SL raises US$2.4b from dollar bond sale

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Sri Lanka sold US$2.4 billion in five-year and 10-year US dollar-denominated bonds on Friday, according to a term sheet seen by Reuters, successfully tapping the international markets at a time the country is facing strains on its finances.

Sri Lanka sold US$1 billion in five-year bonds with a coupon of 6.85 per cent and US$1.4 billion in 10-year bonds with a coupon of 7.85 per cent, shaving 35 basis points (bps) off the initial indicative coupons.

A senior central bank official told Reuters that the appetite was “better than expected”.

The five-year bond attracted around US$3.1 billion in orders and 10-year attracted over US$5 billion orders, the official said.

“It is more than 500 basis points above the US Treasury, which is high but given the political crisis and other uncertainties we faced with in the past few months, these are better rates compared to what we thought initially,” said the central bank official.

Standard & Poor’s and Fitch said they had assigned “B” ratings to the bonds, while Moody’s rated them “B2”.

Last month, Sri Lanka raised its borrowing limit for dollar-denominated bonds to US$3 billion, three sources said.

The sale of five-year and 10-year bonds comes as the South Asian island nation is struggling to repay foreign loans, with a record US$5.9 billion due this year, including US$2.6 billion in the first quarter.

Sri Lanka used its reserves to repay a US$1 billion sovereign bond loan in January and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) last week agreed to extend a US$1.5 billion loan facility for an extra year.

The bond sale was launched two days after the government presented its budget for 2019 and not long after the end of a 51-day political crisis that caused a sharp fall for the rupee currency.

The proposed budget boosted spending on state employees, pensioners and the armed forces, and promised many rural infrastructure projects to woo voters before two elections.

Proceeds from the bond sale will be used “for expenditure sanctioned by the Parliament of Sri Lanka for 2019”, the term sheet said.

All three major rating agencies downgraded Sri Lanka’s debt after President Maithripala Sirisena sacked his prime minister in October and replaced him with pro-China former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, though that decision was later reversed.

Sri Lanka’s five-year government bond yields were at 10.85 per cent on Thursday, below an 18-month high of 12.30 per cent during the political crisis.

BOC International, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, JPMorgan, SMBC Nikko and Standard Chartered Bank are joint bookrunners for the bond sale.