Stone Container Corp. on Wednesday became the fifth issuer to tap the junk market this week.

The 12% yield on Stone Container Corp.'s $240 million high-yield offering proved slightly higher than expected.

"The market has not been the greatest this past week and a half," Arnold Brookstone, Stone Container's chief financial officer, said Wednesday. Mr. Brookstone cited daily media reports that consumer confidence has been low.

Another source familiar with the deal said the senior notes were trading lightly in the secondary market at a small premium, "and that's the sign of a well-placed deal."

Early price talk on Stone Container's offering was 11 1/4%, but that was later adjusted to 11 3/4%, sources said.

Of the four other deals that arrived in the three days before Thanksgiving, only Inland Steel Co. had a yield as high as Stone Container's.

Chiquita Brands International Inc. issued $250 million of senior debentures at 9.80%, Clark Oil & Refining Corp. issued $225 million of senior notes at 10 1/2%, and Magnetek Inc., issued $125 million of senior subordinated debentures at 10 3/4%.

But a buyside source cautioned about "over-analyzing" Stone's pricing.

Some of the offerings done at lower yields -- notably Chiquita's -- were really deals that attract investment-grade crossover buyers. Deals such as Stone Container and Inland are true high-yield deals, he said.

Stone Container issued $240 million of 11.875% senior notes due 1998. Noncallable for seven years, the notes were priced at 99.415 to yield 12%. Moody's Investors Service rates the offering B1, while Standard & Poor's Corp. rates it BB. Merrill Lynch & Co. lead managed the offering.

The company will use proceeds to prepay the September 1992 installment on the company's bank loan, which fully prepays all its 1992 installments, Mr. Brookstone said. Proceeds will also be used to add $60 million dollars to the company's revolving credit availability, he said.

In secondary trading, the high-grade market was basically unchanged to off slightly, traders said. The high-yield market was down about 1/8 to 1/4 point in very quiet trading. Both markets closed at 1 p.m., though some desks planned to stay open later.

In Wednesday's asset-backed market, Bear, Stearns International Limited and Credit Lyonnais priced a $2.2 billion French franc consumer loan-backed deal, according to a Bear Stearns release. The offering totals approximately $400 million.

Cetelem, a subsidiary of the Compagnie Bancaire Group, originated the loans. The offering represents the largest French franc-denominated asset-backed securities issue to date.

The issue consists of two classes and uses a senior subordinated structure for credit enhancement. The 2,000,000 senior units were priced with a 9.50/% coupon at 99.2993 to yield 65 basis points over the BTAN of April 1993, which are comparable short-term French securities, according to Blaine Roberts, a senior managing director at Bear Stearns. The senior units were rated Aaa by Moody's France and are publicly listed on the Paris Bourse.

The class A units are projected to have an average life of about 1.7 years. Settlement will be on Dec. 5, 1991.

The senior units are supported by an 8% subordinate tranche that was privately placed and purchased by the issuer, Mr. Roberts said.

About the public deal, he said in the release, "the large size of the issue is a plus as it adds to the developing liquidity of the French Franc ABS market."

"There is now about FFR 5 billion of similar paper in the market which makes both international and French investors increasingly comfortable with the pricing and profile of the securities," he added. "Placement is running about 60 to 40 between French and non-French investors."

In Wednesday's rating activity, Moody's confirmed General Cinema Corp.'s Baa2 subordinated debt rating and upgraded the debt ratings of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc. The agency upgraded Harcourt's senior debt rating to Baa3, its lowest investment-grade rating, from Caa, a Moody's release said.

"Moody's upgrade of Harcourt's ratings is based on the considerable improvement in the publishing and insurance company's debt protection measures after its acquisition by General Cinema."

Standard & Poor's downgraded the Euro-commercial paper and certificates of deposits ratings of Gota Bank and the U.S. commercial paper rating of Gota Bank Inc., guaranteed by Gota Bank, to A2 from A1. The agency removed all ratings from CreditWatch where they were placed Oct. 11, 1991, according to an agency release.

"These actions follow a severe weakening in the bank's asset quality and profitability, primarily driven by its sizable exposure to very troubled commercial real estate-related credits," the release said. "The key positive factor in the rating is Gota Bank's majority ownership by Trygg-Hansa SPP Holding AB, a member of the largest insurance company in Sweden."

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