Financial institutions led by Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo have in less than two weeks raised $18.2 billion in debt that has in almost every case cost them less than anticipated.
Wells Fargo this week printed $2 billion in subordinated debt at the holding company level, according to syndicate desks on Wall Street. The transaction was the thirteenth bond issuance among large banks in recent days.
"Banks can't afford to get behind in their programs," UBS AG's Todd Mahoney, head of the bank's fixed-income syndicate for North America, said in an email Tuesday.
The sellers, also including Capital One, PNC, Bank of America, Citigroup, U.S. Bank, Macquarie Bank and Credit Suisse, are getting back into routine capital raises now that their third-quarter earnings reports are largely behind them. Sales agents last week placed on behalf of clients $25.2 billion in investment-grade corporate bonds, more than half of which came from bank issuers, UBS data show.
Bank of America and Citigroup are putting to work a combined $2.9 billion to close the gap in their Tier 1 capital shortfalls, according to Wells Fargo analyst James Strecker. "Respectively, Bank of America and Citigroup were $5.4 billion and $9 billion [in Tier 1 shortfall before their recent sales]," he said via email.
Bank of America is now staring down at a $3.9 billion shortfall, and Citigroup's is $7.5 billion, Strecker wrote. Bank of America has sold over its last three deals $4.5 billion in debt to close the gap, he said.
The appetite for financial institutions' issuances within the investment-grade bond market is improving this year on the back of stronger confidence in bank credit, a persistent low-rate environment that continues to drive investors into any new supply, whatever its creditworthiness, and a resumption of banks' latest capital-building. Investors are taking down the notes with vigor, despite high supply levels across investment grade bonds.
Banks face a competitive landscape for buyers. They are competing for investors' attention against companies including, last week, Procter & Gamble, the consumer goods giant with brands ranging from Scope mouthwash to Covergirl cosmetics, and they have all received enough demand so that they will pay less than initially expected.
The lower payout is seen in lower spreads attached to the deals. U.S. Bank, for example, on Oct. 23 completed two separate transactions. The smaller of the two, consisting of $350 million in new floating rate notes, cost U.S. Bank less than its external bookrunners Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank said it might. The deal was curious, according to Strecker, who said the bonds were initially valued for less than what the bank's current paper trades, but that stemmed in part from market volatility. The notes will pay investors 48 basis points over the three-month Libor benchmark, which is 12 basis points under the price guidance.
Bond placement agents believe the recent sways in the market, whether related to investors' Pimco liquidations or geopolitical risks, are causing bank issuers' bond valuations to fluctuate, but overall the pricing is holding up very well.
Post-earnings financial supply has been well absorbed, according to Mahoney, who helps bond issuers place and sell their notes.
Strecker, a sell-side analyst, believes most of the recent bond placements are moving quickly because investors are steering away from other markets, especially high-yield.
Wells Fargo credit analysts reminded clients of the sector's attractiveness last month. "With volatility picking up more broadly as quantitative-easing ends, the low-beta nature of financials combined with limited event risk, solid credit fundamentals and light funding requirements should make the sector an attractive place to park money for the remainder of 2014."