What Is an Asset Quality Rating?

An asset quality rating refers to the assessment of credit risk associated with a particular asset, such as a bond or stock portfolio. The level of efficiency in which an investment manager controls and monitors credit risk heavily influences the rating bestowed.

Because asset quality is an important determinant of risk that profoundly impacts liquidity and costs, analysts go to great lengths to make sure they issue the most accurate evaluations possible. Indeed, their pronouncements can greatly affect the overall condition of a business, bank, or portfolio for years to come.

Key Takeaways

  • Asset quality rating assesses the relative riskiness of assets held in a portfolio.
  • The highest-quality assets are Treasuries and other highly-rated bonds.
  • Banks evaluate the asset quality (given a score of 1 to 5) of their loan and securities portfolio to determine their financial stability.

Understanding Asset Quality Ratings

Analysts consider a multitude of factors when issuing asset quality ratings, including portfolio diversification, operational efficiency, and how existing regulatory frameworks may or may not limit credit risk.

A rating of “one” may signal that an asset possesses high quality with little credit risk. Such a rating would likely be assigned to ultra-secure U.S. government Treasury bills (T-Bills). At the other end of the spectrum, a rating of “five” would likely be given to assets with significant credit deficits, such as high-risk corporate-issued junk bonds.

Asset Quality and Bank Financial Stability

Asset quality is also an important determinant of the overall financial condition of a bank. For banks, the primary factor affecting overall asset quality is the quality of their loan portfolio and their credit administration program.

Loans typically comprise a majority of a bank's assets and carry the greatest amount of risk to their capital. Securities may also comprise a large portion of the assets and also contain significant risks. Other items which can impact asset quality are other real estate, other assets, off-balance sheet items, and to a lesser extent, cash and due from accounts, real estate holdings, and fixed assets

The asset quality rating of a bank reflects its existing and potential credit risk associated with its loan and investment portfolios, other real estate owned, and other assets, as well as off-balance sheet transactions.

Asset Quality Ratings Definitions

The FDIC has established asset quality rating definitions that are applied to banks following a thorough evaluation of existing and potential risks and the mitigation of those risks. The definitions of each rating are as follows:

  • A rating of 1 indicates strong asset quality and credit administration practices. Identified weaknesses are minor in nature and risk exposure is modest in relation to capital protection and management’s abilities. Asset quality in such institutions is of minimal supervisory concern.
  • A rating of 2 indicates satisfactory asset quality and credit administration practices. The level and severity of classifications and other weaknesses warrant a limited level of supervisory attention. Risk exposure is commensurate with capital protection and management’s abilities.
  • A rating of 3 is assigned when asset quality or credit administration practices are less than satisfactory. Trends may be stable or indicate deterioration in asset quality or an increase in risk exposure. The level and severity of classified assets, other weaknesses, and risks require an elevated level of supervisory concern. There is generally a need to improve credit administration and risk management practices.
  • A rating of 4 is assigned to financial institutions with deficient asset quality or credit administration practices. The levels of risk and problem assets are significant, inadequately controlled, and subject the financial institution to potential losses that, if left unchecked, may threaten its viability.
  • A rating of 5 represents critically deficient asset quality or credit administration practices that present an imminent threat to the institution's viability.