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Capital Markets

US Corporates Exploiting Global Low Rates

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September 23, 2016

US MNCs continue their foreign debt issuance in a big way.

Fri Currency in Gears SmallUS multinational corporations (MNCs) continue to issue large volumes of debt in foreign currencies, in part to take advantage of exceptionally low rates outside the US and to tap new sources of investor capital, but also as a way to hedge foreign exchange (FX) risk.

Euros have remained by far the foreign currency of choice in which to issue bonds. Given the predominance of negative rates across the continent, European institutional investors are starved for securities that offer a positive yield, even if minuscule. Through the end of August, FactSet data shows US MNCs issued $70 billion in bonds, on track to exceed the $92 billion issued in all of 2015 and well above the $48 billion issued in 2014. Those numbers do not include the US multinational debt issued in US dollars (USD) and swapped into euros, a popular strategy over the last few years that at times has provided issuers with even more attractive rates.

Ajay Khorana, global head of Citibank’s financial strategy and solutions group, noted that US corporates have been issuing large volumes of debt in euros – or in US dollars (USD) that are subsequently swapped into euros – in part to take advantage of European rates that are close to zero or even negative.

In addition, “Many of these companies have euro-denominated assets to match up against that,” Mr. Khorana said, adding, “So it’s not just a cost advantage but an FX management advantage.”

British pound sterling was the second most popular foreign currency to issue bonds until this year, when volume plummeted amid rising Brexit concerns. As of August, issuance was $1.4 billion compared to more than $5 billion in 2015 and 2016.

Investors appear to be turning their attention to the currencies in other Commonwealth jurisdictions. Issuance in Aussie dollars jumped to $5.4 billion through August, compared to $4.3 billion for all of 2015 and $1.5 billion for 2014. Issuance in Canadian dollars nudged up, to $1 billion through August from just under that amount in 2015 and $8.7 billion in 2014. Presumably the 2016 number, comprising one large deal, will climb by year-end.

Gyrating foreign-exchange (FX) rates can significantly impact the value of foreign assets and cash flows in other currencies, so MNCs have sought to mitigate that risk by issuing bonds in the currencies of jurisdictions in which they have assets and cash flow.

Amol Dhargalkar, managing director of Chatham Financial’s Global Corporate Sector, noted significant advantages in terms of hedging cash flows, since issuing in Swiss francs, for example, enables a company to “soak up earnings” of Swiss assets from a cash flow standpoint. “You don’t have to worry about the cash just sitting there, or repatriation issues,” he said, noting, however, that shifts in the franc’s value will still be reflected on financial statements through translation impacts.

“If the Swiss franc moves by 10%, the company’s earnings will move as well. The interest expense may soak up some of it, but not all,” he said.

An assistant treasurer at a major consumer products company told iTreasurer that in recent discussions with bankers, they have talked about issuers accessing more exotic jurisdictions, in Asia, Africa and elsewhere, to capture similar FIX hedging benefits. While those jurisdictions did not appear in FactSet’s issuance data, given the complications that often arise when seeking to issue in developing markets corporates are more likely to issue in USD and swap into those currencies.

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