x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

First Gulf Bank delays $500m bond issuance

Abu Dhabi's third-biggest lender by assets is biding its time on a new bond issuance, saying bond markets have become too choppy in the past week.

First Gulf Bank, Abu Dhabi's third-biggest lender by assets, has postponed a US$500 million (Dh1.83 billion) bond issuance because of market volatility.

The move casts doubt on trading conditions in debt markets which, until now, have been improving for Gulf companies seeking to raise funds.

The proposed issue was a three-year dated bond that would have paid a coupon of 4 per cent, according to the prospectus.

"The team of advisers took a decision not to go ahead," a First Gulf spokesman said. "We'll monitor the market and if conditions improve we'll try to reissue."

He did not reveal whether the funds raised by the bond were for any specific purpose.

John Tofarides, a financial analyst at Moody's Investors Service, expressed surprise at the decision, saying Gulf banks are experiencing strong trading conditions to issue bonds.

"I think for the Dubai banks maybe not, but Abu Dhabi banks are better positioned," Mr Tofarides said, adding First Gulf was in a stable position despite its aborted debt issuance.

"The bank is well capitalised and has the means to finance its growth through deposits."

The Gulf has had a recent rise in bond issuances. UAE markets in particular have had a resurgence after Dubai successfully issued a $1bn sovereign bond.

Etisalat was the latest Gulf company to take part in the rush to debt markets, announcing yesterday it had approved a bond and sukuk issuance programme under which it could raise as much as $8bn.

Banks have also seen strong demand for their debt sales. Qatar National Bank recently completed the sale of a $1.5bn five-year bond that was almost four times oversubscribed.

Qatar Islamic Bank also had high levels of investor interest in its $750m five-year sukuk, the first such issuance it has tried.

But one head of fixed income at an international investment bank, who asked not to be identified, said the optimism on debt markets might have peaked.

"The markets just got a little bit nervous this week," he said. "[First Gulf] brought it out at the wrong price, simple as that."

The banker said the current pricing was "a bit of a stretch".

"The market has been on such a tear anyway and I don't think they were prepared to get a higher price," he said. "People had been buying everything, then suddenly they just got indigestion and people sat back."

He added while bond markets would probably return to earlier levels after the Eid holiday, First Gulf's issuance would probably be delayed until next year.