Bankers await Panama mandate on bond

NEW YORK, Feb 19 (IFR) - Bankers are awaiting an official mandate decision on a request for proposals sent by Panama, which could issue a bond soon if conditions permit, said two sources familiar with the issue.

In an RFP sent earlier this year, the Central American sovereign asked for the “full gamut” of funding options in order to prepare for a benchmark-sized bond, one source said.

Panama completed a series of non-deal roadshows in 2015 and Katyuska Correa de Jimenez, the country’s head of public credit, told IFR in October that the government hoped to issue an up to US$1bn bond deal this year.

Panama was last in the market in March 2015, when it issued a US$1.25bn 3.75% 2025 that priced at 98.857 to yield 3.889%, or Treasuries plus 178bp.

Despite volatility in the broader markets, those bonds have been steadily tightening after yields hit a peak of around 4.21% on January 20, according to Thomson Reuters data.

The securities were trading on Friday at around 99.75 to yield 3.84%, or 204bp over Treasuries.

The investment grade-rated country should find a decent reception in a Latin American primary market only accessible to sovereigns and quasi-sovereign credits this year.

This comes during a week when Fitch affirmed the country’s BBB rating with a stable outlook.

The rating agency said Friday it expects Panama to sustain growth rates above 6%, thanks to the completion of the Panama Canal expansion and related investments in infrastructure.

“The economy is relatively well-positioned to adjust to tighter external financing conditions despite high financing needs,” said Fitch, which noted that lower oil prices have helped shrink the current account deficit to single digits.

And while general government debt has risen in recent years to around 38% of GDP in 2015, it is still below the 43% median on BBB sovereign credits, the rating agency said.

But an approximately US$11bn actuarial deficit in the public pension system, and as other debts accrued at public entities, do pose risks. (Reporting by Paul Kilby; Editing by Marc Carnegie)