Debt issuance broke a 10-year record last year, but credit markets face uncertainty in 2017.

Author: Hilary Johnson

Record low interest rates had a marked effect on debt capital markets last year, helping to propel investment banks to a record volume of business.

Worldwide, debt capital market issuance rose 9.8% to a record $6.74 trillion in 2016, up from $6.14 trillion in 2015 and exceeding the prior record for issuance set 10 years earlier in 2006, according to Dealogic data.

Within the mix, corporate debt touched a record $2.4 trillion, bolstered by Anheuser-Busch InBev’s $46 billion bond to help it purchase SABMiller. All told, acquisition-related debt capital market issuance reached a record high of $426.4 billion last year, Dealogic data show, as companies took advantage of low interest rates to finance deals.

Anheuser-Busch InBev issued $46 billion in bonds to purchase SABMiller.

Overall, the bond business was a bright spot for investment banks in a sometimes murky landscape. While M&A and equity revenues were not always sure bets last year, debt capital markets, as well as loans, showed revenue gains over 2015—the only investment banking lines of business to do so, Dealogic notes.

J.P.Morgan, our debt leader globally, in North America and in Africa, was often at the center of the action—coming in as number one worldwide for underwriting more than 2,000 issues, for a total of $434 billion, and a leading 6.5% market share.

While the New York–based bank did not take part as a bookrunner in the Anheuser-Busch InBev bond, it had a role to play in the next two largest deals last year: $20 billion for US computer-maker Dell to finance its $60 billion purchase of hardware company EMC in the largest technology deal ever; and $19.75 billion at Microsoft, earmarked for the tech giant’s $26 billion purchase of social-networking company LinkedIn.

Bankers and analysts at Societe Generale Corporate & Investment Banking say they will remember 2016 as a remarkable year for corporate issuers. They add that they have seen credit spreads at their tightest, new issue premiums at negligible levels and investor appetite undiminished.

Looking ahead, Societe Generale bankers say they will carefully watch variables such as oil prices, Britain’s exit from the EU, the US Federal Reserve interest rate strategy and the American political scene. They point out that such events shaped companies’ behavioral patterns and funding strategies in 2016 and will continue to do so.

Global winner J.P. Morgan helped Microsoft raise the money to buy LinkedIn, with a bond issue of nearly $20 billion.

HSBC benefited from market share gains in Europe and is recognized on our list for its leadership in Western Europe. Issues in which HSBC was a bookrunner included France’s Danone SA’s issuance of $6.7 billion in debt in the fourth quarter, and sovereigns such as the UK. Notably, HSBC also brought its own debt to market last year.

In Central and Eastern Europe, VTB Capital distinguished itself by being the sole bookrunner for a $9.4 billion bond offering from Russian state-owned integrated oil company Rosneft.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Mizuho Securities is our winner—notably because of that investment bank’s achievements in Japan, where it brought some 562 bonds to market for a total of $64.7 billion, Dealogic data show.

Our best debt-bank winner in the Middle East is NCB Capital, the investment banking arm of National Commercial Bank, the largest bank in Saudi Arabia. NCB Capital, Bloomberg News reported late in March, is a bookrunner, with HSBC and others, in a planned $2 billion debt debut from Saudi Arabian Oil.

In Latin America, Santander took part in bond offerings such as that of Petrobras Global Finance, the debt-issuing subsidiary of Rio de Janeiro-based petroleum company Petrobras, which raised $6.75 billion last May.

“Growth in this market has been driven mostly by the very welcome return of Argentina to the capital markets and the onset of economic recovery in Brazil,” Cristina Schulman, Santander’s head of Latin America debt capital markets, tells Global Finance in an email.

“Mostly, transactions were liability-management driven, and we expect to see the start of more investment-driven transactions in the second half of this year and in 2018,” Schulman writes. “Latin American issuers benefited from better fundamentals in the region, and international rates at historic lows, given expansionary monetary policies implemented by central banks around the world. The search for yield attracted strong demand for new issues printed by Latin American corporates and sovereigns.”

Indeed, credit watchers have noted that the current outlook is rosy for issuers. Among emerging and developed markets, the number of potential bond

Aramco: NCB Capital helped Saudi Arabian Oil with a $2 billion debt debut.

downgrades has slid to the lowest level since December 2015, write analysts at Standard & Poor’s—including Diane Vazza, managing director and head of global fixed income research and S&P Global Ratings—in a recent research note.

Still, S&P analysts also warn in a separate analysis, “As the Trump administration enacts new economic and trade policies in the US, and as the UK moves toward Brexit, credit markets face uncertainty from several fronts in 2017.”

“Moves in interest rates, exchange rates, or economic growth in either of these countries could send ripples through the global credit market; because companies from these two countries represent the largest share of outstanding rated corporate debt,” Vazza and her colleagues write.

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