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Monday, 20 August 2018

Investment-grade Bond

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In a year when Chinese firms accounted for over 30% of all international bonds sold in Asia, China National Offshore Oil Corp stood out as the first PRC issuer to win over investors in the euro market.

The euro tranche of CNOOC’s US$2bn-equivalent offering drew particular attention for being the first euro-denominated benchmark from any Chinese issuer, setting a template that others were quick to follow.

CNOOC’s offering priced on September 26 in a resurgent credit market, coming just a week after the US Fed decided to hold off on a curb of its quantitative-easing programme.

Although CNOOC subsidiaries had previously issued overseas debt, the offering was also the first to come with a full guarantee from the group’s mainland parent. That ensured the bond was the first from a Chinese state-owned enterprise to be eligible for JP Morgan’s Emerging Market Bond Index, helping drive tighter pricing.

CNOOC, rated Aa3/AA–, priced US$1.3bn of 10-year 144A/Reg S bonds with a 4.50% coupon at par to yield 185bp over US Treasuries, inside initial guidance of 210bp.

At the same time, the company priced a €500m (US$675m) seven-year Reg S bond to yield 115bp above mid-swaps, again a lot tighter than initial price talk in the area of 140bp. The lack of comparables for the first-of-its-kind euro bond made it difficult to come up with a fair value. Yet, investors in Europe did not hesitate to buy the bonds from China’s top offshore oil explorer.

The tranches drew huge order books, which proved resilient even as price levels on the bonds tightened over comparable securities. The dollar bonds drew orders of US$7.8bn and the euro paper €3.6bn.

The offering also came with an unusual execution strategy, with the dollar tranche announced in the morning during Asian hours and the euro portion unveiled later, when London markets opened.

“The 24-hour around-the-clock parallel bookbuilding for the US dollar and euro tranches spanned over Asia, Europe and North America, which proved highly successful and covered the most locations in the shortest period of time,” said Paul Au, head of Asian debt syndicate at UBS, one of the co-ordinators on the offering, alongside BOC, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan.

The same banks, along with ICBC International, CCB International, ABC International, BoCom International were joint bookrunners on the dollar tranche. Barclays, Citigroup, Credit Suisse and HSBC joined as bookrunners on the euro tranche.

Proceeds went towards the financing of CNOOC’s acquisition of the Queensland Curtis LNG project in Australia.

A few weeks later, Sinopec Group Overseas Development sold a US$2.75bn multi-tranche bond in US dollars and euros. The move was a sign that CNOOC had uncovered a strategy worth emulating.

To see the digital version of this report, please click here.

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