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Modest Start For Corporate Bond Issuance; Sentiment Improves

By Patrick McGee Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES NEW YORK -(Dow Jones)- Corporate bonds underwent a decent rebound Monday after a market rout in the prior week. New issuance remained tepid, but two high-grade companies saw fit to borrow a combined $1.25 billion. The slow start follows a week with just $9.57 billion of new issuance, the lightest in five weeks, according to Dealogic. American International Group (AIG) sold $750 million of 10-year bonds at 4.993%, or 3.25 percentage points over the Treasury rate, while battery manufacturer Energizer Holdings (ENR) lent $500 million at 4.736%, or 3 points over the Treasury rate. Corporate bond rates are loosely tied to Treasurys, and a flight to quality in the past month has pushed Treasury rates near all-time lows. But corporate bonds have struggled to keep pace with that rally, and the climbing risk-premium for corporate bonds deterred issuers from coming to market en masse last week. According to the U.S. investment-grade index from Barclays, corporate bond spreads--the extra yield on corporate bonds over Treasurys--jumped to 2.05 points on Friday, the highest since Feb. 1. Yields remain low but the direction has been clearly moving upwards: yields in Barclays's index jumped 0.09 points last week to 3.36%, the highest since April 14. An all-time low of 3.25% was reached twice in the prior week. But with the equity market finally jumping Monday--the S&P 500 closed 1.6% higher--buyers re-entered the corporate market and stabilized prices. Five of the 10 most actively traded bonds outperformed Treasurys Monday, MarketAxess shows, including several bank bonds which suffered earlier in the month. Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC) 2022 bond spreads improved 0.02 points Monday, versus a 0.33 point weakening month-to-date. Bank of America Corp. (BAC) 2022 bonds improved 0.14 points Monday, compared with a 0.39 point deterioration month-to-date. Stabilization was also evident in Markit's CDX North America Investment Grade Index, a measure of the market's health. It improved 4.1% in late trading to 118 basis points. A basis point is one-hundredth of a percentage point, and the figure represents the annual cost to insure bonds for five years. At this level, the annual cost to insure $10 million of bonds would be $118,000. On Friday, it was $124,000, the costliest of 2012. After the five-week low in issuance last week, underwriters are expecting some $15 billion of volume this week. Monday's issuance was modest, making that projection seem a bit far-fetched, but market participants say borrowers will be lured into the market if conditions continue to improve. -By Patrick McGee, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2382; patrick.mcgee@dowjones.com

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