The morning after is always when reality hits.
Reading the news headlines about China's recently minted sovereign bond, one could be forgiven for thinking President Xi Jinping's moment in the capital markets has arrived. The government's $1 billion of 10-year notes were priced just 25 basis points over Treasuries, with the spread narrowing to less than 10 basis points Friday morning. That puts China in the same category as AAA-rated Germany.
Beijing has said it doesn't need any more dollars, and its first U.S. currency offering since 2004 was more to set a benchmark for state enterprises borrowing overseas.
The market isn't buying it.
Compare China to Indonesia, a heavy and consistent dollar borrower. The 4.125 percent 2027 debentures of PT Perusahaam Listrik Negara, a state-owned monopoly electricity distributor, are trading about 55 basis points wide of Indonesia's 10-year sovereign bond. Since China is considered more creditworthy than its Southeast Asian neighbor, you'd imagine its quasi-sovereign spread would be narrower.
That's not the case. The spread over Treasuries of State Grid Corp. of China's 2027 3.5 percent dollar bonds narrowed just 1.5 basis points on Friday to trade 69 basis points wide of the sovereign while China Petroleum and Chemical Corp.'s 3.25 percent 10-year notes sold in September tightened by a similar amount to a 79-basis-point spread.
Granted, both were bid up as the sovereign sale approached, with spreads of the latter falling 20 basis points this month, but nonetheless, demand for China's government bond hasn't helped boost prices as much as one might expect.
Indonesia's government, by contrast, has $38.75 billion of dollar debt outstanding, with due dates ranging from one to 30 years. That makes a nice yield curve against which the nation's corporates can benchmark.
If anything, China's sovereign sale will mean more state-owned firms must test the waters for themselves. China Huarong Asset Management Co. plans to meet with investors next week for a mixed Singapore and U.S. dollar offering, according to a person familiar with the matter. The bad-debt manager has already raised $5.6 billion from international markets this year.
For all the fanfare surrounding China's first sovereign bond sale in more than a decade, it seems the real work of building a benchmark will fall in true communist style to the people.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.
(Adds footnote to first chart to clarify bonds referenced.)
As benchmarked against KfW's 2025 notes, the issue cited by banks marketing China's sovereign sale.
China sold $1 billion of 10-year 2.625 percent notes and $1 billion of 2.125 percent five-year securities.
To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katrina Nicholas at firstname.lastname@example.org