Greece to Return to Bond Market After Three-Year Hiatus

(Bloomberg) —
A man uses an ATM at a Eurobank branch in Athens, Greece. (Reuters/Alkis Konstantinidis)

Greece will return to the bond market after a three-year hiatus, banking on investor interest in its recovery story.

The country, which was the epicenter of the European sovereign crisis that began in 2009, is looking to sell five-year bonds, according to an Athens Stock Exchange filing. It is also inviting holders of 4.75 percent bonds due in 2019 to tender the notes for cash, according to the statement. The bonds are expected to be priced on Tuesday.

With the sale, the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is seeking to chalk out a path for an exit from the current bailout program, which ends in August 2018, while also capping the country’s financing needs in 2019, expected to be about 19 billion euros ($22.1 billion). After not being able to convince creditors to reduce its debt burden and being left out of the European Central Bank’s bond-purchase program, Greece is testing the market.

A return to the bond market last week was held off, partly due to a 325 billion-euro ceiling set by the International Monetary Fund on the amount of debt the country can hold. Workarounds like debt swaps — that could improve Greece’s maturity profile without increasing the overall load — can ease the government’s forays into the market.

It’s “perfect timing,” said Lutz Roehmeyer, who helps oversee 12 billion euros at Landesbank Berlin Investment. “It is after getting bailout money, after getting the go ahead for a debt reduction next year, after IMF said it is likely to join the bailout finally, after S&P rating action and still before ECB ends QE and started raising rates.” Roehmeyer already holds Greek bonds and plans to take part in the new issue.

The bond sale follows the successful conclusion of the second bailout review and the disbursement of the first part of the 8.5 billion-euro tranche by the European Stability Mechanism on July 10. The IMF agreed to a new $1.8 billion conditional loan for Greece on Thursday, with disbursement contingent on euro-zone countries providing debt relief.

S&P Global Ratings raised the country’s sovereign credit-rating outlook to positive on Friday, while affirming the long-term foreign currency debt rating at B-, or six levels below an investment-grade ranking. The credit-rating arbiter increased its outlook from stable.

Greece is borrowing for 10 years at a yield of 5.17 percent. At the height of the financial crisis in 2012, with a real possibility of Greece leaving the euro area, the yield on 10-year bonds surged to a record 44.21 percent.

“Having failed to achieve anything substantial on debt relief or having Greece admitted into the ECB’s asset purchase program, the objective of the Syriza government is now a ‘clean exit’ when the bailout expires next year,” Mujtaba Rahman, managing director of Eurasia, said. “This will be the first leg of that strategy — to test market appetite while simultaneously building cash buffers ahead of next year.”

Klaus Regling, the head of the ESM, said it is important for Greece to develop a debt-market strategy. According to a government official, in order to have full access to the markets from August 2018, Greece needs to have been in the market for at least a year. That means the time is right to issue the first bond, with more to follow in the next 12 months, the official said.

“They’ve been doing well,” said Mohit Kumar, head of interest rates strategy at Credit Agricole CIB. “Psychologically, yields are below levels when they last came to the market. And it’s a good time to issue because if ECB starts tapering post summer, peripherals would come under pressure. “

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