Low Bond Yields Yield More Borrowing

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Companies issued more than $24 billion of debt this week with the action including spinoffs, acquisitions, and buybacks. The five companies listed below issued more than half of that debt total.

Company

Amount Issued

Coupon Rate

Maturity

Hewlett-Packard (NYS: HPQ)

$4.6 billion

Floating-6%

Floating-30 years

Intel (NAS: INTC)

$5.0 billion

1.95-4.8%

5-30 years

Rio Tinto (NYS: RIO)

$2.0 billion

2.25-5.2%

5-40* years

PNC (NYS: PNC)

$1.25 billion

2.70%

5 years

Stryker (NYS: SYK)

$750 million

2.00%

5 years

Source: SEC filings *The 40-year bond is a continuation of a previous issue. It matures in 2040.

In addition to the companies in the table, ITT (NYS: ITT) spinoffs Exelis and Xylem issued a combined total of $1.85 billion in paper. ITT is taking a page from private equity's cash-out playbook -- part of that money will be used to pay a special dividend back to ITT.

That's a lot of money charged to big corporate credit cards. Fortunately for investors, companies have to make SEC filings that include what they're doing with the money. Unfortunately, the responses often have little beyond general corporate purposes. This week, some of the big borrowers did show us the money.

Hewlett-Packard plans to use the new pile of cash to fund its Autonomy acquisition. My Foolish colleague makes a solid argument that the acquisition is a dumb move, but at least the tech giant gets to finance it with cheap money.

Intel announced it would use the money "primarily to repurchase shares of our common stock." Rich Smith runs the numbers on this smart move. The short story is the coupon rate for most of the bond issue is lower than Intel's stock dividend yield. That means Intel improves its cash flow by borrowing to finance the stock buyback.

Rio Tinto and Stryker didn't release much beyond "general corporate purposes" on use of the funds. PNC is using the new cash to help pay for its acquisition of Royal Bank of Canada (NYS: RY) subsidiary RBC Bank (USA).

As a stock investor, it's easy to ignore the bond market, but a look at debt and how a company uses that money should be a part of Foolish investment research.

At the time this article was published Fool contributor Russ Krull owns shares of Intel and isn't selling them into the buyback. The Motley Fool owns shares of PNC Financial Services Group. The Fool owns shares of and has bought calls on Intel.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Stryker and Intel.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended creating a diagonal call position in Intel. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

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