Triple-A Ratings Are So Yesterday : Planet Money It used to be that companies strove for the best credit rating possible. Today, however, almost everyone's happy to slide by with a barely passing grade.
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Triple-A Ratings Are So Yesterday

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Triple-A Ratings Are So Yesterday

Triple-A Ratings Are So Yesterday

Triple-A Ratings Are So Yesterday

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/803201941/803213641" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Two workers at a General Electric plant in 1980. GE is one of many American companies that used to strive for pristine bond ratings but today gets by with a barely passing grade. Central Press/Getty Images hide caption

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Central Press/Getty Images

Two workers at a General Electric plant in 1980. GE is one of many American companies that used to strive for pristine bond ratings but today gets by with a barely passing grade.

Central Press/Getty Images

A company's credit rating is a lot like a person's credit score. The better the score, the more easily—and cheaply—you can borrow money through the debt markets. The highest score a company can get is AAA. The lowest is D. And for many years, companies strove to get that AAA rating. It wasn't just the key to low borrowing rates, it was also a sign of solidity and reliability. And it came with serious bragging rights.

Back in the 80s, there were dozens of AAA-rated companies. Today, though, there are just two. Microsoft and Johnson & Johnson. That's it. Most other companies appear to have given up aiming for that AAA gold standard. They don't see the point. In fact, many companies seem quite happy to get a BBB-, which is the lowest rating that many investment companies will tolerate, and just one notch above a 'high-yield' or 'junk' rating.

How can this be? How is it that corporations have gotten okay with letting themselves go like this? We talk with Moody's Analytics Chief Capital Markets Economist John Lonski and Bloomberg Credit Reporter Claire Boston about what's changed in the bond market and why companies are content to get a passing grade.

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