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Corporate Borrowers Race To Sell Bonds As Markets Stabilize

By Patrick McGee Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES NEW YORK -(Dow Jones)- High-grade corporate bond issuance is back with a vengeance with at least nine borrowers floating new deals, led by a four-part deal from Phillips 66 and a two-tranche issue from Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ). The deals could make this week the busiest of 2012. Corporate borrowers sold $19.1 billion of bonds so far this week, already exceeding the full-week average so far in 2012. The biggest week this year was $28.8 billion, according to Dealogic. Companies were less than eager to test their luck Tuesday as stock and bond markets tumbled in the worst selloff of 2012, but high-grade issuance was nearly $17 billion on Monday, in the busiest session of the year, according to Dealogic. "The investor base is very forgiving" considering the selloff yesterday, said Vincent Murray, head of fixed income syndicate at Mizuho Securities. He said underwriters have to be sensitive given the potential for investors to turn their backs. "'Don't push it--don't try to get the last penny out of it'" is the mentality, he said. Despite the heavy issuance and Tuesday's selloff, yields remain near record lows, so companies are looking for any opportunity to access cheap financing. Phillips 66, a refining, pipelines, and chemical businesses being spun off by oil company ConocoPhillips Co. (COP), plans to issue three-, five-, 10- and 30-year maturities. The deal is "benchmark-size," which typically means at least $500 million per tranche. Phillips 66 is expected to begin trading as a separate company on May 1, under the ticker symbol PSX. Hewlett-Packard is planning to issue 5.5- and 10.5-year maturities. It too is a benchmark deal. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP (KMP) and the Royal Bank of Canada (RY.T, RY) are also selling benchmark-size deals, while smaller deals are being marketed by American Tower Corp., Marsh & McLennan (MMC), CMS Energy Corp. (CMS), and Domtar Corp. (UFS). Total issuance in March is already at $27.6 billion, and syndicate desks who arrange the deals have estimated there could be $100 billion sold this month. February high-grade volume broke a monthly record with $99 billion, Dealogic shows. The secondary market appears to have stabilized after a rough Tuesday in which high-grade risk premiums jumped 0.036 percentage point, according to Barclays Capital. Markit's CDX North America Investment-Grade Index, a measure of health in the U.S. corporate-bond market, strengthened 0.8% in early trading to 97 basis points, after suffering a 2.6% weakening yesterday. And all 10 the most actively traded bonds are recovering: 10-year notes from Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America have tightened 0.13, 0.15 and 0.26 percentage point versus Treasurys, respectively, MarketAxess shows. -By Patrick McGee, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2382;

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