The followings are some of the agencies that rate fixed income instruments: Moody’s, Standard & Poors (S&P), and Fitch. Rating services research the creditworthiness of issuing corporations and municipalities for their ability to repay interest and principal at maturity. Each credit agency uses a different letter format to express the level of debt rating. For example, S&P and Fitch both use a plus (+) or minus (-) to indicate a bond standing in either the top or the bottom of the rating category. Moody’s; on the other hand, places a 1, 2, or 3 to show a bond is either at the top or the bottom of the rating category. All agencies divide bonds into two major categories: investment grade and speculative grade. Rating agencies evaluate fixed income issues that pay for their services. They also rate fixed income instruments for no fee when the issuer generates enough interest in the market place. In addition, fixed income issues with a small amount of volume may choose not to pay for a rating. This does not mean their debt is speculative. A bond rating, is only a guide, and in no case should be the only determining factor when deciding to purchase such an instrument. Investors need to implement in depth research for evaluating bonds independently of their credit rating. In general, high rated bonds yield low interest rates; and on the other hand, low rated bonds yield high interest rates. Short-term municipal notes are assigned different ratings. Moody’s rates short-term notes from MIG 1 to MIG 4 (Best quality to adequate quality). If a note is speculative, it is listed as SG. S&P rates notes in the same manner, from SP-1 to SP-3, Fitch rates notes with F-1, F-2, and F-3.
The following is a credit scale for bond issuers:
Source: SIFMA; Fitch; Moody’s; Standard & Poor’s