For Canadian issuers, corporate and Government, investors usually rely upon the credit ratings assigned by Dominion Bond Rating Services (DBRS) or the Standard & Poors. Below, from the DBRS website, are the corporate credit rating scales:
Long Term Obligations*
The DBRS® long-term rating scale is meant to give an indication of the risk that a borrower will not fulfill its full obligations in a timely manner, with respect to both interest and principal commitments. Every DBRS rating is based on quantitative and qualitative considerations relevant to the borrowing entity. Each rating category is denoted by the subcategories “high” and “low”. The absence of either a “high” or “low” designation indicates the rating is in the “middle” of the category. The AAA and D categories do not utilize “high”, “middle”, and “low” as differential grades. This scale is also used for preferred and hybrid instruments. References to interest throughout reflect dividend commitments, where applicable, for a preferred instrument. Within Canada, certain securities use the DBRS® Preferred Share Rating Scale.
Long-term debt rated AAA is of the highest credit quality, with exceptionally strong protection for the timely repayment of principal and interest. Earnings are considered stable, the structure of the industry in which the entity operates is strong, and the outlook for future profitability is favourable. There are few qualifying factors present that would detract from the performance of the entity. The strength of liquidity and coverage ratios is unquestioned and the entity has established a credible track record of superior performance. Given the extremely high standard that DBRS has set for this category, few entities are able to achieve a AAA rating.
Long-term debt rated AA is of superior credit quality, and protection of interest and principal is considered high. In many cases they differ from long-term debt rated AAA only to a small degree. Given the extremely restrictive definition DBRS has for the AAA category, entities rated AA are also considered to be strong credits, typically exemplifying above-average strength in key areas of consideration and unlikely to be significantly affected by reasonably foreseeable events.
Long-term debt rated “A” is of satisfactory credit quality. Protection of interest and principal is still substantial, but the degree of strength is less than that of AA rated entities. While “A” is a respectable rating, entities in this category are considered to be more susceptible to adverse economic conditions and have greater cyclical tendencies than higher-rated securities.
Long-term debt rated BBB is of adequate credit quality. Protection of interest and principal is considered acceptable, but the entity is fairly susceptible to adverse changes in financial and economic conditions, or there may be other adverse conditions present which reduce the strength of the entity and its rated securities.
Long-term debt rated BB is defined to be speculative and non-investment grade, where the degree of protection afforded interest and principal is uncertain, particularly during periods of economic recession. Entities in the BB range typically have limited access to capital markets and additional liquidity support. In many cases, deficiencies in critical mass, diversification, and competitive strength are additional negative considerations.
Long-term debt rated B is considered highly speculative and there is a reasonably high level of uncertainty as to the ability of the entity to pay interest and principal on a continuing basis in the future, especially in periods of economic recession or industry adversity.
CCC CC C
Long-term debt rated in any of these categories is very highly speculative and is in danger of default of interest and principal. The degree of adverse elements present is more severe than long-term debt rated B. Long-term debt rated below B often have features which, if not remedied, may lead to default. In practice, there is little difference between these three categories, with CC and C normally used for lower ranking debt of companies for which the senior debt is rated in the CCC to B range.
A security rated D implies the issuer has not met a scheduled payment of interest or principal, the issuer has made it clear that it will miss such a payment in the near future, or in certain cases, that there has been a distressed exchange. In some cases, DBRS may not assign a D rating under a bankruptcy announcement scenario, as allowances for grace periods may exist in the underlying legal documentation. Once assigned, the D rating will continue as long as the missed payment continues to be in arrears, and until such time as the rating is discontinued or reinstated by DBRS. Where this scale is used for preferred securities, the non payment of a dividend will only be considered as a D if the missed payment constitutes default per the legal documents.
* Formerly referred to as “Bond and Long Term Debt”