International Credit Ratings

International Credit Ratings

A credit rating is an evaluation of the credit risk of a prospective debtor (an individual, a business, company or a government), predicting their ability to pay back the debt, and an implicit forecast of the likelihood of the debtor defaulting. The credit rating represents an evaluation of a credit rating agency of the qualitative and quantitative information for the prospective debtor, including information provided by the prospective debtor and other non-public information obtained by the credit rating agency’s analysts.

Sovereign credit ratings

A sovereign credit rating is the credit rating of a sovereign entity, such as a national government. The sovereign credit rating indicates the risk level of the investing environment of a country and is used by investors when looking to invest in particular jurisdictions, and also takes into account political risk.

The “country risk rankings” table shows the ten least-risky countries for investment as of January 2018. Ratings are further broken down into components including political risk, economic risk. Euromoney’s bi-annual country risk index monitors the political and economic stability of 185 sovereign countries. Results focus foremost on economics, specifically sovereign default risk or payment default risk for exporters.

Credit ratings can address a corporation’s financial instruments i.e. debt security such as a bond, but also the corporations itself. Ratings are assigned by credit rating agencies, the largest of which are Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch Ratings. They use letter designations such as A, B, C. Higher grades are intended to represent a lower probability of default.

Agencies do not attach a hard number of probability of default to each grade, preferring descriptive definitions such as: “the obligor’s capacity to meet its financial commitment on the obligation is extremely strong,” or “less vulnerable to non-payment than other speculative issues .” (Standard and Poors’ definition of an AAA-rated and a BB-rated bond respectively). However, some studies have estimated the average risk and reward of bonds by rating. One study by Moody’s claimed that over a “5-year time horizon” bonds it gave its highest rating (Aaa) to had a “cumulative default rate” of 0.18%, the next highest (Aa2) 0.28%, the next (Baa2) 2.11%, 8.82% for the next (Ba2), and 31.24% for the lowest it studied (B2). Over a longer period, it stated “the order is by and large, but not exactly, preserved”.

Another study in Journal of Finance calculated the additional interest rate or “spread” corporate bonds pay over that of “riskless” US Treasury bonds, according to the bonds’ rating. Looking at rated bonds for 1973–89, the authors found a AAA-rated bond paid 43 “basis points” (or 43/100 of a percentage point) over a US Treasury bond (so that it would yield 3.43% if the Treasury yielded 3.00%). A CCC-rated “junk” (or speculative) bond, on the other hand, paid over 7% (724 basis points) more than a Treasury bond on average over that period.

Different rating agencies may use variations of an alphabetical combination of lowercase and uppercase letters, with either plus or minus signs or numbers added to further fine-tune the rating . The Standard & Poor’s rating scale uses uppercase letters and pluses and minuses. The Moody’s rating system uses numbers and lowercase letters as well as uppercase.

Standard & Poor’s

Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC (S&P) is an American financial services company. It is a division of S&P Global that publishes financial research and analysis on stocks, bonds, and commodities. S&P is known for its stock market indices such as the U.S.-based S&P 500, the Canadian S&P/TSX, and the Australian S&P/ASX 200. S&P is considered one of the Big Three credit-rating agencies, which also include Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings. Its head office is located on 55 Water Street in Lower Manhattan, New York City.

As a credit-rating agency (CRA), the company issues credit ratings for the debt of public and private companies, and other public borrowers such as governments and governmental entities. It is one of several CRAs that have been designated a nationally recognized statistical rating organization by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.  S&P issues both short-term and long-term credit ratings.

Fitch Ratings

Fitch Ratings Inc. is one of the “Big Three credit rating agencies”, the other two being Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s. It is one of the three nationally recognized statistical rating organizations (NRSRO) designated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in 1975.  Fitch Ratings is headquartered in New York, US. Hearst owns 100 percent of the company following its acquisition of an additional 20 percent for $2.8 billion on April 12, 2018. Hearst had owned 80 percent of the company after increasing its ownership stake by 30 percent on December 12, 2014, in a transaction valued at $1.965 billion. Hearst’s previous equity interest was 50 percent following expansions on an original acquisition in 2006.

Moody’s Analytics

Moody’s Analytics is a subsidiary of Moody’s Corporation established in 2007 to focus on non-rating activities, separate from Moody’s Investors Service. It provides economic research regarding risk, performance and financial modeling, as well as consulting, training and software services. Moody’s Analytics is composed of divisions such as Moody’s KMV, Moody’s, Moody’s Wall Street Analytics, the Institute of Risk Standards and Qualifications, and Canadian Securities Institute Global Education Inc.


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