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Hunt For Yield Boosts Corporate Bond Sales and Prices--Update

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01/24/2020 | 04:41pm EST

By Matt Wirz

Corporate bond prices pushed higher Friday, extending a rally that has spurred a wave of issuance by companies of all kinds.

New bond sales by U.S. high-yield and investment-grade companies are on track for one of their biggest Januarys in years. Bond issuance is typically heavy at the start of the year, when corporations rush the market to raise as much of their annual financing targets as possible, but the wave of deals this year is unusually heavy, according to data from Dealogic.

Sales of high-yield bonds are on pace for the strongest January of the decade, with new issuance through Jan. 23 amounting to $29.4 billion. That exceeds all full-month January totals over the past 10 years except 2013, when issuance was $30.2 billion, according to MarketAxess.

Investment-grade corporate bond issuance has reached $140 billion this month, the second strongest January in the past decade behind 2017, when companies sold $182 billion of debt, according to Dealogic.

Buying of some investment-grade corporates is outpacing strength in the Treasury markets, where the 10-year yield fell to 1.680% Friday from 1.739% Thursday amid concerns about China's coronavirus outbreak and signs of weakness in European economies. Yields fall as bond prices rise.

The extra yield investors demand to hold pharmaceutical company Bayer US's triple-B rated bond due in 2025 instead of Treasurys fell to about 0.90 percentage points Friday, compared to a spread of about 0.93 percentage points Thursday, according to data from MarketAxess.

Spreads have declined in recent months thanks to strong investor appetite. The average yield of a Bank Of America Corp. investment-grade bond index was 2.74% Thursday, compared to 4.25% at the end of 2018, according to CreditSights.

Junk debt is also climbing. Community Health System's new bond due 2025 was the most-traded corporate bond Friday morning, hitting a low yield of about 6.27% compared to around 6.4% on Thursday, according to MarketAxess. Bonds of Intelsat SA, a widely traded proxy for the riskier portion of the high-yield market, traded as high as 60 cents on the dollar after falling to 56 on Thursday.

In emerging markets, bonds of the Province of Buenos Aires fell 7% this week in thin trade to about 54 cents on the dollar, according to data from MarketAxess, after the municipality extended the deadline it set for bondholders to accept a delay in repayment. Argentine sovereign debt slid with its bond due 2021 falling about 1% to 52.79 cents on the dollar, according to MarketAxess

The WSJ Dollar Index, which measures the U.S. currency against a basket of 16 others, rose Friday to 90.63 from 90.51 on Thursday after the European Central Bank signaled it would leave negative interest rates in place.

Write to Matt Wirz at matthieu.wirz@wsj.com

Stocks mentioned in the article
ChangeLast1st jan.
BANK OF AMERICA CORPORATION -0.17% 34.85 Delayed Quote.-1.05%
BAYER AG -1.87% 75.92 Delayed Quote.4.27%
EURO / ARGENTINE PESO (EUR/ARS) -0.03% 66.6754 Delayed Quote.-0.88%
EURO / US DOLLAR (EUR/USD) -0.05% 1.08306 Delayed Quote.-3.36%
INTELSAT S.A. -2.21% 3.1 Delayed Quote.-55.90%
MARKETAXESS HOLDINGS INC. 2.23% 345.69 Delayed Quote.-8.82%
US DOLLAR / ARGENTINE PESO (USD/ARS) 0.03% 61.55 Delayed Quote.2.52%
US DOLLAR INDEX 0.04% 99.16 End-of-day quote.2.43%
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