The lending market has warmed to Merrill Lynch & Co.'s approximately $2 billion loan supporting the acquisition of England's Yorkshire Electricity.
A group of 15 banks, including Citicorp, BankAmerica Corp. and NationsBank Corp., committed approximately $180 million a piece to the transaction, which supports the $2.4 billion purchase by American Electric Power Co. and Public Service Company of Colorado.
The deal, which was fully underwritten by Merrill Lynch, is one of the last remaining blockbuster loans in the rapidly consolidating utilities sector.
"It's unlikely that we'll see many more of these deals for the electricity sector, and people didn't want to be left out," said Justin Cliffe, the head of the utilities group at ABN Amro's London office.
Bankers said they were comfortable with the pricing, covenants, and duration of the deal, which is structured like other recent oversubscribed utility loans. General syndication of the loan is expected to begin in the middle of April in London.
Merrill Lynch was able to recruit all but one of the 15 banks to share in the underwriting of the loan.
"We are very pleased with the strong show of support that this transaction has received at the underwriting level," said Charles L. Wickham 3d, a director at Merrill Lynch. "The group represents a nice cross-section of domestic and international relationship banks which are extremely knowledgeable in this type of financing."
Bankers said that the size of the deal signals Merrill's intent to emerge as a significant loan originator in the European market.
"You can't ignore anybody who comes in and does a single underwriting for approximately $2 billion," said Mr. Cliffe. "That certainly made them come in with a bang. They are a force to be respected in the future."
Still, some bankers complained that the investment bank did not provide prospective underwriters with extensive information on the loan. Questions arose regarding cash-flow projections and the amount of debt each institution was expected to hold.
"There was a bit of concern about how they were going to allocate the syndication," said Mr. Cliffe.
But according to Merrill Lynch, the questions that followed the underwriting meeting were standard.
"As is typical in any syndication, there were follow-ups that banks had post the initial meeting. We were glad to work with them," Mr. Wickham said.
Natwest Group PLC is serving as facility agent.