Verizon rocks bonds with $53b debt sale

For companies looking to raise money through the debt markets, and with the bankers egging them on, it seems no sum is too large.

For companies looking to raise money through the debt markets, and with the bankers egging them on, it seems no sum is too large.

Verizon Communications shattered records and shook up the bond world on Wednesday when it sold $US49 billion ($53 billion) of investment-grade corporate debt in one offering.

It was the largest deal of its kind, exceeding Apple's $US17 billion bond sale in April and illustrating the degree to which low interest rates were enabling corporations to borrow money inexpensively.

Verizon undertook the huge sale to help finance its $US130 billion buy-out of Vodafone's 45 per cent stake in Verizon Wireless.

The ease with which Verizon raised so much money caught even seasoned market participants by surprise and fed speculation that more companies might tap the debt markets before interest rates began to rise, as was expected.

"We're starting to see the animal spirits pick up again," a fixed-income strategist at Charles Schwab Kathy Jones said. "Usually, once it gets going, it doesn't let up."

One banker involved in the offering said he was telling corporate clients that now was an ideal time to raise money for acquisitions.

Verizon's buyout of the Vodafone stake in the wireless business - the third-largest corporate acquisition in history - had been in the works for years, but it was finally struck last week, in part because Verizon wanted to take advantage of low interest rates.

"Timing is everything," said Donna Hitscherich at the Columbia Business School. "There are deals happening now that we were talking about in the 1990s. The catalytic event here was willingness and available financing."

But while the stunning scale of the Verizon debt sale might inspire hopes of more activity on Wall Street, there were several reasons why the offering could turn out to be a one-off, rather than the start of another wave of deals.

Appetite for the Verizon bonds exceeded expectations because they offered generous returns compared with similar corporate bonds and government notes.

The debt offering, led by Barclays, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley, included 10-year bonds that yielded 5.2 per cent and 30-year bonds yielding 6.55 per cent, way better than the average BBB-rated industrial bond, now averaging a yield of 4.16 per cent, or BBB bonds from telecoms companies, averaging 4.34 per cent.

Verizon offered the premiums to sell as much debt as possible in a short time. The company initially signalled it might sell $US20 billion in dollar-denominated bonds and make further bond sales in euros and British pounds. But as orders came in, it was clear demand would allow Verizon to issue all its bonds in dollar denominations. By Wednesday, orders valued at more than $US100 billion had come in, and the company completed the offering that day.

Another factor helping Verizon was the feeling that the wireless industry was a stable business, making risks negligible.

For institutional investors, Verizon's offering represented a chance to lock in decent returns from a stable corporate issuer.

"Investors continue to sit on a lot of cash," the head of fixed-income sales, trading and research at Raymond James Financial Kevin Giddis said.