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Moody's upgrades Starwood rating

NEW YORK (AP) -- Moody's Investors Service upgraded its rating on Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. Tuesday as the hotel operator on improved performance and lower debt.

Starwood, whose brands include St. Regis, Westin and Sheraton, reported adjusted fourth-quarter profit last month that beat market expectations.

The rating agency said Starwood has steadily increased its occupancy and cut its debt. That has driven improved earnings and credit measures, Moody's said.

Moody's said it expects that business will continue to improve, driving stronger earnings, credit measures and liquidity. In turn, the rating agency upgraded its senior unsecured rating on the company three notches to investment-grade ratings of "Baa3" from an earlier junk grade "Ba1" rating. The outlook is stable.

Moody's also withdrew its corporate family and probability of default ratings of "Ba1" along with its speculative liquidity rating of "SGL-2."

Starwood has 1,089 properties in more than 100 countries.

Its shares increased $2.06, nearly 4 percent, to $56.56 in afternoon trading.