BankAmerica Corp. came to market Wednesday with the banking industry's largest-ever issue of senior notes, adding to the recent deluge of such activity.
The banking company's $1.5 billion of 10-year global notes were well- received. The issue was priced Tuesday at 117 basis points over Treasuries, and was heavily oversubscribed. Recent credit market conditions have been excellent, in contrast to last fall's turbulence, and many large banks and brokers have seized the opportunity to refinance existing debt.
In afternoon trading Wednesday, the spread-the difference in yields of the bonds and that of Treasuries-had tightened to 115 basis points over Treasuries, signaling that investors' enthusiasm for financial debt was still running strong.
Credit market observers had anticipated a deluge of bank debt since the beginning of the year.
While issuers awaited better conditions, investors had few deals to consider. As the market has stabilized, investors have flocked to bond issues, which has forced underwriters to increase the size of their deals and turn away investors as pent-up demand outpaces supply.
"The huge buying binge suggests a lot of investors were waiting on the sidelines during the fourth or third quarter," said bank bond analyst Stanley T. August of First Union Capital Markets. "They are feeling much better about the direction of the markets."
Demand has been so great that underwriters Tuesday increased Lehman Brothers' bond issue to $800 million, from $600 million, which still did not satisfy the demand of investors.
J.P. Morgan & Co.'s issue of subordinated debt was increased to $1.5 billion, from $1 billion two weeks ago. Last week, Household Finance Co. increased its bond deal by 30%, to $1.3 billion.
In many cases, large issues of bank debt can hurt the yields of already- issued bank debt, as investors leave the old issues for the new ones. But the secondary bank bond market continues to hold steady, said Joseph J. Labriola, head of corporate debt research at PaineWebber Inc.
BankAmerica Corp. did well Wednesday because its issue was "priced appropriately" and the market is "not used to seeing that kind of paper," said Mr. Labriola. "If we were drowning in issues that were mirror images of each other, and which were priced at ridiculous spreads, the market would suffer from indigestion."
While most of the large-bank and broker debt issues have done well from the standpoint of pricing and investor demand, the road for at least one was not as smooth.
J.P. Morgan's $1 billion issuance of 10-year subordinated debt proved disappointing after it was issued a week and a half ago. Priced at 137.5 basis points over Treasuries, the spread on the debt widened to as much as 145 basis points on the day as "flippers" - short-term investors - bought bonds and quickly sold them back for quick money.
The spread for J.P. Morgan also widened as some long-term bond investors sold when economic trouble erupted in Brazil.
As of Tuesday, the spread for J.P. Morgan debt had tightened to where it was priced, but some traders continue to complain that the deal was "sloppy," and some bond investors remain disappointed.
"There were expectations that the bonds would tighten up more than they had," said bond investor Emmett Wright, director of fixed income and senior fund manager of the private bank at BankBoston. "Since the deal has come there has been trouble overseas, and some fund managers are avoiding companies that have exposure to Latin America or Asia."
Others market experts said J.P. Morgan bonds are trading appropriately.
"Many investors believe J.P. Morgan acts more like a broker-dealer than a bank," said one market expert who asked for anonymity. "Its bonds are trading in line with many of the broker-dealers."