Companies Borrowing Billions

Last week's $29 billion in new corporate bond issues pushed September's total past $100 billion. Borrowers came from insurance, shipping, international financials, pharmaceuticals, and energy. Here's a rundown of a few borrowers and what they plan to do with all that money.

The week's biggest borrower was Watson Pharmaceuticals (NYS: WPI) , with $3.9 billion spread across five-, 10-, and 30-year issues. Watson -- with an $11 billion market cap -- will be putting the new money toward its 4.25 billion euro acquisition of Actavis.

NBC Universal, majority-owned by Comcast (NAS: CMCSA) , floated $2 billion in 10- and 30-year paper. The money will be used to redeem a little more than $400 million of higher-rate paper and "for working capital and general corporate purposes, which may include funding a portion of the anticipated future redemptions of GE's interest in NBCUniversal, LLC."

UPS (NYS: UPS) wrapped up $1.75 billion of new borrowing in five-, 10-, and 30 year paper. The money will be used to pay off some 4.5% notes maturing in January. Today's lower rates will deliver about $35 million per year in interest savings to the big shipping company.

MetLife (NYS: MET) was in the market with five- and 10-year tranches of $500 million each. This transaction is a little complicated. The proceeds are used to pay obligations to holders of common equity units, who will then "purchase newly issued shares of MetLife common stock from MetLife, under stock purchase contracts constituting part of the common equity units."

Coal miner Alpha Natural Resources (NYS: ANR) demonstrated the difference between investment-grade debt and high-yield debt, or junk. Its $500 million, five-and-a-half-year new issue carries a coupon rate of 9.75%. The money is being used to purchase up to $350 million of 3.25% convertible notes due in 2015 and for general corporate purposes.

Financial borrowers based outside the U.S. issued $7 billion of last week's total. Germany's KfW development bank tapped markets for $3 billion of 10-year debt. Credit Agricole (based in France), Swedbank (based in Sweden), and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce borrowed $1 billion each. Other foreign financials borrowing U.S. dollars last week were Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (based in Spain), Global Bank (based in Panama), and Industrial Bank of Korea.

Companies don't appear to be having any trouble issuing bonds -- especially companies with decent credit ratings. Bond issues are rarely exciting, and they don't get the press of a big IPO or acquisition announcement, but it is important for investors to keep tabs on the borrowing habits of companies they own and what those companies are doing with the money.

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