New year US corporate bond issuance tally tops $45 billion

By Matt Tracy

(Reuters) – U.S. corporate borrowers are raising nearly $16 billion in high-grade rated bonds on Wednesday, adding to a $29 billion issuance binge on Tuesday, as companies looked to grab strong investor demand ahead of economic data releases.

Among the issuers was Berkshire Hathaway-owned utility Pacificorp, which raised $3.8 billion in bonds that will be used to repay debt and fund settlement claims related to wildfires in Oregon and Northern California.

Other Wednesday deals include $2.5 billion in notes sold by French bank Credit Agricole and another $2.5 billion by the financing arm of automaker Hyundai.

“Companies are taking advantage of the ‘January effect’ as investors start to deploy fresh investment capital in the new year after the seasonally quiet back half of December,” said Scott Schulte, head of the investment-grade debt syndicate desk at Barclays.

“The push to get deals done early in the week is also motivated by the notion that the meaningful year-end decline in Treasury yields was arguably overdone and key economic data releases later this week risk showing an inflationary surprise,” he added.

Wednesday’s primary issuance follows a strong Tuesday performance. Sixteen borrowers sold $29.3 billion in bonds, the most since Labor Day last September and the second-best start to a year behind 2023, according to a Wednesday report by BMO Capital Markets.

So far, investor demand has been strong for the new bonds. On Tuesday, the bonds sold were 2.83 times oversubscribed, according to Informa Global Markets.

The busy start to the New Year comes even as high-grade bond spreads widened slightly this week, according to the ICE BofA U.S. Corporate Option-Adjusted Spread Index.

Analysts and investors have mixed outlooks for the U.S. economy. Expected Federal Reserve interest rate cuts have some optimistic the economy is set for a “Goldilocks” soft landing, while others see a mild recession in the cards.

Regardless, investors are buying high-grade bonds in earnest, aiming to lock in yields that may not be available if the Federal Reserve starts to cut U.S. rates later this year.

“What is not a possibility but rather a certainty, in our view, is that yields at multi-decade highs leads to buying of HG credit day in and day out,” JPMorgan analysts wrote in their 2024 outlook last month.

This week has seen $45.2 billion in high-grade corporate bond issuance so far, which BMO said could go higher as borrowers previously on the sidelines weigh coming to the market now.

(Reporting by Matt Tracy; Additional reporting by Shankar Ramakrishnan; Editing by Bill Berkrot)