Panama Eyes Panda Bond Market for Up to $500 Million by Year-End

  • Central American nation sees lower borrowing costs in China
  • Panama also seeks larger investor base in domestic bond market

Panama will probably sell so-called Panda bonds this year to take advantage of lower borrowing costs in the Chinese market.

After swapping the money back into dollars, the country may be able to trim a quarter or half a percentage point from the rate it would need to pay for an equivalent maturity dollar bond, the nation’s Finance Minister Dulcidio De La Guardia said Wednesday, in an interview in Sao Paulo.

Dulcidio De La Guardia

Photographer: Romain Gaillard/Redux

The sale of up to $500 million of the bonds with a maturity of less than 10 years will take place in the second half of the year “if the market conditions and price are right” and would mostly be to Chinese investors, De La Guardia said.

Panama has had seven upgrades from the three main ratings agencies over the last decade, as its economy grew at the fastest pace in the Americas, taking its living standards close to European levels. The Central American nation is also planning to tap the dollar bond market for at least $1 billion before the end of June, and is also trying to attract a larger investor base to its domestic market, he said.

Panama already has debt outstanding in yen, know as Samurai bonds, which matures in 2021. De La Guardia said that last year the country considered issuing in Swiss francs and euros, but decided against it since the savings weren’t great enough to justify the trouble. Panama’s bonds yield 1.23 percentage points more than treasuries, the lowest in Latin America after Chile, according to data collected by JPMorgan.

The economy will expand 5.5 percent this year, according to the government’s forecast, from 5.4 percent in 2017. Mining will be a major driver of growth next year as a major copper mine starts production, giving the country a positive exposure to commodities prices for the first time, he said.

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