Chase Manhattan Corp., with its arrangement to broker a sizable bond offering for one of Chile's largest power companies, is striving to play in the big leagues of Yankee bond underwriting.

Last Friday, Chase arranged $650 million in U.S. financing for Empresa Nacional de Electricidad SA, Santiago. The issue is divided into three categories: 30, 40, and 100 years.

The relatively large issue reflects increased efforts by Chase to take its place among the top 10 financial institutions that underwrite dollar- denominated bonds issued by foreign companies and purchased by U.S. investors.

Currently, Chase is viewed as an also-ran in the business of Yankee bond underwriting.

"Chase has every intention of being an important banker for Yankee bonds," said Brian D. O'Neill, head of the bank's Latin American operations. "We believe that access to the U.S. investor market, particularly for investment-grade-rated Latin American issuers, will continue to grow."

Merrill Lynch & Co., the nation's leading securities firm, ranked first last year among underwriters of Yankee bond issues, according to information compiled by IFR Securities Data. Merrill held more than a quarter of the market.

J.P. Morgan & Co., which ranked second, was the only commercial banking company in the top five.

Chase did not place in the top 10, but it handled a number of smaller deals-the largest being a $100 million issue for Amoco Argentina.

Issues of public Yankee bonds, or bonds issued by foreign companies in the United States by nonresident corporations, nearly doubled last year, to $90.8 billion from $48.5 billion in 1995, according to Securities Data Co.

Including private placements, the amount of such bonds floated in U.S. capital markets rose from $81.6 billion to $126.5 billion.

Even foreign banks, which have a large share of dollar- denominated assets, are increasingly resorting to Yankee bonds as a source of relatively inexpensive dollar funding and capital. Last week, for example, Bangkok Bank Public Co., Thailand's largest commercial bank, brought a $300 million issue to market.

Issuers also like the Yankee bond market because they can usually borrow for longer time periods than on the Euro, or international, bond market, where maturities are usually for no more than 10 years.

Investors find these securities increasingly attractive because they offer slightly higher rates than bonds issues by U.S. companies and banks.

Bankers said that 100-year tenures are attractive to institutional investors because their long duration evens out fluctuations in interest rates and bond prices.

Although a number of foreign companies have recently brought such issues to market, the Chilean deal marks the first time a Latin American company has sold bonds due in a hundred years.

Chase said Endesa, as the Chilean power company is known familiarly, will sell the debt in three parts:a $230 million tranche sold as 30-year bonds at 105 basis points over comparable Treasury bonds, $200 million sold as 100-year bonds at 127 basis points over 30-year U.S. government securities, and $220 million sold as 40-year bonds at 78 basis points over Treasuries.

The company plans to use nearly half the funding to finance the acquisition of a power plant in Colombia.

The balance will be used to refinance existing debt and for capital expenditures in Chile.

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