Last 4 Triple-A Stocks Standing

Only these four publicly traded companies retain the highest possible credit rating. And each is a bargain at today’s prices.

We’ve been singing the virtues of high-quality dividend-paying stocks for months, and our tune still hasn’t changed. They’re a bargain: These stocks lagged during the market’s roaring rally off the lows of March 2009, and they’ve been beaten up along with everything else over the past few months. Not only are such blue chips cheap, they’re the kind of companies that you can feel good about owning in the face of economic uncertainty.

But within that elite club of high-quality companies is an even more selective group. Only four publicly traded companies still hold triple-A credit ratings (this figure has been in steady decline since the early 1980s, when 32 non-financial firms held the highest rating). Moody's, Fitch and Standard & Poor's assign ratings that assess a company's ability to pay its debts. To be sure, the credit-rating agencies haven’t covered themselves in glory over the past few years. (Remember AIG? It held a triple-A credit rating until less than a day after Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy in September 2008, sending AIG into a tailspin.) But this stamp of approval still means that a company is financially healthy, doesn’t have too much debt and is generating plenty of cash to meet its obligations. (All prices and related numbers are as of the September 8 close.)

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Elizabeth Leary
Contributing Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance
Elizabeth Leary (née Ody) first joined Kiplinger in 2006 as a reporter, and has held various positions on staff and as a contributor in the years since. Her writing has also appeared in Barron's, BloombergBusinessweek, The Washington Post and other outlets.