A fixed-income yields blitz

Fixed-income issuance this year has come close to $120 billion … and yield-hungry investors are up for more.

PORTFOLIO POINT: Investors looking for fixed-income securities have soaked up $120 billion of issues this year, with financial institutions accounting for 80% of the total.

This is my last article for 2012 and as the year draws to an end it seems like a good time to summarise issuance.

Have a guess at the total Australian dollar fixed-income issuance for 2012? Now estimate the percentage issued over the counter (OTC) in the wholesale market versus issuance listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX).

Total issuance for the combined markets for 2012 was $119.63 billion, with the OTC market comprising 89.41% of the total market (excluding asset-backed securities and residential mortgage-backed securities) (see table 1 below).

Issuance by month varied (see Figure 1) with the majority of issuance in March when credit spreads (the amount the company has to pay to issue the bonds over the market price) was lowest, as depicted by the yellow line. The blue columns in Figure 1 show the value in billions of issuance. Credit spreads again contracted in recent months, but issuance did not reach the March highs, perhaps due to significant foreign currency issuance by Australian banks and corporations.

The OTC market dominated as expected, given fewer conditions of issuance, a ready market and generally lower costs given companies do not have to comply with more onerous retail rules. Drilling into this market (see table 2), the largest sector was the financial and corporate sector, issuing 57% of the OTC issuance. Total government issuance (Commonwealth and state and territory) comprised roughly 30% of the market, while supranational issuance (a supra-national is an international government or quasi-government organisation that typically exists in multiple countries, for example The World Bank Group or the International Monetary Fund) made up the remainder.

Covered bonds, issued for the first time in Australian dollars this year, became an increasing source of cheap funding for our domestic banks, who issued $13.05 billion (12.2% OTC issuance). Covered bonds are very low risk and secured by a pool of mortgage loans. I expect covered bonds to be a growing market in 2013.

During the year there was a general preference for most issuers to issue fixed-rate bonds (the Commonwealth does not issue floating-rate notes), perhaps an indication of the low rates available – although financial and corporate issue was roughly equal given companies often issue a fixed and a floating tranche at the same time to diversify funding and as a hedge against interest rate movements. There was only one inflation-linked bond, which was issued by the Commonwealth government.

Given that the financial and corporate sector was the largest, it’s worth assessing in greater detail. By far the largest issuers in this bracket were the banks, issuing 66% of the total. If you add in diversified financial issuers of 13%, then 79% of financial and corporate issuance was by financials (see Figure 2). This goes some way to explaining the strong demand for corporate issuance (investors need diversification in their portfolios), driving credit spreads down. For example, BHP’s recent $1 billion issue was at a very low spread of Bank Bill Swap Rate 90bps, at that time lower than the spread that one of the major banks could issue. So despite a lower credit rating, a more cyclical business, and no oversight by APRA, BHP was able to issue very cheaply in the wholesale market. The issue was oversubscribed and had bids of over $2 billion. The very low cost to BHP, and the ease of issuance, in part explains why there’s no need for BHP to tap the ASX-listed retail market.

Table 3 shows a list of the 74 banks and companies that issued bonds in the OTC wholesale market in 2012. There’s a good mix of domestic and international issuers. The major four banks were the largest issuers and combined issued $27.48 billion, or around 45% of the total financial and corporate issuance. Westpac was the largest single issuer, issuing $9.7 billion.

Note: Issuance includes the Euro medium term note issues that were issued in Australian dollars

In contrast, ASX listed issuance was 10.59% of the A$ total year-to-date fixed-income issuance. A total of 16 issuers issued $12.67 billion worth of bonds and hybrids. Financial institutions, excluding insurers, issued $9.60 billion (75.8%) of the total. The largest issuer was Westpac, with its two issues WBCPC and WBCHA totalling $2.87 billion, or 22.6% of total ASX issuance.

There hasn’t been any ASX-listed issuance this month, in part due to the credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s announcing that it is reviewing the “equity credit” status applied to some hybrids. The implication being that if the status is changed and considered debt, it could change the company financial ratios and may harm a company’s credit rating.

I’m very much of the view that interest rates will be lower for longer, meaning bond issuance in both the OTC and listed markets will remain attractive in 2013.

Elizabeth Moran is director of education and fixed income research at FIIG Securities.

This article is the latest in our series The Yield Chase. To read other articles in this series, click on the story links below.

Six golden rules to maximise equity yields

A new road to yield growth

Money in the non-banks

BYO risk analysis on MYOB’s issue

Hitting the yield switch

Banks’ battle zone will crimp yields

Running out of dividend steam?

Fixing for a high yield fix

Taking a defensive yield tack

Cashing in on term deposits

Shopping for yield in Woolies’ property float

Telstra’s high-speed yield connection

Trustees seek yield safety

Yield spotlight shines on REITs

Hunting in US property

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