward-looking opinions about credit risk. Standard & Poor’s credit ratings express the agency’s opinion about the ability and willingness of an issuer, such as a corporation or state or city government, to meet its financial obligations in full and on time.

Credit ratings can also speak to the credit quality of an individual debt issue, such as a corporate note, a municipal bond or a mortgage-backed security, and the relative likelihood that the issue may default.

Ratings are provided by organizations such as Standard & Poor’s, commonly called credit rating agencies, which specialize in evaluating credit risk.

Each agency applies its own methodology in measuring creditworthiness and uses a specific rating scale to publish its ratings opinions. Typically, ratings are expressed as letter grades that range, for example, from ‘AAA’ to ‘D’ to communicate the agency’s opinion of relative level of credit risk.

What do the letter ratings mean?

The general meaning of our credit rating opinions is summarized below.
‘AAA’—Extremely strong capacity to meet financial commitments. Highest Rating.
‘AA’—Very strong capacity to meet financial commitments.
‘A’—Strong capacity to meet financial commitments, but somewhat susceptible to adverse economic conditions and changes in circumstances.
‘BBB’—Adequate capacity to meet financial commitments, but more subject to adverse economic conditions.
‘BBB-‘—Considered lowest investment grade by market participants.
‘BB+’—Considered highest speculative grade by market participants.
‘BB’—Less vulnerable in the near-term but faces major ongoing uncertainties to adverse business, financial and economic conditions.
‘B’—More vulnerable to adverse business, financial and economic conditions but currently has the capacity to meet financial commitments.
‘CCC’—Currently vulnerable and dependent on favorable business, financial and economic conditions to meet financial commitments.
‘CC’—Currently highly vulnerable.
‘C’—Currently highly vulnerable obligations and other defined circumstances.
‘D’—Payment default on financial commitments.

Note: Ratings from ‘AA’ to ‘CCC’ may be modified by the addition of a plus (+) or minus (-) sign to show relative standing within the major rating categories.

Are Credit Ratings indicators of investment merit?

While investors may use credit ratings in making investment decisions, Standard & Poor?s ratings are NOT indications of investment merit. In other words, the ratings are not buy, sell, or hold recommendations, or a measure of asset value. Nor are they intended to signal the suitability of an investment. They speak to one aspect of an investment decision—credit quality—which in some cases, may include our view of what investors can expect to recover in the event of default.

In evaluating an investment, investors should consider, in addition to credit quality, the current make-up of their portfolios, their investment strategy and time horizon, their tolerance for risk, and an estimation of the security’s relative value in comparison to other securities they might choose. By way of analogy, while reputation for dependability may be an important consideration in buying a car, it is not the sole criterion on which drivers normally base their purchase decisions.

Why do Credit Ratings change?

The reasons for ratings adjustments vary, and may be broadly related to overall shifts in the economy or business environment or more narrowly focused on circumstances affecting a specific industry, entity, or individual debt issue.

In some cases, changes in the business climate can affect the credit risk of a wide array of issuers and securities. For instance, new competition or technology, beyond what might have been expected and factored into the ratings, may hurt a company’s expected earnings performance, which could lead to one or more rating downgrades over time. Growing or shrinking debt burdens, hefty capital spending requirements, and regulatory changes may also trigger ratings changes.

While some risk factors tend to affect all issuers—an example would be growing inflation that affects interest rate levels and the cost of capital—other risk factors may pertain only to a narrow group of issuers and debt issues. For instance, the creditworthiness of a state or municipality may be impacted by population shifts or lower incomes of taxpayers, which reduce tax receipts and ability to repay debt.

Are Credit Ratings absolute measures of default probability?
Since there are future events and developments that cannot be foreseen, the assignment of credit ratings is not an exact science. For this reason, Standard & Poor’s ratings opinions are not intended as guarantees of credit quality or as exact measures of the probability that a particular issuer or particular debt issue will default.
Instead, ratings express relative opinions about the creditworthiness of an issuer or credit quality of an individual debt issue, from strongest to weakest, within a universe of credit risk. The likelihood of default is the single most important factor in our assessment of creditworthiness.
For example, a corporate bond that is rated ‘AA’ is viewed by Standard & Poor’s as having a higher credit quality than a corporate bond with a ‘BBB’ rating. But the ‘AA’ rating isn’t a guarantee that it will not default, only that, in our opinion, it is less likely to default than the ‘BBB’ bond.

Moody’s Ratings


The system of rating securities was originated by John Moody in 1909. The purpose of Moody’s ratings is to provide investors with a simple system of gradation by which future relative creditworthiness of securities may be gauged.

Rating Symbols

Gradations of creditworthiness are indicated by rating symbols, with each symbol representing a group in which the credit characteristics are broadly the same. There are nine symbols as shown below, from that used to designate least credit risk to that denoting greatest credit risk:

Aaa Aa A Baa Ba B Caa Ca C 

Moody’s appends numerical modifiers 1, 2, and 3 to each generic rating classification from Aa through Caa.

Global Long-Term Rating Scale

Aaa Obligations rated Aaa are judged to be of the highest quality, subject to the lowest level of credit risk.

Aa Obligations rated Aa are judged to be of high quality and are subject to very low credit risk.

A Obligations rated A are judged to be upper-medium grade and are subject to low credit risk.

Baa Obligations rated Baa are judged to be medium-grade and subject to moderate credit risk and as such may possess certain speculative characteristics.

Ba Obligations rated Ba are judged to be speculative and are subject to substantial credit risk.

B Obligations rated B are considered speculative and are subject to high credit risk.

Caa Obligations rated Caa are judged to be speculative of poor standing and are subject to very high credit risk.

Ca Obligations rated Ca are highly speculative and are likely in, or very near, default, with some prospect of recovery of principal and interest.

C Obligations rated C are the lowest rated and are typically in default, with little prospect for recovery of principal or interest.

Fitch Ratings

Founded by John Knowles Fitch on December 24, 1913 in New York City as the Fitch Publishing Company, it was then merged with London-based IBCA Limited in December 1997. Later in 2000, Fitch acquired both Chicago-based Duff & PhelpsCredit Rating Co. (April) and Thomson Financial BankWatch (December). Today, Fitch Ratings is the smallest of the “big three” NRSROs, covering a more limited share of the market than S&P and Moody’s. It frequently positions itself as a “tie-breaker” when the other two agencies have ratings similar, but not equal, in scale.

Understanding the letters

Long term investment gradings:

AAA  : the best quality companies, reliable and stable

AA  : quality companies, a bit higher risk than AAA

A  : economic situation can affect finance

BBB  : medium class companies, which are satisfactory at the moment

BB  : more prone to changes in the economy

B  : financial situation varies noticeably

CCC  : currently vulnerable and dependent on favorable economic conditions to meet its commitments

CC  : highly vulnerable, very speculative bonds

C  : highly vulnerable, perhaps in bankruptcy or in arrears but still continuing to pay out on obligations

D  : has defaulted on obligations and Fitch believes that it will generally default on most or all obligations

NR  : not publicly rated

Please visit official Fitch website