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The Globe and Mail

Saudi Arabia poised to sell record $17.5-billion in bonds

A view shows the construction of the King Abdullah Financial District, north of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 11, 2016.

Faisal Nasser/REUTERS

Saudi Arabia is planning to raise as much as $17.5-billion in the biggest bond sale ever from an emerging-market nation, according to two people with knowledge of the offering, as it seeks to shore up finances battered by the slide in oil.

The government aims to sell dollar-denominated bonds due in five years yielding about 140 basis points more than similar-maturity U.S. Treasuries, 10-year notes at a spread of about 170 basis points and 30-year securities at 215 basis points, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private.

The sale would eclipse Argentina's $16.5-billion offering in April as the largest from a developing nation, underlining the deepening strain on an oil-dependent country that has eschewed international debt markets until now. The nation clocked up a budget shortfall of $97-billion last year, equal to 15 per cent of its gross domestic product, prompting the government this year to cut subsidies, wages and spending.

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"Boom, they went full scale," said Angelo Rossetto, a trader at GMSA Investments Ltd. in London, who is bidding for the bonds. They "probably want to take advantage of the window before elections and possible rate increase. Print a lot now and then see what unfolds," he said.

The offering followed a week of presentations to prospective buyers, taking in London, Los Angeles, Boston and New York, at which officials emphasized the kingdom's efforts to diversify the $650-billion economy away from oil. Attendees such as Gregory Saichin, chief investment officer for emerging-market bonds at Allianz Global Investors in London, were concerned the Saudi delegation avoided discussion of crude prices. Others simply decided the bonds were being touted at too high a price.

"I imagine they have enough sovereign wealth fund and cross-over investors sewn up to justify the expensive pricing," Edwin Gutierrez, the head of emerging-market sovereign debt at Aberdeen Asset Management in London, which oversees more than $400-billion, said before the final pricing Wednesday. "I can find cheaper bonds elsewhere."

Sales Spree

Saudi Arabia had been expected to raise about $10-billion in the sale, people familiar with the matter said last month. Citigroup Inc., HSBC Holdings Plc and JPMorgan Chase & Co. were joint global coordinators for the deal. Bank of China Ltd., BNP Paribas SA, Deutsche Bank AG, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Morgan Stanley, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc. and NCB Capital also helped manage the issue.

The offering is the latest in a series from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council. Even before the Saudi sale, issuance this year rose to an unprecedented $48.4-billion. Qatar sold $9-billion in May, a Middle East record until the Saudi issue, the emirate of Abu Dhabi raised $5-billion in April, and Oman issued $4.5-billion.

Saudi Arabia had $73-billion direct government debt as of the end of August, $63-billion of which was raised from monthly sales of local currency debt. The riyal offerings and a drop in deposits have tightened liquidity in Saudi banks, prompting lenders to raise interest rates they charge one another for loans. The three-month Saudi Interbank Offered Rate, or Saibor, has climbed for 15 straight months, rising to the highest level in more than seven years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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