DALLAS -- Standard & Poor's Corp. yesterday affirmed its AAA rating for Dallas, one day after the city lost its distinction as the only major city with the top rating from two Wall Street agencies.
On the eve of today's $90.4 million general obligation bond sale, agency analysts cited strong fiscal management, declining GO debt levels, and a diversified economic base as the keys to their decision to affirm the rating held by the city since 1978.
The decision also affects $450 million of outstanding GO dept, $11.3 million of combination tax and revenue certificates of obligation, and $13.4 million of equipment acquisition notes issued by the city's Dallas Property Finance Authority Inc.
The confirmation comes a day after the city's rating was cut to Aa1 by Moody's Investors Service, which cited continued declines in property values that have strained Dallas finances. Until Monday, Dallas had been the last major city with a triple-A rating from both Moody's and Standard & Poor's.
While yesterday's announcement affected only the city, Standard & Poor's analysts said the Dallas Independent School District and Dallas County are still under review. On Monday, Moody's also downgraded the school district from Aaa to Aa, while saying the county is under review.
The affirmation means that Dallas will sell debt today with a split rating for the first time in 14 years. Dallas City Manager Jan Hart predicted" little negative fallout over the earlier downgrade.
"We have out triple-A," Hart declared after learning of the affirmation. Asked to explain the split view of the city's credit, she said, "I think Moody's is looking at the past and Standard & Poor' is looking at the past and the future."
In their statement and interviews, Standard & Poor's officials said that even though the Dallas tax base has declined 17% since the peak year in 1989, the city has a strong underlying economy that is poised for a turnaround.
"We would anticipate that there would be some stabilization by next year," said Joseph O'Keefe, director of general obligation bond ratings at Standard & Poor's.
Peter D'Erchia, a senior vice president at the agency, added, "We looked beyond just the 5.9% reduction" in the tax base this year.
For instance, the city's assessed valuation would have dropped less if Dallas officials had not given tax breaks to some businesses. But he said that such incentives spur economic growth.
In its report, Standard & Poor's focused on the growth in the city economy and note that debt levels remain modest, dropping to $571 per capita in 1992 from a peak of $691 in 1988.
O'Keefe said the city's new administration remains committed to long-standing fiscal policies that have restricted debt sales. Agency analysts also said the city expects future capital programs to be smaller than historic levels.
"It's our impression that capital needs are pretty modest given the growth in the economy," he said.