BIG RESERVES OF KAZAKHSTAN
Investors flocked to Kazakhstan's first dollar-denominated bond in more than a decade, the first sovereign bond deal to include terms created in response to Argentina's acrimonious default.
The oil-rich Central Asian nation raised $2.5bn in 10- and 30-year dollar-denominated bonds, which were priced to yield 4.073 per cent and 5.116 per cent respectively.
The deal was heavily oversubscribed notwithstanding concerns about the falling oil price and the impact of an economic slowdown in neighbouring Russia. According to Halyk Finance, the brokerage arm of Kazakhstan's second-largest bank, the order book for the deal exceeded $11bn.
Kazakhstan last tapped the eurobond market in 2000 and the rarity of issuance explains the oversubscription, said Souhail Mahjour, debt syndicate manager at HSBC.
"There was great interest," a senior government minister told the FT.
Kazakhstan's new bonds were the first to include clauses binding all investors to decisions made by a supermajority of 75 per cent – a move supported by global institutions in response to the Argentine debt crisis.
However, one person close to the deal said the new terms had not had a great impact on investor interest. "There were a few questions along the road, but overall the reaction was muted," he said.
The past year has seen a wave of former Soviet countries tap the international bond markets, with some such as Armenia and Azerbaijan doing so for the first time.
The success of the sales highlight the different approaches of equity and debt investors to the former Soviet Union; as sovereign debt sales have been readily snapped up, equity investors have been staying away since the Ukraine crisis escalated in March.
"For many investors Russia and Kazakhstan are the same," said an executive at a major Kazakh group.
Kazakhstan's return to the bond market comes amid concerns about the impact of falling oil prices on the country's economy.
"People here are very concerned watching the oil price go down," said one official in Astana. The government is targeting growth of 5 per cent this year, but a further drop in oil prices or more economic weakness in Russia could make that harder to achieve, government officials admit.
People familiar with the Kazakh government's thinking said that its main aim in the deal was to set a benchmark for other Kazakh companies.
Earlier this year, Astana said it hoped to launch a eurobond in order to "form a benchmark for Kazakh companies to attract foreign capital and lower the cost of borrowing".
Kazmunaigaz, the state energy company, has hefty financing needs from a range of major investment projects over the coming years, including the rehabilitation of the troubled $50bn Kashagan project, which it intends to finance largely through debt.
Sabina Amangeldi, analyst at Halyk Finance, said that Astana had also been opportunistic in seizing a window when geopolitical tensions are easing somewhat to tap markets before a possible US rate rise.
"In anticipation of a rate hike in the first half of 2015, the ministry of finance took advantage of a low interest rate environment to fund a budget deficit," she said.
Kazakhstan's budget deficit is set to increase to 2.3 per cent this year from 2.1 per cent last year, according to Moody's. However, despite stalled oil production growth due to the problems at Kashagan, the country has low debt and large reserves in its national oil fund.
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