U.S. muni bond sales to climb to $11.1 bln next week

March 7 Fri Mar 7, 2014 4:23pm EST

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March 7 (Reuters) - The supply-starved U.S. municipal bond market will get its biggest deluge of debt so far in 2014 when issuance is expected to more than double to $11.1 billion next week from around $5 billion this week, due in part to Puerto Rico's $3 billion bond sale, according to Thomson Reuters estimates on Friday.

Bond sales by states, cities and other issuers in the $3.7 trillion market have been meager, with February's $14.1 billion of issuance the lowest monthly level in three years. Weekly supply topping $11 billion is not excessive as issuance normally picks up in March and April.

Next week will be "the highest total we've had in 2014, but historically it's not high," said Adam Buchanan at Ziegler Capital Markets in Chicago.

Analysts also think supply next week will remain manageable because the biggest deal on the calendar by Puerto Rico is likely to attract non-traditional muni buyers.

The struggling Caribbean island, which recently saw its credit rating cut to junk, is tentatively set to sell $3 billion of general obligation bonds on Tuesday through Barclays Capital, Morgan Stanley and RBC Capital Markets.

"You don't often get these multibillion (dollar) issues. And when they come into the marketplace, and one as meaningful as this because of potentially the rate Puerto Rico is going to have to pay and what it means for their immediate financial future, it does have great significance," said Van Eck Global chief municipal strategist James Colby in New York.

Even though it's not investment-grade, the Puerto Rico deal could also "squeeze some of the broker-dealers as to how much capital they're going to need to put up to support the deal. It might impact their bidding in the secondary market," said Dawn Daggy-Mangerson a senior portfolio manager at McDonnell Investment Management in suburban Chicago.

Next week's slate of negotiated deals, which total $9.8 billion altogether, also includes $1.6 billion of California GO bonds. Bank of America Merrill Lynch will hold a two-day retail order period for the bonds starting on Tuesday, followed by formal pricing on Thursday.

Houston will sell $1.29 billion of combined utility system first lien revenue refunding bonds in two deals with Siebert Brandford Shank & Co pricing nearly $686 million of tax-exempt bonds and J.P. Morgan Securities pricing $606 million of taxable bonds.

The New York State Dormitory Authority is also offering $830 million of tax-exempt and taxable personal income tax revenue bonds through Citigroup, which will hold a retail presale period on Tuesday before formal pricing on Wednesday.

Chicago, which was downgraded one notch to Baa1 on Tuesday by Moody's Investors Service, will issue $655 million of new and refunding GO bonds through Wells Fargo Securities.

"With the downgrade, Chicago falls into the realm of our high-yield purview," said Colby of Van Eck, which has two high-yield muni ETFs. Colby wouldn't say whether Van Eck would buy Chicago or Puerto Rico debt, but he did say it would "pay very close attention."

Moody's said the downgrade affecting Chicago's GO and sales tax revenue bond ratings was due to the city's massive and growing unfunded pension liability, which threatens its fiscal solvency. It was the city's second downgrade from Moody's in less than eight months.

"We're going to see how much pain the downgrade caused them," Buchanan said. "Moody's has been very straightforward with how (it's) monitoring pension obligations. There's going to be continued rating pressure on the city of Chicago and Illinois because they stick out so much on the pension issue."

Illinois, which passed a law in December to ease its own $100 billion pension funding shortfall, is also slated to come to market next week with $402 million of taxable sales tax revenue bonds in a competitive sale on Tuesday.

Unlike Illinois' GO bonds, which have the lowest ratings among states, the revenue bonds were rated AAA by Standard & Poor's Ratings Services and AA-plus by Fitch Ratings.

Competitive sales altogether are expected to total about $1.3 billion next week, including Ohio's $300 million of higher education general obligation bonds, which are selling on Tuesday.

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