A Standard & Poor's issue credit rating is a current opinion of the creditworthiness of an obligor with respect to a specific financial obligation, a specific class of financial obligations, or a specific financial program (including ratings on medium-term note programs and commercial paper programs). It takes into consideration the creditworthiness of guarantors, insurers, or other forms of credit enhancement on the obligation and takes into account the currency in which the obligation is denominated. The opinion evaluates the obligor's capacity and willingness to meet its financial commitments as they come due, and may assess terms, such as collateral security and subordination, which could affect ultimate payment in the event of default.
A Rating Is Not -
The issue credit rating is not a recommendation to purchase, sell, or hold a financial obligation, in as much as it does not comment as to market price or suitability for a particular investor.
Long-Term Issue Credit Ratings
Issue credit ratings are based, in varying degrees, on the following considerations:
Likelihood of payment—capacity and willingness of the obligor to meet its financial commitment on an obligation in accordance with the terms of the obligation;
Nature of and provisions of the obligation;
Protection afforded by, and relative position of, the obligation in the event of bankruptcy, reorganization, or other arrangement under the laws of bankruptcy and other laws affecting creditors' rights.
Issue ratings are an assessment of default risk, but may incorporate an assessment of relative seniority or ultimate recovery in the event of default. Junior obligations are typically rated lower than senior obligations, to reflect the lower priority in bankruptcy, as noted above. (Such differentiation may apply when an entity has both senior and subordinated obligations, secured and unsecured obligations, or operating company and holding company obligations.)
Investment Grade Ratings
An obligation rated 'AAA' has the highest rating assigned by Standard & Poor's. The obligor's capacity to meet its financial commitment on the obligation is extremely strong.
An obligation rated 'AA' differs from the highest-rated obligations only to a small degree. The obligor's capacity to meet its financial commitment on the obligation is very strong.
An obligation rated 'A' is somewhat more susceptible to the adverse effects of changes in circumstances and economic conditions than obligations in higher-rated categories. However, the obligor's capacity to meet its financial commitment on the obligation is still strong.
An obligation rated 'BBB' exhibits adequate protection parameters. However, adverse economic conditions or changing circumstances are more likely to lead to a weakened capacity of the obligor to meet its financial commitment on the obligation.
Plus (+) or minus (-)
The 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.
Outlooks and CreditWatch
Rating Outlook Definitions
A Standard & Poor's rating outlook assesses the potential direction of a long-term credit rating over the intermediate term (typically six months to two years). In determining a rating outlook, consideration is given to any changes in the economic and/or fundamental business conditions. An outlook is not necessarily a precursor of a rating change or future CreditWatch action.
Positive means that a rating may be raised.
Negative means that a rating may be lowered.
Stable means that a rating is not likely to change.
Developing means a rating may be raised or lowered.
CreditWatch highlights the potential direction of a short- or long-term rating. It focuses on identifiable events and short-term trends that cause ratings to be placed under special surveillance by Standard & Poor's analytical staff. These may include mergers, recapitalizations, voter referendums, regulatory action, or anticipated operating developments. Ratings appear on CreditWatch when such an event or a deviation from an expected trend occurs and additional information is necessary to evaluate the current rating. A listing, however, does not mean a rating change is inevitable, and whenever possible, a range of alternative ratings will be shown. CreditWatch is not intended to include all ratings under review, and rating changes may occur without the ratings having first appeared on CreditWatch. The "positive" designation means that a rating may be raised; "negative" means a rating may be lowered; and "developing" means that a rating may be raised, lowered, or affirmed.
Requesting The Rating
Telephone call to Rating Agencies by issuer or its representative, followed by a written rating request
Traditional Credit Ratings
Standard & Poor’s Underlying Ratings (SPURs)
Issuer Credit Ratings (ICRs)
Issue Credit Ratings
Provide a Consistent, Reliable Way to Demonstrate Credit Strength
Monitored and Updated Throughout the Life of the Issue
Provide Significantly Enhanced Liquidity & Appeal To Investors
Translate Into Lower Borrowing Costs, More Attractive Financial Terms and Easier Debt Placement
Demonstrate Credit Quality of a Debt Issue on a Stand-Alone Basis, as if not Backed by an Insurer
Offer Tremendous Financing Flexibility & Potential for Cost Savings
Involve Same Full Analytical Review as Issue Ratings
If Opt For Insurance, No Additional Cost For SPUR
Establishes a Consistent Benchmark of General Creditworthiness of an Entity-Regardless of Whether it has Debt Outstanding
Establishes An Entity’s Efficiency & Effectiveness to Business & Financial Partners & Investors
Provides a Management Tool to the Entity
Evaluations That Offer Prompt and Early Feedback of General Strengths & Weaknesses of a Proposed Financing Structure
Convenient Lower-Cost Alternative to a Traditional Rating for Public Sector Issuers Evaluation Potential Financing Strategies
Allow Entities to Evaluate Possible Financing Strategies Rapidly & Efficiently
What happens next?
