The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.By Lisa Springer NEW YORK ( StreetAuthority) -- Since July 22, a global market rout has caused -- almost daily -- price swings of up to 300 basis points in the S&P 500. Such market volatility and fears of an imminent recession have triggered a "flight to quality" that has even the most stalwart investors seeking safe havens. At one time, U.S. Treasuries were considered the ultimate in safe investing, mainly because of the U.S.'s "AAA" credit rating. The "AAA" rating is reserved for bond issuers with pristine balance sheets and is an extremely rare status. Only a few countries and companies qualify for this distinction, which is as close as you can get to guaranteed creditworthiness. Unfortunately, since Standard & Poor's downgraded the U.S credit rating from "AAA" to "AA+" in the beginning of August, U.S. Treasuries have lost some of their luster. But despite this tough economic market, there are still a handful of "AAA"-rated companies whose stocks are worth owning for their safety and credit stability. Follow TheStreet on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook. The fact that there are only a few names with the "perfect" credit rating is not only a sign that no new companies have been added to the prestigious "AAA" list in years, but also that several have been downgraded. Standard & Poor's lowered Berkshire Hathaway ( BRK-B) to "AA+" in August, and did the same with General Electric ( GE) and Pfizer ( PFE) two years ago. Today, the number of "AAA"-rated companies in the S&P stands at just four. And in this uncertain market, these are exactly the type of stocks I'm looking for.
2. Microsoft ( MSFT)Yield: 3% Microsoft's Windows software powers 90% of the world's computers. In addition to a dominant brand, Microsoft boasts a top-notch balance sheet and performance metrics any CEO would envy. Five-year growth in earnings has averaged 18% a year, and Microsoft's return on equity of 45% is twice the S&P's 26%. Microsoft's financials are solid. Revenue rose 12% in fiscal year 2011 (ended June 30) to $70 billion, compared with $62 billion in the prior year. EPS improved 28% year-over-year to $2.69. Like many large companies during this uncertain environment, Microsoft is also sitting on a lot of cash. But the numbers are staggering: Microsoft has $50 billion in cash on hand, generates $27 billion in annual cash flow and has only $13 billion in debt. This company isn't going anywhere any time soon.
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