Investment Grade Bonds

Irrespective of the investment type, decision-making entails detailed market research and analysis. Investors use a combination of fundamental and technical analysis to evaluate the investment's worth. Various research reports, financials, and industry reviews assist in chalking out an investment plan

Credit ratings are an additional parameter for debt instruments to measure the risk-reward trade-off for the investment. This blog highlights the various investment-grade ratings and the bonds that fall under investment-grade bonds.

What is investment-grade credit rating?

Bonds are financial instruments that pay fixed income at regular intervals for a fixed tenor and repay the principal at the end of the tenor. Bonds may be secured to a specific asset, whereas unsecured bonds rely on the issuer's creditworthiness and income-generating capacity.

Credit rating agencies evaluate the risk of default associated with bonds and accordingly assign ratings. There are several credit rating agencies worldwide. Globally, Standards & Poor, Fitch, and Moody are some of the most prestigious credit rating agencies. In India, CRISIL and ICRA are well-known. Each rating agency evaluates numerous financial parameters and assigns a rating to a bond.

Ratings range from AAA to C and D. AAA-rated instruments are the safest, with low default risk. The credit risk associated with D-rated bonds is the highest, or the bond is currently the default.

The below table summarizes investment-grade ratings –

Rating Description
AAA Highest level of safety; Low level of default risk
AA+, AA, AA- Very low default risk
A+, A, A- Low default risk
BBB+, BBB, BBB- Moderate default risk
B+, B, B- High default risk
CCC+, CCC, CCC- Very high default risk
CC Highly speculative
C Highest level of default risk
D Currently in default

Although the terminology of ratings differs for each rating agency, the level of risk involved is standard. Bonds are of two types - investment-grade bonds and junk bonds based on the assigned ratings.

Investment-Grade Bonds

Investment-grade bond refers to bonds with a relatively low default risk compared to other bonds, i.e., the credit risk ranges from lowest to moderate levels. Typically, investment-grade bonds include bonds with a rating of BBB or higher. Companies with reasonable debt levels, good earnings potential and decent debt-paying history are assigned investment-grade ratings.

On the contrary, bonds with a lower credit rating, such as BB, B or CCC, are high-risk and low-credit quality bonds commonly referred to as junk bonds. Investment in junk bonds is highly speculative.

Government securities, treasury bills, and commercial paper are AAA+ rated since the default risk associated with such securities is minimal. Investment-grade investments include debt instruments such as bonds, debentures, and corporate deposits of established, blue-chip companies.

In 2018, S&P Global conducted an Annual Global Corporate Default and Rating Transition Study to assess default rates for different classes of bond ratings. The highest one-year default rate for investment-grade bonds was less than 1%, whereas for CCC/C- rated bonds were up to 49.28%. Hence, institutional investors prefer dealing in investment-grade bonds due to low default rates.

Investment Grade Credit Rating Details

Understanding investment-grade bonds are significant since it suggests the risk associated with the investment. Credit rating agencies evaluate the issuer's creditworthiness and the leverage, cash flow, earnings, and financial ratios of the issuer.

Bond investment grades are subject to review and change. Rating agencies may downgrade bonds due to a change in the issuer's financial health. Recession, industry-specific hurdles, and other factors may affect the cash flow of the issuer. Similarly, technological advancement or the emergence of a rival can impact the earning potential of the issuer. During the financial crisis of 2008, credit rating agencies downgraded various AAA-rated companies and securities.

While an investment downgrade of bonds from BBB to BB is merely a one-step drop, the repercussions are severe. The instrument moves from investment grade to junk and indicates that the company may struggle with its debt obligations. In turn, it impacts the cost of borrowing and the issuer's profitability.

Implications of Credit Rating on Bond Yields

Bond yield refers to the return earned from the bond. For an issuer, bond yield is the cost of borrowing. Credit ratings have a direct impact on bond yields. However, a higher bond rating fetches a lower bond yield. The risk involved with a highly rated bond is relatively low, so the returns from the bond are limited. Similarly, junk bonds are speculative and highly risky; therefore, the bond yield is high.

For example, a 10-year AAA-rated government bond may have a bond yield of 3%, but a 5-year BB- corporate bond returns 7%.

Consequently, the bond investment grade affects the cost of capital and the revenue-generating capacity of the issuer. A rating downgrade can increase the borrowing cost and reduce future cash flows of the issuer.

Bottom Line

Bond ratings signify the level of risk associated with a debt instrument. However, investors must also evaluate the issuer's financial performance along with its top management, industry, and other macroeconomic factors before investing.

Frequently Asked Questions Expand All

Ans. Investment-grade corporate bonds are relatively safer than high-yielding or junk bonds. The risk involved ranges between low to medium levels.

Ans. The three types of investment-grade bonds include –

High-Grade Quality – It contains bonds rated between AAA to AA-.

Medium Grade Quality – Bonds ratings between A+ to A- are medium-grade quality.

Lower Grade Quality – BBB+ to BBB- bonds are the lowest grade.

Ans. The difference between investment-grade and junk bonds is the rating assigned, the risk involved and bond yield.