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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Indonesia is planning an Islamic bond, or sukuk, worth $1 billion

HONG KONG (Reuters) - The start of the year has seen a flurry of deals in Asia's debt and equity markets, and bankers expect similar bursts of activity throughout 2009 as sellers price their offerings attractively to tap pockets of demand.

In less than two weeks, big investors led by Bank of America (BAC.N) and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS.L) managed to sell $5.7 billion worth of shares in two Chinese banks at discounts ranging from 7 to 12 percent to their last traded prices.

More such sales are expected as strapped investors look to raise cash but much will depend on volatile stock markets.

On the debt side, Export-Import Bank of Korea (KEXIM) this week sold a $2 billion bond that drew $4.4 billion in orders. That followed a $1.5 billion sovereign bond issue by the Philippines that was priced to sell and drew even greater demand.

With plenty of supply coming to market, buyers have the upper hand on pricing. As this week's selldown in stocks shows, demand can be fleeting.

"There are significant refinancing requirements in 2009 and this will generate plenty of transaction flow. Investors are willing to invest but as we have seen on some of the recent block trades, discounts are still wide," said Ken Poon, head of capital markets origination for Citigroup in Asia-Pacific.

"Whenever there is stability in the market you will see activity, but issuers will need to be flexible to take advantage of windows of opportunity," said Poon, whose firm's deals this year include the KEXIM bond as well as a $1 billion commercial paper sale by a unit of India's Oil & Natural Gas Corp (ONGC.BO).

Another lender, state-owned Korea Development Bank, is looking to raise at least $1 billion in a bond issue as early as next week. Indonesia, meanwhile, is planning an Islamic bond, or sukuk, worth $1 billion in February, sources have told Reuters.


Thanks to the big block trades in bank shares, equity volumes in Asia so far this year are eight times those in the United States, according to Thomson Reuters data.

The pickup in debt sales is global and driven by highly-rated issuers.

"Investors are hungry, but at a price. There's quite a bit of cash on the sidelines," said Khiem Do, head of the Asia multi-asset group at Baring Asset Management.

"How long can you hold on to Treasury yields that are offering 1 or 2 percent, especially when corporate bond yields and equity yields are very attractive to relative to cash and government bonds?" he added.

KEXIM paid 6.25 percentage points over the midswaps rate, a key pricing indicator on debt deals. Only eight months ago, the state lender paid 1.38 percentage points over the same rate for a 750 million euro-denominated five-year issue.

Even so, a debt syndicate banker at a large bank said market conditions have improved substantially since the end of 2008.

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