Bank of America's $1B virus bond breaks new ground for U.S. banks

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Bank of America is set to price today a $1 billion bond issue to fund COVID-19 relief efforts. It's the first sale from a U.S. financial institution that explicitly links all proceeds to tackling the virus, Bloomberg data shows.

The Charlotte, N.C.-based lender is offering fixed- to floating-rate notes to fund investments addressing social issues related to the pandemic, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. The bonds may price to yield about 1.30 percentage points above Treasuries, said the person, who asked not to be identified as the details are private. Bank of America is sole manager of the bond sale.

Bank of America signage is displayed at a branch in New York on April 10, 2020.
Bank of America signage is displayed at a branch in New York on April 10, 2020.

Borrowers globally have raised a record $102.6 billion of debt this year to combat the impact of the coronavirus. Chinese companies have issued the most so-called pandemic bonds, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Paraguay and South Korea's Kookmin Bank last month sold debt in U.S. dollars for COVID relief.

U.S. corporations are catching up. Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. issued a $1.25 billion sustainability bond to fund social and environmental impact endeavors, some of which may address the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, USAA Capital Corp. sold an $800 million sustainability bond to fund projects, which may include COVID-19 relief.

Social and sustainability bond issuance is expected to nearly double this year to a new record as issuers take advantage of receptive capital markets to respond to the crisis, according to HSBC. Supply jumped 69% in the first quarter compared to the same period last year, according to HSBC, boosted by sales from the African Development Bank and International Finance Corp.

Schroders expects banks to become more active issuers of social bonds given capital relief they are getting from regulators in Europe, as well as incentives to lend to small and medium-sized companies.

Bloomberg News