Updated on January 5, 2024
Article byKumar Rahul
Edited byAshish Kumar Srivastav
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

What Is Notching?

Notching in finance, refers to assigning different credit ratings or risk assessments to other debt instruments issued by the same issuer. It involves differentiating the creditworthiness of various securities or liabilities based on their position in the capital structure or their seniority in repayment.


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Source: Notching (wallstreetmojo.com)

Credit rating agencies and investors can better assess each security’s relative risk and potential default probability by assigning different ratings or risk levels. It helps differentiate the credit quality and potential default risk of each tranche. It is often employed in the context of financial products like collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), asset-backed securities (ABS), or mortgage-backed securities (MBS).

Key Takeaways

  • Notching recognizes that foreign securities may have different levels of seniority, collateralization, or other factors that affect their creditworthiness.
  • It provides investors with valuable information to evaluate and compare different debt instruments. It helps investors understand the relative risk profiles and potential returns associated with each security, aiding in informed investment decision-making.
  • It plays a crucial role in determining the pricing and yields of debt securities. Higher-rated securities resulting from notching generally have lower profits as they are less risky. Lower-rated securities may carry higher yields to compensate for their higher default risk.

How Does Notching In Credit Rating Work?

Notching assigns credit ratings to debt instruments issued by the same issuer. It is a way to differentiate between foreign securities’ creditworthiness and risk levels within a company’s capital structure. Here’s how notching typically works:

  1. Capital Structure Analysis: The first step in notching involves analyzing the issuer’s capital structure, which includes all the different types of debt instruments and their ranking or seniority in repayment. This analysis helps identify the hierarchy of claims in case of default or bankruptcy.
  2. Factors Considered: Various factors determine the appropriate notching level for different securities. These factors can include the position in the capital structure, the priority of payment, the presence of guarantees or collateral, and the underlying credit quality of the issuer.
  3. Rating Agency Criteria: Credit rating agencies typically have their criteria for notching, which may include specific guidelines or methodologies. These criteria can be based on historical default data, statistical models, or expert judgment. The rating agencies use these criteria to assess the relative credit risk of different debt instruments.
  4. Notching Decisions: Each debt instrument is assigned a credit rating or risk assessment based on the analysis and criteria. Lower-ranking or subordinated securities have lower ratings, reflecting higher default risk. Higher-ranking or senior securities may receive higher ratings due to their enhanced claim on the issuer’s assets or cash flows.
  5. Impact on Investors: Notching provides valuable information to investors regarding the relative risk and potential return associated with different debt instruments. Investors can use the notched ratings to make informed decisions based on risk tolerance and investment objectives.
  6. Potential Variations: It’s important to note that nothing can vary between rating agencies or financial institutions. Different agencies may have different methodologies or criteria, leading to variations in the assigned ratings.
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Let us understand it with the help of these examples.

Example #1

Suppose a fictional company, XYZ Corporation, issues two debt instruments: senior unsecured and subordinated convertible bonds. The rating agency evaluates the capital structure and determines that the senior unsecured bonds have a higher repayment priority than the subordinated convertible bonds in case of default.

As a result, the rating agency assigns a higher credit rating to the senior unsecured bonds, reflecting their lower default risk. The subordinated convertible bonds receive a lower rating due to their lower priority and higher risk of non-payment.

Example #2

In a stunning surge, the price of Bitcoin reached $30,000, marking its highest value in over a year. The cryptocurrency‘s resurgence comes as spot exchange-traded funds (ETFs) gain significant traction in the market.

The world’s largest cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, experienced a sharp upward trajectory, surpassing the $30,000 milestone. This price level had not been seen since the previous year, signaling a renewed bullish sentiment among investors.

Driving this surge is the growing popularity of spot ETFs, which have garnered increased attention from retail and institutional investors. This accessibility has attracted a broader range of market participants, contributing to the recent price rally.

Spot ETFs, unlike futures-based ETFs, hold the actual underlying asset, in this case, Bitcoin. This direct ownership provides investors with a sense of security and transparency, further bolstering the appeal of these investment vehicles.

The rise in Bitcoin’s price is seen as a significant milestone for the cryptocurrency market, as it signifies renewed investor confidence and a potential turning point for the overall sentiment toward digital assets. Bitcoin’s volatility and price fluctuations have historically been a concern for some investors, but this recent surge suggests a growing acceptance and maturation of the cryptocurrency ecosystem.

Market experts anticipate that the momentum generated by spot ETFs and increased institutional interest could propel Bitcoin’s price even higher in the coming months. As Bitcoin reaches this remarkable price level, market participants eagerly await further developments in the cryptocurrency space, with a keen eye on the continued growth of spot ETFs and their impact on the broader digital asset market.


