Citicorp, Bankers Trust New York Corp., and Wachovia Corp. came to market Thursday with $700 million of notes, taking advantage of what continues to be a cheap source of funds.
Issuing five-year Euronotes, the two money-centers took advantage of a paucity of American bank debt overseas which has led to tighter spreads on U.S. bank debt than exists in the American markets.
Spreads represent the premium over comparable government issues paid to investors in bonds and notes. The tighter the spreads, the lower the cost to the issuer.
Wachovia, which issued 10-year $250 million subordinated notes in the American market, also secured a good price for its issue, a result of the low supply of its debt.
"Banks are looking across the spectrum of their costs, and go where pricing is attractive," said Ann Robinson, a fixed-income analyst at Bear, Stearns & Co.
Duncan Hennes, a managing director of treasury and funding at bankers trust, said the price of 20 basis points over the London interbank offered rate for its $200 million of five-year notes, was one of a host of reasons for the bank's third Euronote issue in three months.
The bank issued debt with a call option after three years because "our view is that our spreads will tighten," said Mr. Hennes. A representative at Citicorp said it saved three to four basis points on its $250 million floating-rate notes, as compared with issuing in the United States.
Pricing on the Citicorp issue was the three-month Libor plus 15 basis points. The Citicorp deal was also noncallable for three years.
Spreads on Eurobonds have been tightening in the last few months, a result of the dearth of dollar-denominated floating rate notes, said the Citicorp representative.
"Investors are hungry for paper," he said, "which is why spreads have tightened so much over the last few months."
The European investment community also likes floating-rate paper, said analysts.
Banks issue floating-rate paper more often than other companies because bank assets are usually tied to a floating rate.
Despite its hunger for American bank paper, the European investment community has selective tastes.
"In the Euromarket, borrowers look for higher-quality, well-known names," said John Works, a fixed-income analyst at J.P. Morgan & Co. Bankers Trust and Citicorp are two banks with an international reputation and an active following, said Mr. Works.
"We continue to maintain our liquid profile," said Mr. Hennes, at Bankers Trust. "Over the years, we've dramatically increased the amount of preferred equity and long-term debt as a percentage of our balance sheet, and this is a continuation of that process."
While both Citicorp and Bankers Trust were pleased with their initial pricing, market sources suggest that both deals were having some difficulty selling right out of the gate.
"Bankers Trust is undoubtedly the tougher sell of the two," said Mr. Works. "There are some investors out there who may be willing to take a shot with them, given their strong track record."
In the meantime, analysts said the Merrill Lynch-led Wachovia notes should get a warm reception from the market, despite the 57-basis-point spread. This is several basis points tighter than the trading ranges for Wachovia's existing notes.
"It's a great price for the company," said Ms. Robinson, but "it's worth it because of the scarcity of the Wachovia name."
Wachovia's notes also had value because there just "aren't that many notes out there for AA-minus companies," she said.
Separately, Norwest Financial Inc., a unit of Norwest Corp., issued $150 million in 10-year senior notes on Wednesday.