The high-grade new-issue market's brisk pace continues, with agency issues, finance companies, utilities, and Yankee bonds doing more of late to stoke its engines than investment-grade industrials, according to one industry analyst.

"There's plenty of business going on, but the names that everybody's really focused on here are really picking their moment," said Michael Bassett, a vice president at Stone & McCarthy Investment Research.

He defined those "names" as industrials that are either rarely in the market or those that frequently tap it but offer an unusual structure.

"There's this very careful circumspect process going on," he said. Corporations are waiting for the market to lock in the lowest possible rates, he said.

"This is not a blind rush by industrials at all," he said.

Since the Federal Reserve Board cut the discount rate on Nov. 6, 27% of high-grade corporate issues have been agency deals, 18% have been finance companies, 7% have been utilities, and 5% have been Yankee bond deals.

The "big high-profile investment-grade names" appear to be either waiting for rates to drop further or using the medium-term note market so as not to lock money in for too long, he said.

On today's new-issue plate, four groups will vie to underwrite Public Service Enterprise Group Inc.'s three deals totaling $450 million, a company source said.

The company is offering a $200 million 30-year deal, a $100 million 10-year deal, and a $150 million six-year offering, he said. All are first mortgage bonds.

Public Service will accept the bid costing the least for each deal.

Attractive interest rates lured Public Service to market and prompted it to increase the deal's size by about $50 million, the source said.

Lehman Brothers; Merrill Lynch & Co.; and Kidder, Peabody & Co. will head three of the groups, while Morgan Stanley & Co. and First Boston Corp. will alternate as lead manager on the fourth.

First Boston will lead manage the 10-year and six-year deals, and Morgan Stanley will be the lead manager for the 30-year offering.

The 30-year bids are due today at 12:30 p.m., the 10-year at 1 p.m., and the six-year at 1:30 p.m., eastern standard time.

Public Service will use proceeds for general corporate purposes and to refinance some higher priced debt, the source said.

Standard & Poor's Corp. currently rates the company's senior secured debt A, but that could change depending on the outcome of a Nuclear Regulatory Commission investigation into a Nov. 9 fire at the company's Salem 2 plant, according to Barbara Eiseman, a Standard & Poor's vice president.

The company had a turbine failure and fire in the main turbine generator on the nonnuclear side of the plant, she said. It has approximately $4.3 billion of utility debt outstanding, Ms. Eiseman said.

In yesterday's new-issue market, Utilicorp UTD Inc. offered $150 million of 9% senior notes due 2021. Noncallable for 10-years, the notes were priced at 99.053 to yield 9.092%, or 125 basis points over comparable Treasuries. Moody's Investors Service rates the notes Baa2, while Standard & Poor's rates them BBB. Goldman, Sachs & Co. lead managed the offering.

In other news, New York-based News American Holdings Inc. filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission to offer $300 million of senior notes due 2001. The notes are guaranteed by it's Australian parent company, News Corp. Ltd.

News Corp. also plans to offer 16.1 million American depositary shares in the United States and 5 million of ordinary shares through a private placement outside the United States.

The company will use the proceeds to repay debt, bolster its financial position, and increase its working capital.

High-grade corporates were basically unchanged in secondary trading." You had everybody with their eyes glued to the stock market," one high-grade trader said, referring to Friday's stock market plunge, High-yield bonds dropped about 1/8 to 1/4 point in quieter than expected trading, one trader said, adding, "I anticipated more gyrations in the market."

In yesterday's rating activity, Moody's Investors Service downgraded USAA Capital Corp.'s (CapCo) senior debt rating to Aal, an agency release said. Simultaneously, the agency confirmed CapCo's Prime-1 rating for commercial paper and the Aaa insurance financial rating of United Services Automobile Association (USAA), CapCo's parent.

"The rating action reflects increasing risks associated with USAA's shrinking membership base as well as its expansion into noninsurance financial services, including commercial real estate investments and credit card banking operations," Moody's said. The agency also acknowledged the company's "strong capitalization, its above-average profitability, and the high quality of its fixed income investment portfolio."

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