Plunging into unfamiliar territory to fund its growing capital markets business, Wachovia Corp. is planning to sell at least $500 million of Eurobonds, the bank confirmed Thursday.
Though details of the issue have yet to be disclosed, it would be the largest-ever for the $65.3 billion-asset banking company. Merrill Lynch & Co. will underwrite the sale, a bank spokesman said.
Also, the bank confirmed that two top executives-Donald Truslow, senior executive vice president and controller, and Robert McCoy, the chief financial officer-were in London gauging investor support for the deal.
Wachovia's interest in a jumbo Eurobond deal is the second indication in a month that the bank is willing to go headlong into the debt markets to build its capital markets business.
On May 23 the bank filed a shelf registration for $1.7 billion of debt securities that along with an earlier registration totalled a shelf of $2.5 billion.
That debt is intended to fund investments in, or extensions of credit to, the company's banking and nonbanking subsidiaries, according to the filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Larry Pellecchio, a debt analyst with Moody's Investors Service, said that not only is it unusual for a regional bank to tap the European debt market, but it is a huge leap for Wachovia, a bank long criticized for its conservative approach.
"It confirms that they recognize the business is changing and that they're participating in that change," Mr. Pellecchio said. "That's not to say we won't look at how quickly that change is happening, but it's clear that some of these recent moves are a bit out of character."
Mr. Pellecchio added that what makes Wachovia's shift to a more aggressive acquisition strategy more remarkable is that it has happened under the watch of chairman L.M. "Bud" Baker Jr. and a relatively static management team.
"There hasn't been a real upheaval," Mr. Pellecchio said.
Until now, Wachovia has been building its fee business through acquisitions, most notably the $230 million buyout of Charlotte, N.C.-based Interstate/Johnson Lane announced in October.
That deal was preceded by the launch of an in-house section 20 subsidiary four months earlier. Interstate/Johnson Lane and the section 20 were later combined to form Wachovia Securities Inc.
Wachovia added to that franchise last month when it announced a $200 million buyout of Offitbank Holdings Inc., a New York investment firm that caters to wealthy private clients.
Offitbank was Wachovia's first deal outside its regional footprint. Wachovia's business is confined mostly to five southern states. Offitbank serves clients in 28 states.