You might find a rating agency using these long-term issue credit ratings’ category definitions:
An obligation rated ‘AAA’ has the highest rating assigned by the rating agency. 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.
Obligations rated ‘BB’, ‘B’, ‘CCC’, ‘CC’, and ‘C’ are regarded as having significant speculative characteristics. ‘BB’ indicates the least degree of speculation and ‘C’ the highest. While such obligations will likely have some quality and protective characteristics, these may be outweighed by large uncertainties or major exposures to adverse conditions.
An obligation rated ‘BB’ is less vulnerable to nonpayment than other speculative issues. However, it faces major ongoing uncertainties or exposure to adverse business, financial, or economic conditions which could lead to the obligor’s inadequate capacity to meet its financial commitment on the obligation.
An obligation rated ‘B’ is more vulnerable to nonpayment than obligations rated ‘BB’, but the obligor currently has the capacity to meet its financial commitment on the obligation. Adverse business, financial, or economic conditions will likely impair the obligor’s capacity or willingness to meet its financial commitment on the obligation.
An obligation rated ‘CCC’ is currently vulnerable to nonpayment, and is dependent upon favorable business, financial, and economic conditions for the obligor to meet its financial commitment on the obligation. In the event of adverse business, financial, or economic conditions, the obligor is not likely to have the capacity to meet its financial commitment on the obligation.
An obligation rated ‘CC’ is currently highly vulnerable to nonpayment. The ‘CC’ rating is used when a default has not yet occurred, but the rating agency expects default to be a virtual certainty, regardless of the anticipated time to default.
An obligation rated ‘C’ is currently highly vulnerable to nonpayment,and the obligation is expected to have lower relative seniority or lower ultimate recovery compared to obligations that are rated higher.
An obligation rated ‘D’ is in default or in breach of an imputed promise. For non-hybrid capital instruments, the ‘D’ rating category is used when payments on an obligation are not made on the date due, unless the rating agency believes that such payments will be made within five business days in the absence of a stated grace period or within the earlier of the stated grace period or 30 calendar days. The ‘D’ rating also will be used upon the filing of a bankruptcy petition or the taking of similar action and where default on an obligation is a virtual certainty, for example due to automatic stay provisions. An obligation’s rating is lowered to ‘D’ if it is subject to a distressed exchange offer.
NR indicates that no rating has been requested, or that there is insufficient information on which to base a rating, or that the rating agency does not rate a particular obligation as a matter of policy.
Why are there no legally binding definitions of rating symbols here? Depending on the subject of the rating and the scope of application, different legal framework conditions apply, which also differ in states of different legal systems. Rating scales are the subject of a development that has lasted for more than a century. Rating agencies continue to develop their scales due to new insights, improved analytical techniques and growing or changing market requirements. Therefore, in each individual case, the evidence of a rating is to be examined as to which statement should be made with a rating. Depending on the time, subject and other conditions, rating symbols are to be interpreted differently. Therefore, we recommend detailed advice. Why are rating agencies not mentioned here by name? It is the responsibility of each rating agency to provide its definitions of rating symbols and, if necessary, to update them. It happens that different rating agencies use the same rating symbols, sometimes with comparable but sometimes with different meanings. The definitions offered by rating agencies need to be questioned because in rare cases the wording of the definitions is ambiguous and promises, for example, a certainty of judgment that we at RATING EVIDENCE can not confirm empirically.