Moody's Investors Service said yesterday that it raised the ratings on 60 municipal debt issues and lowered the ratings on 55, in actions that affected a total of about $11 billion in the second quarter of 1991.
The agency upgraded $9.2 billion of municipal debt, while it lowered ratings on only $1.7 billion. "In terms of debt affected," the agency said in a press release, "results were very favorable."
New England and mid-Atlantic ratings continued to show the wear and tear of the recession those regions are weathering. Moody's said in its announcement.
Municipal debt downgrades outpaced upgrades 16 to nine in the mid-Atlantic region, while the ratio was nine to two in New England, Moody's reported in the announcement, which tabulated second quarter rating changes.
"It definitely is a function of the recession and consuequent effects on financial condition," Jeffrey F. Rizzo, a vice president and managing director for regional ratings at the agency, said in a telephone interview yesterday.
Regions less vulnerable to the recession reflected their strength in their ratings. In the Southeast, 17 issuers gained better ratings while only five had ratings fall.
The Southwest and Rocky Mountain regions lodged their first positive ratios since the early 1980s, according to Moody's report. In those regions, nine ratings rose and six fell.
Overall, "it's been basically a break-even quarter," said Mr. Rizzo, reflecting on the 2,200 ratings assigned, confirmed, or changed over the three months from April to June 30.
"From 1986 to 1989, there were far more upgrades and downgrades. There was a significant margin between the number of upgrades and downgrades," Mr. Rizzo said. "Beginning in 1990, that margin really narrowed, and then in the first quarter of 1991, there were more downgrades than upgrades."
In that quarter, the agency lowered 46 municipal debt ratings and raised 35. For the second quarter, the agency downgraded 55 issues and raised ratings on 60.
Moody's announcement followed one from Standard & Poor's Corp., which grimly reported it had lowered 197 municipal ratings and raised 91 during this year's first half. In addition, Standard & Poor's predicted falling ratings would "continue to exceed the number of upgrades -- at least through the balance of this year, and probably well into 1992.
Of the $9.2 billion in upgraded securities, most was issued by public utilities. Bonds of the Jacksonville Electric Authority, the Nebraska Public Power District, and Philadelphia's water and sewer system accounted for $6 billion.
For the first half of the year, Moody's reported results that on balance were not favorable, with 95 upgrades affecting $11.7 billion of securities and 101 downgrades affecting $19.7 billion. Downgrading New York City bonds in the first quarter provided $16.5 billion of that term's negative results.