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Delta gets long-awaited investment grade credit rating

Delta Air Lines has secured a long-awaited investment grade rating from a credit rating agency, after years of languishing at junk status.

Getting an investment grade rating has been a key goal of Delta CEO Richard Anderson, who announced last week that he would retire in May.

Moody's Investor Service upgraded most of Delta's debt ratings to Baa3, which is its lowest rung of investment grade ratings, from Ba3. Moody's cited Delta's reduction of its debt and ongoing stability of its operations, "which we believe will enable Delta to continue to handle the industry's volatility," said Moody's senior credit officer Jonathan Root in a written statement. Moody's is one of the "big three" credit rating agencies.

The upgrade is "a validation of the hard work that everyone's been doing," said Delta spokesman Trebor Banstetter. The benefits over the long term are better access to financing, he said.

With the upgrade, Delta joins Southwest Airlines and Alaska Air, which already have investment grade credit ratings.

The upgrade comes as Delta prepares to pay out $1.5 billion in profit sharing to its employees on Friday.

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Business reporter Kelly Yamanouchi covers airlines and the airport.