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Asian borrowers close in on record for US dollar bond issuance

Singapore

BORROWERS from Asia are ramping up dollar debt sales again and are on the cusp of exceeding the full-year record for issuance.

Issuers from Asia ex-Japan have sold over US$323 billion of notes in the US currency so far this year, compared with US$326 billion for all of 2019 - the current all-time high, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Chinese borrowers led the charge last week following an initial lull after the US election.

Borrowers globally have sold unprecedented amounts of debt this year as they gird against the economic impact of the pandemic and take advantage of ultra-low borrowing costs. Credit markets have largely rallied since the end of March on the back of central bank stimulus. But the recent surge in coronavirus cases in many countries is keeping investors on edge, even as they weigh corona-virus vaccine results.

Dollar notes from Asia continue to offer higher premiums than their US peers because Asian borrowers don't directly benefit from Federal Reserve bond purchases. Junk bonds from the region pay spreads about 300 basis points more than their US counterparts on average, near the highest since 2011.

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Investors should focus on the historically-elevated premiums on both Asian investment-grade and high-yield dollar bonds over peers elsewhere, according to Owen Gallimore, head of credit strategy at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group.

In Asia, analysts and bankers say they expect debt sales to remain elevated going in to 2021. More bonds mature next year and borrowing costs are well below their five-year average. Goldman Sachs forecast earlier this month that sales by Asian issuers across dollars, euros and yen would hit a record again next year. BLOOMBERG

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