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Yield-Starved Investors Gobble Up $11 Billion Of Corporate Bonds

By Katy Burne Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES NEW YORK -(Dow Jones)- Companies capitalized on investors' growing dissatisfaction with low-yielding government debt Tuesday by offering $11 billion of high-grade corporate bonds to eager buyers. That was the highest investment-grade volume since Feb. 14, when $10.2 billion was sold, according to data provider Dealogic. BP Capital Markets Plc, the funding arm of U.K. energy giant BP PLC (BP, BP.LN), led the way by selling $3.5 billion of fixed- and floating-rate notes and bonds. It was BP's second sale of that size since its Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster last April. Investors placed nearly $5 billion of orders. A $1.6 billion batch of five-year fixed-rate notes priced at a slight discount to yield 3.22%, or a risk premium of 1 percentage point over comparable government debt. Also, $1.4 billion of 10-year fixed-rate securities priced to yield 4.742%, or 1.2 percentage points over Treasurys, and $500 million of three-year floaters sold at 0.6 percentage point over the three-month London interbank offered rate, a benchmark. The five-year piece was originally marketed at 0.95 of a percentage point over Treasurys early Tuesday, said Patrick Sporl, senior portfolio manager at American Beacon Advisors, who said that rate was "preliminary" and was circulated before the deal had been properly vetted by the market. Typically, price talk on bond deals falls as investors pile into a deal, so the spread widening was likely the result of underwriters trying to lower BP's borrowing costs before investors started to push back on the deal's pricing. American Beacon sold out of BP bonds in the second quarter of 2010 following the Macondo oil spill and concern about the company's financial stability. At the time, those bonds were trading at around 95 cents on the dollar. Nearly a year later, BP has a firmer financial footing and American Beacon is looking to buy back into its bonds. The fund manager didn't invest in BP's $3.5 billion September issue because of lingering uncertainty over its legal liability and cleanup costs from the spill. "Now it appears as if microbes ate up all the oil and it appears to be contained," said Sporl, who is looking at the five-year fixed-rate and three-year floating-rate tranches. The fund is already overweight 10-year bonds from industrial issuers. Existing 3.875%, four-year BP bonds due March 2015 were trading Tuesday with a risk premium of 0.42 percentage point over Treasurys, according to MarketAxess data--after touching 7.79 percentage points over the risk-free rate last June and trading at just 86 cents on the dollar. As of Tuesday, that bond was trading at 104.6 cents. Likewise, the cost of five-year protection on $10 million of BP bonds using credit derivatives was quoted by data provider Markit at $70,000 a year on Tuesday, down 86% from the highest level recorded on June 17 last year. A BP spokesman said the offering was "just part of [BP's] overall group-funding requirements" and that proceeds would be used for general corporate purposes. Also in the market Tuesday were ING Bank NV with a $3.5 billion deal; offshore drilling services company Ensco PLC (ESV), which sold $2.5 billion of five- and 10-year bonds to help fund its merger with Pride International Inc. (PDE); consumer electronics retailer Best Buy Co. Inc. (BBY) with $1 billion--its first debt sale since June 2008; and a unit of Bermudian food company Bunge Ltd. (BG), with $500 million. -By Katy Burne, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-3084; katy.burne@dowjones.com.

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