UPDATE 1-Spanish borrowers have busy start to new year
* Gas Natural issues 600 million euro 2023 bond
* La Caixa issues 1 billion euro 3-year bond
* Abengoa sells 250 million euro 6-year convertible bond (Adds final auction details)
By Paul Day
MADRID, Jan 9 (Reuters) - Lender Caixabank and utility Gas Natural both issued bonds on Wednesday, becoming the latest Spanish names to tap improved sentiment towards struggling euro zone economies.
Spanish corporates were shut out of international debt markets for much of 2012 while investors worried over their exposure to a battered domestic market and, in the case of banks, rising bad loans as the euro zone debt crisis rolled on.
Caixabank, Spain's third-biggest lender, sold a 1 billion euro ($1.3 billion) three-year bond at midswaps plus 285 basis points, while Gas Natural issued a 600 million euro 10-year bond at 110 bp lower than 10-year government bonds yielding about 5.1 percent.
"There is a window of opportunity which many companies and banks are going to try to use ... They are coming back (into the bond market) very strongly," RBS analyst Alberto Gallo said.
"But even so, European banks and corporates are issuing less overall," Gallo said. "It is important to note this is not to increase debt but to refinance. Banks are shrinking their balance sheets."
BBVA, Spain's second-largest bank, was the first European corporate to test debt markets this year when it issued a 1.5 billion euro five-year bond last Thursday at a similar price to five-year government debt now yielding about 3.85 percent.
On Tuesday, Telefonica, Spain's largest telecoms company, raised 1.5 billion euros at a 4.0 percent yield, while lender Popular issued a 750 million euro 2.5-year bond at a yield of 4.125 percent.
Elsewhere on Wednesday, engineer Abengoa issued a 250 million euro six-year convertible bond.
A pledge in September by the European Central Bank to buy the debt of any country which requested aid helped create a backstop for bets against Spain. While the government has not made any sovereign rescue request, the yield on 10-year government bonds has fallen from a peak at 7.6 percent in July.
Broker Renta 4 said the improved sentiment could be short-lived, with Spain expected to remain in recession for the rest of the year and likely to say it has missed its 2012 deficit target.
"We hope more groups take advantage of this opening in the markets, especially when you take in to account the expected restart of tensions on potentially bad news in the future," Renta 4 said in a note.
Spain itself has also been keen to take advantage of the easing risk premium, with state-backed electricity deficit fund (FADE) testing appetite for a new March 2017 bond at around 60 basis points above government bonds on Wednesday, IFR said.
The treasury plans to issue up to 5 billion euros in three bonds on Thursday, in its first visit to the market this year. ($1 = 0.7654 euro) (Additional reporting by Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Dan Lalor and David Holmes)