(Bloomberg) -- China’s corporate debt binge is topping records even as the coronavirus outbreak freezes bond sales elsewhere in the world.
Chinese firms ranging from property developers to financial companies have issued a record $51 billion dollar bonds so far this year, up over 30% from a previous peak recorded for the same period a year ago.
The momentum this month alone is strong, even with large swathes of the country still in a lockdown: Chinese borrowers have raised $22 billion via new issuance this month, marking the strongest February to date and up from $17 billion a year earlier.
This week, Bank of China Ltd., one of the country’s biggest state lenders, priced its offering of $2.8 billion perpetual preference shares, a form of bank debt also known as Additional Tier 1 notes.
This stands in glaring contrast to the rest of the world, where the $2.6 trillion international bond market has come to a virtual standstill as the coronavirus spreads fear through company boardrooms.
Across China’s financial markets, the mood seems strangely buoyant. The CSI 300 Index of stocks has recouped its initial plunge spurred by the virus outbreak, while a gauge of small-cap equities is near its highest level since 2016. The yuan is approaching its strongest versus a basket of global peers since August.
Driving the bond issuance boom are the country’s cash-hungry property developers who managed to sell new debt even with disruptions to deal-making and an uptick in the cases of the epidemic outside China.
“Chinese dollar bond new deals look still supported on good demand and investors expecting policy support from the government,” said Clement Chong, head of research at NN Investment Partners. Among the typically risker group of high-yield borrowers, investors still perceive real estate developers to be safer and its mainly these issuers that are still able to sell new debt, he added.
Click here for a pipeline of Asian offshore bonds. And here for upcoming Chinese domestic bonds deals.
While deals all but dried up in Europe and the U.S. this week, there’s been buoyant demand for Chinese bonds. Hysan Development Company Ltd. attracted over $3.2 billion orders for a $850 million perpetual note this week, while China Overseas Land & Investment Ltd. secured more than $2.9 billion for a $1 billion three-part bond.
In the current low interest rate environment, global investors’ hunt for higher returns has kept borrowing costs cheap for Chinese firms.
Bond financing costs for China’s riskiest issuers sank to 22-month lows last month and remain well below last quarter’s year-to-date highs, a Bloomberg index show.
An even bigger boom is taking place in China’s domestic bond market. Onshore issuance has reached 740 billion yuan so far this month, more than double February’s total last year.
A slew of measures by Beijjing aimed at easing liquidity conditions and supporting businesses crimped by the virus outbreak have fueled the latest borrowing binge.
“The swift action of the government to inject liquidity into the financial system reduces bond investors’ concern on potential default increases within China,” said Judy Kwok-Cheung, Hong Kong-based director of fixed-income research at Bank of Singapore. She added that lower U.S. Treasury yields also are driving investors into Chinese high-yield bonds.
--With assistance from Shuqin Ding.
To contact the reporters on this story: Rebecca Choong Wilkins in Hong Kong at firstname.lastname@example.org;Ina Zhou in Hong Kong at email@example.com;Xize Kang in Beijing at firstname.lastname@example.org
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