Once the type of credit evaluation has been chosen, what happens next?
Primary/back-up analytic team is assigned
Rating meeting/trip/conference call is scheduled
Key factors that affect the rating are reviewed
What happens next?
Key rating factors include:
Basic underlying economic strength of the entity
Review of operating and financial plans and management policies
Review of debt and capital financing plans
Review of the bond documents
What happens next?
Rating committee is convened
Committee process is not a “black box”
Committee discusses the lead analyst’s recommendation and the pertinent facts affecting the rating
Committee votes on the lead analyst’s recommendation
What happens next?
Issuer is notified of the rating and the major considerations supporting it
Rating can be appealed
If the issuer accepts the rating, rating is disseminated through our web site, the news media and our publications
Rating Meeting/Trip/Conference Call
“ Be Prepared”
Early submission of financial and bond documents for review is positive
Negotiated vs. competitive sale
Meeting/conference call should be a dialogue – not a monologue
It is more effective if issuers speak for themselves
We are not rating the underwriter or financial advisor
Issuer trips are valuable-especially for first time ratings
“ A picture is worth a thousand words”
The ABC’s of GO Bonds
Key Rating Factors
Significant economic factors for our ratings :
Taxpayer Base- residential/commercial/second homes. etc.
Likelihood of future growth and development
Less significant factors for our ratings :
Sources: POS and other documents, government data, outside forecasts and projections
Financial Performance and Flexibility
Sources of funding - revenue diversity and stability
Financial flexibility – revenues and expenditures
Last year/this year/next year
Tax base/tax rate/user rate limitations
Sources: audits, issuer meetings, budgets, state statutes
Overlapping debt burden
Balancing growth pressures and debt issues
Pension, OPEB, and contingent obligations
Focus on fixed costs
Sources: preliminary official statement, audits, capital plans, actuarial studies
Revised representative ranges of key GO ratios
Management: The FMA and So Much More
Economic factors may set the foundation for credit quality, but
We believe most downgrades are management related
Most upgrades also have roots in management decisions, in our opinion
Management factors we have observed influencing financial performance include finance staff competency, ability and willingness to execute strategies, management/governance relationships, staff turnover, and the extent to which policies and procedures exist.
The financial management assessment focuses on a small subset of the policies and practices subset
The Financial Management Assessment
An analysis of practices and policies in the seven areas we believe most likely to affect credit quality.
Revenue and expenditure
2. Budget amendments and updates
3. Long term financial planning
4. Long term capital planning
5. Investment management policies
6. Debt management policies
7. Reserve and liquidity policies
“ Strong” or “ Standard” or “ Vulnerable”
FMA Distribution of SLG Obligors Within Rating Categories
S&P Expectations For 2009
S&P Expectations for 2009
State and local government credit quality has weathered the downturn so far
We believe current quarter may be pivotal as weakening economic and revenue environment, decline of reserves and tightened capital markets may reveal most vulnerable credits
We view it as unlikely that very many will avoid hard choices of expenditure cuts or imposition of additional taxes, fees or other revenue enhancements
Financial positions will be stressed but our criteria recognize economic cycles
Emphasis on quality of financial management at same time that we look at 2010 budget cycle, any federal stimulus package, magnitude and duration of recession and availability of liquidity
Related Credit Reports
Top 10 Management Characteristics Of Highly Rated Credits In U.S. Public Finance: 6/13/2008
Public Finance Criteria: Financial Management Assessment: 6/27/2006
U.S. Public Finance Upgrades Continued to Outnumber Downgrades In the First Quarter, But Ratio Has Weakened Due To The Recession: 4/28/2009
Public Finance Criteria: Key General Obligation Ratio Credit Ranges - Analysis Vs. Reality: 4/2/2008