Merrill Lynch & Co. nabbed a 25% market share in its clear win of the first half's straight corporate debt underwriting contest, early IDD Information Services figures show.

Over all for the first half, the top 10 firms underwrote 1,071 straight debt issues totaling $154.2 billion, IDD said. That compares with 1,073 issues for close to $104 billion in the first half of 1991, said Maria Petraccoro, a research analyst at IDD. Though the number of issues remained almost constant, dollar volume jumped more than 48% this year compared with last year.

Merril Lynch underwrote 249 issues totaling $39.2 billion for a 25.4% share of the market, according to IDD figures released yesterday.

Second place proved a photo finish, with Goldman, Sachs & Co. nosing out Lehman Brothers.

Goldman Sachs underwrote 153 issues totaling close to $24.2 billion for a 15.7% market share. Lehman had 141 issues totaling just shy of $24 billion for a 15.5% piece of the total market. The three firms finished in the same order in the first half of 1991, Ms. Petraccoro said.

Rounding out the first-half 1992 top 10 in order of finish were First Boston Corp.; Morgan Stanley & Co.; Salomon Brothers Inc.; J.P. Morgan Securities Inc.; Bear, Stearns & Co.; Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette Securities Corp.; and Kidder, Peabody & Co.

Also yesterday, Securities Data Co./Bond Buyer reported its final first-half figures for straight debt. The financial information services firm, based in Newark, N. J., reported preliminary numbers on Friday.

Securities Data's final figures for straight debt show 982 issues raising more than $152 billion, a 43% increase over the same period last year. Merrill Lynch ranked first with 251 issues totaling $39.7 billion for a 26% market share. Goldman followed with 150 issues totaling $23.8 billion, and Lehman finished third with 139 issues totaling $23.5 billion. Securities Data's figures are for straight debt, including agency issues but excluding mortgage and asset backed deals.

In secondary trading yesterday, high-yield bond prices finished at least 1/4 point higher, with better quality names garnering most attention. High-grade bonds finished unchanged in quiet trading, traders said.

New Issues

Western Resources Inc. issued a two-part first mortgage bond offering totaling $250 million. The first tranche consisted of $125 million of 7.250% bonds due 1999. The noncallable bonds were priced at 99.872 to yield 7.273%, or 54 basis points over comparable Treasuries. The second consisted of $125 million of 8.5% bonds due 2022.

Noncallable for 10 years, the bonds were priced at 98.957 to yield 8.59%, or 80 basis points over comparable Treasuries. Moody's Investors Service rates the offering A3, while Standard & Poor's Corp. rates it A-minus. Dillon, Read & Co. sole managed the offering.

Texas Gas Transmission issued $100 million of notes due 1997 at par. The noncallable notes were priced to yield 9.625%. Moody's rates the offering Ba3, while Standard & Poor's rates it BB-minus. First Boston lead managed the offering.

Connecticut Light & Power issued $100 million of 7.25% first and refunding mortgage bonds due 1999. Nonrefundable for five years, the bonds were priced at 98.94 to yield 7.447% or 72 basis points over comparable Treasuries. Moody's rates the offering Baa 1, while Standard & Poor's rates it BBB-plus. Morgan Stanley & Co. won competitive bidding to manage the offering.

Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. issued $60 million of 6.05% step-up notes due 1999 at par. The notes are noncallable for three years, after which the coupon increases to 7.75%. Goldman Sachs sole managed the offering.

Yesterday's Ratings

Moody's has given an Aaa rating to the $1.2 billion of outstanding foreign debt obligations of the City of Vienna, Austria.

"The rating is based on the strong fiscal position of the city and its favorable debt ratios," a Moody's release says.

Standard & Poor's has affirmed the CC rating on Atlantic American Corp.'s 8% convertible subordinated notes due 1997. Atlantic American has converted or repurchased almost half of its long-term debt, an agency release says. Of the $15.4 million remaining, all but $5.6 million is affiliate owned.

"AAC's rating reflects continued poor operating results, a strained equity position and very limited financial flexibility," Standard & Poor's release says. "AAC has not been able to generate a GAAP [generally accepted accounting principles] profit since 1986 because of weak operating performance at its insurance operations, especially at its property and casualty subsidiary."

Standard & Poor's has put Commonwealth Mortgage Assurance Co.'s AA claims-paying ability rating on CreditWatch for a possible downgrade.

"This action is based on aggressive use of operating leverage and financial performance which lags that of the aggregate active private mortgage insurance industry," a Standard & Poor's release says.

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