By Katy Burne
A rash of companies, led by household names Caterpillar Inc. (CAT), 3M Co. (MMM) and Target Corp. (TGT), crowded the U.S. bond market Thursday with nearly $6 billion of debt offerings, seizing on an opportunity to borrow, with fewer negative headlines out of Europe and expectations of additional federal stimulus in the U.S.
Caterpillar came out with a $1.5 billion, three-part bond offering, having raised the same amount in mid-May; 3M offered a $1 billion deal and Target offered a "benchmark" sale expected to be at least $500 million.
Rounding out the list of borrowers with benchmark-sized deals were Ally Financial Inc., the former finance arm of General Motors Co. (GM); Total Capital International, a unit of Total S.A. (TOT, FP.FR); and Odebrecht Finance, a unit of the Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht S.A.
Western Gas Partners LP (WES) had a $525 million offering; Pioneer Natural Resources Co. (PXD) planned to raise $500 million; investment-holding company Alleghany Corp. (Y) $400 million; and BioMed Realty LP (BMR) $250 million.
Tom Murphy, a portfolio manager at Columbia Management who oversees $25 billion of investment-grade company debt, said a diverse mix of borrowers had hit the market, with some infrequent issuers that many managers would want to add to their portfolios.
The surge in deals, Mr. Murphy added, was driven by "a combination of a little bit of calm in Europe, combined with people getting enough out of the [Federal Reserve on Wednesday] to keep rates in a range that makes issuance attractive."
On Wednesday, safe-haven Treasurys, to which corporate debt is benchmarked, rallied after the Federal Reserve said it would extend through December a form of stimulus that became known as "Operation Twist." The program was originally scheduled to end this month.
The Fed also left the door open for a third round of economic stimulus called quantitative easing. "QE3 is still very much on the table," said Anthony Valeri, investment strategist in fixed income for LPL Financial, who put the chances of the Fed launching a fresh bond-buying spree later this year at 60%.
Weaker-than-expected jobless-claims data, coupled with lackluster data out of China and euro-zone manufacturers, continued to give Treasurys a boost Thursday, sending prices to session highs. Bond prices and yields move in opposite directions.
Five-year Treasurys were up 1/32 to yield 0.735%, 10-year notes were up 4/32 to yield 1.628% and 30-year Treasury bonds were up 11/32 to yield 2.707%. Yields fall as prices rise.
Meanwhile, an index tracking the health of highly rated corporate bonds, called the CDX North American Investment Grade index, was up 1.6% on the day, according to index administrator Markit.
Caterpillar's bonds were off to a strong start in secondary trading this session, with its 2.85% bonds due June 2022 trading at 0.91 percentage point over comparable Treasurys, a risk premium that was 0.16 point narrower than Wednesday's levels, according to MarketAxess.
Write to Katy Burne at email@example.com.