Business | Features

Big economies look to attract sovereign funds for their bonds

Debt managers no longer rely on investors to buy securities

  • Financial Times
  • Published: 00:00 March 27, 2010
  • Gulf News

Berlin: This month Carl Heinz Daube, the head of Germany's formidable debt management agency, did something that would have seemed almost unimaginable — or unnecessary — five years ago.

He travelled to China and Singapore for a meeting with two of the world's biggest investors — as part of an attempt to charm a new pool of investors, such as sovereign wealth funds — who might be willing to buy German government bonds.

The trend is spreading fast. Until recently, countries such as Germany, which have long prided themselves on having a triple A debt rating — and relatively low yields — felt little need to court global investors.

Turmoil

But as government debt burdens spiral higher, and the euro zone quivers as a result of the fiscal turmoil that surrounds Greece, the pressure on debt managers to refine their sales skills is rising.

What Carl Heinz Daube's trip shows is that even the big economies need to cultivate the buyers of their debt and build up their relationships with investors, such as the SWFs, which hold billions of dollars in government bonds.

China's State Administration of Foreign Exchange, or Safe, and Singapore's Government Investment Corporation, or GSIC, have between them an estimated $600 billion in assets under management, with roughly 20 per cent held in government bonds.

Daube says: "We have to borrow much higher volumes these days. Hence, it makes a lot of sense for us to meet investors, so we can answer their questions. They appreciate this."

Robert Stheeman, head of the UK Debt Management Office, adds: "It has always been important to talk to investors, both domestic and international. But today, the Treasury and the DMO more than ever need to engage with investors to explain the government's fiscal position and borrowing programme."

Stheeman, like Daube, met key investors in Asia at the end of last year as he prepared for the critical months ahead of a UK election, expected in six weeks' time.

Both men realise they can no longer simply announce a government bond auction and rely on domestic and international investors to buy their securities.

This was demonstrated last year when both Germany and the UK saw government bond auctions fail as the overwhelming supply of sovereign debt to pay for bank bail-outs and economic fiscal packages began to swamp the market.

Investment banks are also aware of the new demands on debt managers to make themselves more accessible to the people who buy their bonds. Last year, for example, Citigroup arranged a conference in Tokyo, where five European debt managers addressed 100 Japanese portfolio managers on the merits of buying their government securities.

With the regulators moving to crack down on some parts of the market, and others failing to produce the returns seen before the financial crisis, banks see opportunities to make money in the government debt markets.

Status

This has prompted many banks to seek primary dealer status, which gives them the right to take part directly in government bond auctions, allowing them to buy and sell securities for a profit.

This has become increasingly lucrative because of the higher volumes due to record issuance.

In recent months, nine banks have won primary dealer status in the US, UK and Europe.

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