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Sovereign bonds: Greece’s bond travails recall Russia in 1998

First bond issue of the year gets plenty of bids; fails in secondary trading; Fears that Greece might have to keep raising premium to attract investors

These are tough times for the Greek public debt management office. On the timetable for 2010 is a hefty funding programme but Greece has the biggest budget deficit in euroland and other better-rated sovereigns are planning to step up their issuance. The danger is that Greece could find itself crowded out of the market.

Some of those concerns were eased in late January as Greece managed to sell €8 billion of five-year bonds to international investors, its first visit to the bond market since its credit rating was cut late in 2009. But the issuance didn’t come cheap and the sovereign was forced to pay a 30 basis point premium to existing debt of a similar maturity.

The bonds were priced to yield 3.5 percentage points more than the swap rate, 25bp less than they were originally offered for, while the arrangers pointed to strong book build that garnered €25 billion of orders as a show of support for Greece, and possibly a good deal of price tension. The post-deal markets took a different view. On the first day the bonds traded, spreads widened to 4.26 percentage points above the mid-swap rate, and credit default swap spreads widened more than 50bp.

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