DMPQ- Explain 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.

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