Junk-Bond Issuance Surges to $26 Billion in the Last Stages of Boom

  • Sales limited to better quality borrowers or those paying up
  • `Line has been drawn' about who can tap a bifurcated market

The U.S. junk bond market reopened for business in November -- but only for a select group of companies.

Speculative-grade borrowers raised about $26 billion of debt this month, more than double what was sold in October. That made it the busiest month for the riskier borrowings since May. Issuance was dominated by companies whose credit profile is on the rise and those who were willing to pay up.

KKR & Co.-backed First Data Corp. issued $3.2 billion of bonds on the heels of an initial public offering. American Energy – Permian Basin LLC, an oil-and-gas business owned by Aubrey McClendon’s American Energy Partners, lured investors to a $530 million note sale with a 13 percent yield.

“The line has been drawn, you have bifurcation in quality, and you’re seeing the last stages of the issuance boom,” said John McClain, a money manager at Diamond Hill Capital Management Inc. in Columbus, Ohio, which oversees $16 billion. “You have to proceed with caution in high yield. It doesn’t feel like the pain is over by any means, and no one wants to get stuck holding the bag.”

Investors are more discerning in a junk-bond market where a rout in commodities may leave them with the first loss since 2008. And even as issuance of the debt picked up this month, this year’s tally of $275.6 billion is down by 21.6 percent from last year’s pace.

While borrowing costs for all junk-rated companies have risen, the difference between the yield on debt rated in the CCC tier and lower and better-quality borrowings with BB grades has widened to a more than five-year high of 9.45 percent from 5.73 percent in March, Bank of America Merrill Lynch Indexes show.

Do "Homework"

“You can still make money, but investors have to do a lot more homework in high yield," said Jody Lurie, a corporate credit analyst at Janney Montgomery Scott LLC in Philadelphia, which manages $61 billion in assets.

American Energy - Permian Basin’s bond sale was $30 million less than what it tried to raise in an earlier attempt last month when investors demanded yields exceeding 10 percent from the struggling oil and gas producer. The company, which’s rated seven levels below investment-grade by Standard & Poor’s, is using the proceeds to pay down its credit line and help finance an acquisition.

“Investors have been challenged this year from the unanticipated long duration of the low-oil-price environment, and you are seeing an end of the buy anything and everything that is high yield,” said Lurie.

First Data issued the bonds in a two-part deal on Nov. 5 after boosting it from $1.5 billion, Bloomberg data show. The deal came less than a week after the company raised $3.4 billion of notes. The payment processor’s offerings came on the heels of an October initial public offering that resulted in its rating being boosted to B+ from B, by S&P.

“You have real extreme differentiation in performance in the market, with a strong preference for the higher quality,"said Martin Fridson, a money manager at Lehmann Livian Fridson Advisors LLC. "Stronger names have a better chance of getting deals done.”

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