According to the top rating agencies, the Greater Richmond counties are in the top 1% for bond assurances in the United States. Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico are triple AAA rated, meaning they have received the highest credit rating from each of the major rating agencies in the U.S.
Only 47 counties nationwide are triple AAA rated, and 10 of them are in Virginia. This is the highest amount of triple AAA counties in any state, followed by Maryland with eight and North Carolina with five. The Greater Richmond Region has one of the highest concentrations of triple AAA credit ratings of Metro Statistical Areas (MSA) in the U.S., alongside Maryland’s Baltimore MSA and the Washington, D.C., MSA.
Municipalities rely on esteemed third-party entities to provide credit ratings, research, and risk analyses to assist them in making timely decisions regarding debt strategies for bonds. It is important for a municipality to be aware of its current financial stability and outlook to remain in good financial standing while receiving and repaying its bonds.
The three top entities that issue bond ratings are Moody’s Investors Service, Standard & Poor’s, and Fitch Ratings. Each has nine different ratings for bonds issued nation-wide. At Moody’s, the top three highest are Aaa, followed by Aa and then A. Numerical markers may be added to ratings Aa through Caa to further specify rankings, with 1 being highest. Aaa is defined as “of the highest quality, subject to the lowest level of credit risk.” Standard & Poor’s and Fitch issue assessments with slightly different ranking labels: AAA is the highest ranking on both service’s scales. Should a municipality receive an AAA rating from each of the rating entities—an achievement for only the top performing municipalities—it is considered triple AAA.
City of Richmond
The City of Richmond maintains an overall rating of Aa2 from Moody’s and received an Aa2 rating with a positive outlook for its 2018 GO Public Improvement Bonds. In 2017, the rating of Aa2 was awarded to each of its GO bonds.
Both Standard & Poor’s and Fitch issued AA+ ratings on the City of Richmond’s 2018 GO Public Improvement bonds and Issuer Default Rating. With this rating, Fitch stated, “The AA+ IDR and GO bonds rating reflect the city’s sound operating performance, solid growth prospects for revenue, unlimited legal authority to adjust revenue, and moderate long-term liability burden — all of which are supported by a growing economic base.”
Approximately 1% of counties nationwide have received a triple AAA credit designation, and Chesterfield is one of them. A county assigned AAA rating from each of the three credit ranking agencies—Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s, and Fitch—is considered triple AAA credit status.
The county has maintained triple AAA ratings in GO bonds since 1997, one from each rating agency. Moody’s said that Chesterfield’s 2018 Aaa rating for the county and GO bonds “reflects the county’s favorably located, sizable, and diverse tax base, as well as its regional importance in the economy; strong financial operations guided by sound fiscal guidelines; and an elevated but manageable debt position.”
The scores from Standard and Poor’s and Fitch Ratings were still AAA in 2018 for the county and GO bonds, which “reflect the county’s robust financial management” today.
Also among the 1% of counties nationwide to have receive the triple AAA credit designation is Hanover. Moody’s ranks Hanover County as Aaa with a stable outlook as of 2015 and assigned Aaa ratings to its 2015 General Obligation (GO) bonds. GO bonds fund government projects that will improve the local communities, and a municipality may use any revenue source to repay the bond.
Fitch rated Hanover County as AAA overall and for its GO bonds in 2018, with a stable outlook, and Standard & Poor’s also rated the county as AAA. Fitch said the assigned AAA rating reflects “the county’s notable financial flexibility, lack of legal limitations on taxing its growing property base, and low debt levels.”
Henrico County has recently earned an Aaa bond rating and stable outlook from Moody’s for its upcoming 2019 water and sewer revenue bond issue, making it one of 12 localities in the country to receive the company’s highest possible rating for water & sewer. Chesterfield County also received this Aaa status in 2016.
Moody’s announced that “the Aaa rating reflects the system’s dynamic service area” and “a healthy financial performance with a narrower liquidity position due to support of the system’s capital program, ample water supply and capacity, manageable leverage, and satisfactory legal provisions.”
Henrico County has held Aaa and AAA ratings for GO bonds from Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s since 1977—becoming one of the first counties in the nation to receive the highest bond rating at that time—and from Fitch since 1998. This triple AAA credit status ranks it among the 1% of counties with that designation alongside Hanover and Chesterfield.
Henrico will be issuing $77.2 million in water and sewer revenue bonds for system improvements in 2019, and the bond rating reassures this action. Henrico has maintained the AAA rating for water and sewer bonds from both Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings since 2009.
Supported by strong state ratings
Virginia has a triple AAA overall credit rating and contains the highest amount of triple AAA rated counties out of all the states. There are only 47 total triple AAA rated counties out of 3,007 total counties nationwide. Approximately 20% of those 47 are in Virginia.
Along with its 2019 Aaa rating and stable outlook, Moody’s concluded that “Virginia’s Aaa rating reflects a stable economy with a sizeable federal government presence, a long history of conservative financial management, comprehensive debt and pension management practices, and a strong governance structure.” Each of Virginia’s specific bond outlooks, such as Transportation Revenue, School Financing, and Public Facilities are Aa1 or higher for 2019. Virginia also has a stable outlook and AAA ratings on its current and projected GO bonds with Fitch and Standard and Poor’s.
These consistently high ratings in Virginia and the counties of Greater Richmond highlight the stability and reliability of the region’s infrastructure improvements for long term prosperity.