x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Bonanza of bond sales in region

The Gulf has its best six months for bond sales on record, as companies take advantage of low interest rates to load up on cheap debt and refinance existing payments.

The strongest six months for sukuk issuance on record has put the Arabian Gulf's bond markets on track for their best year yet.

The news comes as the region takes advantage of low interest rates to load up on cheap debt.

Companies and governments have sold a total of US$20.4 billion (Dh74.93bn) of bonds so far this year, including $12.4bn of sukuk, according to Bloomberg data. Both totals are the highest on record.

The bonanza of bond sales was led by the Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation, which raised $4bn in funds through the Gulf's biggest sovereign-linked sukuk to date, followed by the Government of Dubai with $1.9bn.

Bahrain's government issued a $1.5bn bond last week, its first since 2010.

Investors had been happy to provide cheap funding for Gulf companies as the perceived havens of German and United States bonds increasingly offer low or negative yields, said John Bates, the head of fixed income at Silk Invest, an emerging markets investor.

The easing of political tensions as the Arab Spring fades from view had also helped, he added.

"A lot of the risk that was on the table six to 12 months ago has now been removed," he said.

"We had some pretty good news out of Dubai specifically, which was fairly welcome," he said, saying successful refinancings by DIFC Investments and Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority had added to investor confidence in the emirate.

The yield on Dubai's10-year government bonds, which pay a coupon of 5.591 per cent, fell last month to a record low of 4.937 per cent. Bond yields move in the opposite direction from prices.

The total raised through Islamic bond sales so far this year has eclipsed almost every full year of the decade already, with 2007 the only year with a higher totalwhen cheap money was still available in the months before the credit crunch.

The list of the biggest issuers of the total of $26.2bn of debts that year reads like a Who's Who of troubled companies.

In 2007 Dubai World sold $3.25bn of bonds, followed by Dubai Holding with $2.45bn.

Because of the prevalence of five-year debts, many of the biggest deals raised during the easy credit conditions preceding the global financial crisis have required refinancing this year under much more difficult circumstances.

DIFC Investments successfully refinanced $1.25bn in debts maturing this month through bank financing worth $1.03bn.

With equity markets all but closed and bank lending decreasing as European banks retrench, companies in need of fresh financing could find themselves vulnerable to the whims of bond markets, said Liz Martins, an economist at HSBC Middle East.

"There's a dependency on the risk appetite towards the Middle East remaining fairly high," she said.

Although banks have been overjoyed by fees generated by new issuances, the stock of international debt securities of UAE companies and government entities totalled $106.4bn at the end of March, according to the latest data from the Bank for International Settlements.

The total is the highest in the Emirates' history.

ghunter@thenational.ae

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