New Records for Corporate Bonds

Last week's new U.S. bond issues totaled just under $21 billion and included new record low coupons for five-, 10-, and 30-year corporate issues.

Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYS: BMY) sold $2 billion of five-, 10-, and 30-year paper to help finance its purchase of Amylin. With the market medicated by a zero interest rate policy, the drugmaker set new record low coupon rates for five- and 30-year paper at 0.875% and 3.25%, respectively. And, Bristol-Myers is just short of the highest credit rating, so there should be room for rates to go lower.

IBM (NYS: IBM) set the bar for 10-year corporate paper with a $1 billion issue carrying a 1.875% coupon. Big Blue didn't share any specific plans for the big bucks, listing "general corporate purposes" for use of proceeds in its SEC filing.

AngloGold Ashanti (NYS: AU) doesn't carry the solid gold credit rating of IBM or Bristol-Myers and put a 5.125% coupon on its $750 million, 10-year offering. The gold miner will be using the money for "general corporate purposes, including to fund capital expenditures and the development of its project pipeline."

BB&T (NYS: BBT) joined the party by banking a billion dollars in a perpetual preferred stock issue. The new Series E Preferred carries a 5.65% dividend rate and should be listed on the NYSE within the next month or so. BB&T lists "general corporate purposes" under use of proceeds in its SEC filing, but adds a little more detail "which may include the acquisition of other companies, repurchasing outstanding shares of our common stock, repayment of maturing obligations and refinancing of outstanding indebtedness (which may include the redemption of trust preferred securities) and extending credit to, or funding investments in, our subsidiaries." That narrows it down.

In the high-yield bond world, QR Energy (NYS: QRE) showed what happens with low credit ratings. The master limited partnership placed $300 million of eight-year paper in a private deal with a gusher of a coupon at 9.25%. The partnership is using the money to pay down borrowing on its credit facility.

I think QR is the most interesting of the companies issuing debt last week. As an MLP, it gets favorable tax treatment if it distributes nearly all of its earnings to unit holders. In QR's case, the distribution is pumping out more than 10% yield. The partnership is relatively new, cash flow has relied on borrowing and unit sales, and the high distribution yield combined with low credit quality point to some risks. That double-digit yield is very tempting, but this one needs more digging before I'm ready to make a CAPScall.

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