American Express (NYSE:AXP)
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Seven high-grade issuers are on track to borrow at least $6.35 billion Wednesday, adding to the $85 billion already sold this month as companies rush to borrow at historically low levels.
The financial sector is leading the riot as American Express Co. (AXP) and Lloyds TSB Bank each issued $1.5 billion deals of five-year bonds. The Amex notes were sold at 1.3 percentage points over Treasurys, while Lloyds expects to pay 3.1 points over Treasurys.
Capital One Financial Corp. (COF) completed a $1.25 billion sale of three-year notes priced at 2.179%, or 1.6 points over Treasurys.
Also in the market are $750 million offerings from Swiss agribusiness company Syngenta AG (SYT) and a unit of Brazilian oil operator Schahin Petroleo e Gas SA, plus a $600 million issue of three- and five-year notes from Caterpillar Inc. (CAT), and a $250 million deal of 12-year paper from Raymond James Financial Inc. (RJF).
The heavy issuance follows a light session Tuesday, when the market took in just $600 million as it digested a slate of $12 billion from eight issuers a day before. The week's tally should finish Wednesday near the $20 billion mark -- the higher end of forecasts from earlier in the week.
Strategists from RBS Securities called March volume "gargantuan."
The March 2011 figure to beat is $110.5 billion, according to data provider Dealogic.
Markit's CDX North America Investment-Grade Index, a proxy for corporate-bond sentiment, is on track to improve 1.2% and finish at 81 basis points, the best closing price in more than a year. Earlier it had improved 3% to 79.6 basis points, its best level since February 2011.
The index tracks credit-default-swap contracts that pay out when corporate bonds default; a lower figure means the cost of insuring against default has fallen, and suggests investor sentiment is improving.
A few technical dynamics might be benefiting the index this week. On Tuesday, it underwent a biannual roll-over to update the components. Because investors often employ the index as a hedge, short-term flows around a roll-date can create a divergence from the broader corporate bond market.
Among individual bonds, trading was more mixed. Five of the top 10 most actively traded bonds underperformed Treasurys, according to MarketAxess. Morgan Stanley (MS) 10-year bond spreads widened 0.09 percentage points and Oracle Corp. (ORCL) spreads weakened 0.03 points.
Outperformers included BNP Paribas (BNP) and American International Group (AIG). BNP's 2021 bond spreads tightened 0.04 points, and AIG's 2017 bonds narrowed 0.06 points.
Average bond spreads have been tightening recently as Treasury yields rise, suggesting high-grade bonds are bringing in new investors.
Yields in the Barclays corporate bond index rose 0.01 percentage point to 3.51% Tuesday, the highest since Jan. 25, and up from the 3.27% multi-decade low on March 2. Spreads rose slightly Tuesday to 1.767 points, but remain near a seven-month low.
Anthony Valeri from LPL Financial said recent Treasury weakness isn't the start of a new bear market, as some others have suggested, but just a new trading range defined by 2.1% to 2.4% for the 10-year yield.
"The increase in real yields, inflation expectations, and Fed rate hike expectations is a rare trifecta that shows the bond market's acceptance of recent improvement," Valeri wrote Wednesday.
But enough global risks will keep a bear market from developing. "European debt issues remain a risk, rising energy prices may weigh on consumers, and economic growth continues at a sluggish pace, all of which may support Treasurys and the broader bond market."
The 10-year Treasury yield was on track to improve 0.07 points Wednesday to 2.29%.
-By Patrick McGee, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2382; firstname.lastname@example.org