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Ford Issuing First High-Grade Bonds Since 2005

By Patrick McGee Ford Motor Co. (F) is tapping the investment-grade market for the first time since 2005 after officially returning to the high-grade index last week. Low yields and improving sentiment are seducing the auto maker, American Express (AXP) and others into the market. The CDX North America Investment Grade Index, a proxy for risk sentiment, improved 2.7% in early trading, placing it at its best level since May 29, according to Markit. And, in the backdrop, equities are up 0.75%. The flight to safety stemming from renewed turmoil in Europe has created an attractive climate for borrowers to issue bonds, as the Treasury yields their borrowing costs are based on have plummeted. For investors, the extra yield on corporate bonds appears more lucrative, even though the rise in yields has been modest. Barclays puts the gap between corporate and Treasury yields at 213 basis points, compared with 182 a month ago. Yields are up five basis points to 3.39%. Thursday's deals add to the $7 billion in new volume from Tuesday and Wednesday, according to Dealogic. Syndicate desks were expecting roughly $10 billion of issuance this week and $30 billion to $60 billion for the month. Ford's five-year bond sale comes just two weeks after it received an upgrade from Moody's Investors Service, putting it back into the high-grade category, following an upgrade from Fitch Ratings a month before. Its bonds officially moved into the Barclays investment-grade index last Friday, returning after some seven years in the high-yield universe. Ford last sold investment-grade bonds in March 2005, according to Dealogic. These bonds are being sold through Ford Motor Credit Corp. American Express is selling three-year notes, Viacom (VIA) is selling a $300 million deal of three- and 10-year notes, and Safeway Inc. (SWY) is issuing $250 million of 18-month floating-rate debt. Houston-based Gulf South Pipeline, a unit of Boardwalk Pipeline Partners (BWP), is also in the market with a $300 million sale of 10-year bonds, marking its first deal since August 2007, according to Standard & Poor's LCD. Pricing guidance on each deal hasn't been released yet. Lastly, General Electric Capital Corp. (GEN.XX) is selling subordinated preferred notes. These offer a fixed-rate for the next 10 years, at which point they convert to perpetual floating-rate notes with a quarterly dividend, until GE redeems them. Write to Patrick McGee at patrick.mcgee@dowjones.com

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