Banks don't usually offer long-term funding at fixed rates, but when Quad/Graphics wanted it, NBD Bancorp was able to oblige.
The Detroit-based bank turned to its joint venture partner, SPP Hambro & Co., enabling the Wisconsin-based printing firm to lock in fixed-rate funds for as long as 25 years through a private placement. In fact, thanks to strong investor interest, the borrower was able to expand the loan to $121 million from the $50 million it originally sought.
The deal, called a "home run" by SPP president Stefan L. Shaffer, is one of a host of mandates the boutique private-placement firm has won this year through joint ventures with banks.
For the six domestic banks in joint venture affiliations with SPP Hambro, the relationship creates some fee income, but more importantly helps solidify customer relationships.
"We need to be a full-service financial provider," said Spencer Gagnet, a vice president with Hibernia Bank. "We want to be the best financial service provider, not just a provider of bank products. To do that, you've got to have more ammo in the gun."
And clients like Quad/Graphics are seeking that ammo in a hot summer for private placements.
In the first few months of its new fiscal year, SPP Hambro has won $1.4 billion in mandates, putting it on a pace to surpass the $2 billion in private placements it made last year. Mr. Shaffer estimates that 75% to 80% of that business comes from its joint venture relationships.
SPP has grown substantially in the six years since a group of executives, led by chairman Neil H. Powell Jr., left Bankers Trust New York Corp. and aligned with Hambros Bank, which currently holds a 50% equity stake and shares a joint venture partnership with SPP Hambro.
The business, which started modestly in a town house on 71st Street in Manhattan, has a staff of 26, with offices in three cities and a headquarters in a 9,000-square-foot suite on Madison Avenue.
Low interest rates, a liquid market, and relatively stable economic growth have driven much of the recent deal volume.
SPP collected a 5.7% market share and ranked seventh in private- placement last year.
"Right now, for somebody in this industry, it's almost like all the planets are aligning," said Mr. Shaffer.
Much of the business growth has come from Fleet Financial Group, Hibernia, Wells Fargo & Co., NBD, Boatmen's Bancshares, and First Fidelity Bancorp. And the joint venture's partnership with Hambros Bank has vaulted the British company to the top of the private-placement charts in the United Kingdom.
For their part, the banks add market savvy to their private-placement business.
"Private placements are an adjunct to the lending relationship," said Mr. Powell. The kind of lending relationships that lead to private- placement business "didn't exist at Bankers Trust," where transactions superseded relationship considerations.
"It's important for us to place issues through SPP, which has a critical mass of execution activity and therefore incredibly honed skills associated with someone who does a lot of the business," said Tom Tepe, a senior vice president in the capital markets group at Wells Fargo Bank.
Not doing a private placement when a client wants one could endanger the relationship, Mr. Tepe added. "The last thing we'd want is to have another bank lay down a private placement and ... have our client say why didn't Wells tell you about this."
Mr. Tepe estimates that it would cost approximately $100,000 per person, plus bonuses, to hire private-placement experts from money-center banks and perform the service in-house.
At this point, the deal flow would have to be much higher to cover the personnel expense and develop a good execution.
Mr. Powell said that the specialized nature of the field is anathema to the standard practice at many banks, where bankers change jobs every few years.
While SPP is not looking for additional joint venture relationships, it clearly enjoys a positive reception from its current partners.
"That relationship vaulted us forward significantly in what we could do versus what we could do on our own," said Mr. Gagnet.
SPP continues to enhance banks' private-placement business at a time when the competition in the market is on the rise.
"I sense that insurance companies are looking at the market as less of a transaction and more of a chance to build a relationship with the company," said John C. Fowler, vice president of finance at Quad/Graphics. "The insurance companies are interested in building a relationship and holding more of any one company's paper than in the past."