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Baltimore sells debt with highest rating in 50 years

Baltimore is selling about $64 million of bonds this week as the municipality’s general-obligation debt carries the highest credit scores in half a century.

The municipality is issuing about $43 million of tax-exempt debt and $21 million of taxable bonds this week, bond documents show. The competitive sale is set to go to market July 30, said Stephen Kraus, the city’s treasury director.

Proceeds will go toward public improvements, including construction and rehabilitation of schools, libraries, parks, recreation centers and public buildings, Kraus said. The city of 622,104, home to Under Armour Inc. and Johns Hopkins University, is borrowing with benchmark interest rates the lowest since May 2013.

The timing is “primarily driven by project need,” Kraus said in an interview. “The projects pretty much drive the schedule. It’s a good environment right now.”

Standard & Poor’s last week raised the city’s general obligations one level to AA, the third-highest rating, citing the city’s budget flexibility. Moody’s Investors Services ranks the bonds Aa2, also the third-highest grade.

Baltimore records show that the pairing of grades is the highest for its general-obligation bonds in 50 years, Kraus said. The municipality last sold general obligations in January 2013.

The city has had a surplus the last three years and is expected to extend that trend in the year that started July 1, Kraus said.

Tax-exempt general-obligation bonds maturing in October 2020 traded July 24 with an average yield of 1.76 percent, or 0.22 percentage point above benchmark munis, data compiled by Bloomberg show. That’s little changed from a spread of about 0.15 percentage point when the bonds were issued at the start of last year.