The new issue market was a sleeper yesterday, and there's no alarm clock in sight still 1994, high-grade sources said yesterday.

"They're dead," said one syndicate official said of yesterday's new issues, punctuating his comments with snores. Though some telephone company issues were rumored, none have materialized yet, he said.

Aside from a smattering of big volume days, the past two months have been mainly quiet, the source said.

Most companies with financing to do did it in the first three quarters, he said. Barring a sharp drop in interest rates, corporations see no need to rush in, he said. On the buy-side, investors are closing their books, the official said.

He noted that this week is half over, and next week will be abbreviated by the Christmas holiday. The Public Securities Association has recommended a 2 p.m., eastern standard time, close for the Treasury, mortgage-backed, and money markets on Dec. 23 and a complete close on Dec. 24. The PSA also recommends a 2 p.m. close for Dec. 31.

Joe Mullally, a vice president and senior fixed income strategist at CS First Boston, also envisions little new issue activity through yearend.

"People have made their bets for the year," Mullally said. But the strategist sees activity increasing when 1994 starts because portfolio managers will be ready to make new bets from a portfolio standpoint, including purchasing new corporate issues.

As for this week's calendar, Kenneth Malamed, managing director and director of fixed income at Wertheim Schroder Investment Services, likes a high-yield offering by Guangdong Enterprises (Holdings) Ltd. The $200 million, 10-year offering was expected to be priced as early as last night. While Malamed likes credit and pricing, the company's practice of reporting its numbers only twice a year has caused him some pause. Malamed said his concern stemmed from "our own ability to perform good quality internal follow-up research."

Elsewhere, Moody's Investors Service's senior economist John Lonskisaid improvements in corporate credit quality and corporate employment needs suggest that a faster than expected U.S. economic upswing is ahead in 1994.

In a release issued yesterday, Lonski-said said that so far this year, the number of Moody's rating upgrades has outpaced downgrades for the first time since 1984.

Moody's upgraded the ratings of 149 U.S. companies during the first 10 months of this year, compared to 139 downgrades for the same period. From the mid-1980s to the early 90s, corporate downgrades were regularly triple the number of upgrades, Lonski said.

Another positive sign is that despite the relentless corporate downsizing, a quicker pace of hiring activity can be expected, Lonski said in the release.

But continuing deterioration of credit worth throughout the remainder of the industrialized world could hamper U.S. economic improvement, Lonski said.

"The credit quality of some U.S. domiciled companies has been impaired by the stubborn recessions of Japan and Europe," Lonski said. "Sagging economies in the rest of the industrialized world will continue to fuel extraordinarily intense competitive pressures."

In other news yesterday, Carter Hawley Hale Stores Inc. said it agreed to sell $125 million of 6.25% convertible senior suburdinated notes in a private placement.

The notes mature Dec. 31, 2000 and will pay interest semiannually beginning on June 30, 1994, the company said in a release. The notes are redeemable at the company's option, in whole or part, at any time on or after Dec. 31, 1998. The notes will be convertible into the company's common shares at a $12.19 per share conversion price.

"I am especially gratified that even in the early stages of a turnaround process, investors recognize that we are transforming Carter Hawley Hale into a focused, value-oriented retail operation with a merchandising strategy and a customer base that reflects the demographic, ethnic, and lifestyle diversity of California and the Southwest," said David L. Dworkin, Carter Hawley Hale's president and chief executive officer, in the release.

In secondary trading, spreads on high-grade issues and junk bond prices finished unchanged.

New Issues

Merrill Lynch & Co Inc. issued $200 million of 5% notes due 1996 at par. The noncallable notes were priced to yield 45 basis points more than comparable. Treasuries. Moody's rates the offering A1, while Standard & Poor's Corp. rates it A-plus. Merrill Lynch was sole manager.

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