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Loan-Market Pipeline Gushes With New Deals

By Katy Burne The loan-market pipeline began flowing in earnest Thursday, driven by companies' need to pay for purchases and their desire to borrow while investor appetite for corporate debt is strong. Leading the spate of deals was a giant $1.92 billion high-yield or "leveraged" loan for cable provider WideOpenWest, which is buying Internet provider Knology (KNOL). That was the biggest loan since Chesapeake Energy (CHK) borrowed $4 billion via a term loan in mid-May, according to Thomson Reuters unit Loan Pricing Corp. Companies are looking to complete financings while the going is good and before earnings blackout periods cause new issuance to dry up in the coming weeks. "The forward calendar of loans has picked up," said Bill Eastwood, head of trading at Newfleet Asset Management, which has $10 billion in fixed-income assets under management and participated in the WideOpenWest transaction. "We're seeing some money coming into retail funds, and this is a pretty good lineup." Yields on a Credit Suisse index tracking leveraged loans fell to 6.5% this month, from 7.72% in May. While yields on fixed-rate high-yield bonds are higher, around 7.32%, loans with floating rates offer the security of claims on company assets and a hedge against interest-rate increases. The gap between yields on leveraged loans and junk bonds is about 1.37 percentage points, 30% narrower than at this time last year. In other words, investors are giving up relatively little to pick up that cushioning--and at the same time are getting decent yields. The supply of newly announced leveraged loans hitting the market is now at $15 billion as of Thursday, compared with $10 billion as of Friday. At the same time, investor demand is strong. Funds dedicated to loans have attracted nearly $390 million of new cash since mid-June, turning positive after three straight weeks of outflows beginning in May that totaled $540 million, according to fund tracker Lipper. "U.S. loan investors have been waiting for this all year: a new-issue pipeline that's growing and dominated by new money and [mergers and acquisitions]-related financings," said Ioana Barza, senior analyst at LPC. Also in the market is a new deal backing the purchase of a majority stake in retailer Party City. That features a seven-year, $1.05 billion term loan and about $700 million of bonds, according to people familiar with the financing. Separately, Supervalu Inc. (SVU) began gauging investor interest in a new $850 million loan Thursday and put in motion plans for a new $1.65 billion revolving credit line, a day after the supermarket operator said it had put itself on the block. The $1.92 billion six-year term loan for WideOpenWest Finance was set to price Thursday at five percentage points over the London interbank offered rate, with a 1.25% Libor floor. The company also priced $1.02 billion of high-yield bonds this session and is putting in place a $200 million revolver. -Write to Katy Burne at katy.burne@dowjones.com

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