Some key reasons why notching is essential:

  1. Differentiation of Risk: Notching allows investors and market participants to differentiate the risk levels among various debt instruments within a company’s capital structure. It recognizes that different securities may have different levels of seniority, collateralization, or other factors affecting their creditworthiness.
  2. Investor Decision-Making: Notching helps investors evaluate and compare different debt instruments issued by the same company. It provides a clearer picture of the relative risk profiles and potential returns associated with each security.
  3. Pricing and Yield Determination: Notching plays a crucial role in determining the pricing and yield of debt securities. Higher-rated securities resulting from notching may have lower profits as they are considered less risky. Conversely, lower-rated securities may carry higher yields to compensate for their higher default risk.
  4. Regulatory Compliance: In some instances, regulatory frameworks may require notching to ensure appropriate risk management and compliance. For example, Basel III regulations for banks consider notching in determining capital requirements.
  5. Transparency and Market Confidence: Notching contributes to transparency in financial markets. By providing a systematic and standardized approach to assessing credit risk, notching enhance market confidence and facilitates a more efficient capital allocation.

Limitations And Criticisms

Notching in finance has some limitations and has faced specific criticisms. Here are a few notable ones:

  1. Subjectivity and Lack of Standardization: Notching involves subjective judgment and interpretation by credit rating agencies. Different agencies may use different methodologies, criteria, and assumptions, leading to variations in the assigned ratings. This lack of standardization can create confusion and make it challenging for investors to compare ratings across agencies.
  2. Simplistic Approach: Critics argue that everything can be simple, as it often relies on predetermined rules and assumptions that may not fully capture the complex and evolving risks associated with debt instruments.
  3. Limited Differentiation: Notching may need to provide more differentiation in risk assessment for specific debt instruments, particularly in situations where the overall credit quality of the issuer could be more robust.
  4. Inadequate Response to Market Conditions: Notching methodologies may only sometimes capture the impact of changing market conditions or unforeseen events. The notch may fail to adequately reflect the heightened risks and interconnectedness among debt instruments during financial stress or systemic crises.
  5. Overreliance on Credit Rating Agencies: Notching relies on the judgments and assessments of credit rating agencies, which have faced criticism for potential conflicts of interest, lack of transparency, and historical failures in accurately assessing credit risks.
  6. Complexity and Investor Understanding: Notching can introduce complexity, especially in structured finance products with multiple tranches. The intricate nature of notching methodologies may make it challenging for individual investors to fully comprehend the relative risks and implications of different ratings or notched levels.
  7. Pro-cyclicality: Notching has been criticized for its potential pro-cyclical nature, meaning that ratings and notched levels may exacerbate market fluctuations during economic downturns or periods of stress. This can lead to a “herd mentality” among investors, further amplifying market volatility.

Moody’s Notching Guidance

Moody’s Notching Guidance helps clarify and consistently apply notching methodologies across different debt instruments and issuers. Here are some critical aspects of Moody’s Notching Guidance:

  1. Objective: Moody’s Notching Guidance aims to ensure that the notching process is transparent, reliable, and applied consistently by Moody’s analysts. It provides a framework for analyzing and assigning different credit ratings or risk assessments to debt instruments based on their relative position in the capital structure and other relevant factors.
  2. Consideration of Factors: Moody’s Notching Guidance considers various factors when determining the appropriate notching level. These factors include seniority, collateral, guarantees, subordination, credit enhancement, cash flow mechanics, and other contractual terms. The guidance outlines how these factors should be evaluated and their impact on notching decisions.
  3. Different Types of Instruments: Moody’s Notching Guidance covers various debt instruments, including senior secured, senior unsecured, subordinated, and hybrid securities. It provides specific guidance on how notching should apply to each type of instrument, considering their respective claims and risk profiles within the issuer’s capital structure.
  4. Rating Scale Differentiation: Moody’s Notching Guidance also addresses the differentiation in ratings between notched debt instruments. It provides insights into the potential rating differentials between senior and subordinated debt, considering the level of risk associated with each device.
  5. Market and Sector-Specific Considerations: The guidance recognizes that market conditions, sector-specific characteristics, and regulatory requirements can influence notching decisions. Moody’s analysts consider these factors when applying notching methodologies to ensure that the ratings reflect the specific risks and dynamics of the industry or market in which the issuer operates.
  6. Regular Review and Updates: Moody’s Notching Guidance is subject to periodic review and updates to incorporate evolving market practices, regulatory changes, and feedback from market participants.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Is notching always reliable in assessing credit risk?

Notching is subject to limitations and criticisms. It involves subjective judgment, a potential lack of standardization, and simplifying complex risks. Notching may not capture all factors influencing credit risk, and it relies on the credibility and accuracy of credit rating agencies.

2. How often are notchings updated?

Notched ratings are subject to periodic updates by credit rating agencies. The frequency of updates can vary based on the agency’s policies, market conditions, and changes in the issuer’s credit profile.

3. Can notching change during economic downturns or crises?

Notching can be influenced by changing market conditions. During economic downturns or crises, notching may be adjusted to reflect the heightened risks and interconnectedness among different debt instruments.

This article has been a guide to what is Notching in Credit Rating. Here, we explain its examples, importance, limitations, criticisms, and Moody’s guidance. You may also find some useful articles here –