Thursday, January 8, 2009

German bond sale’s fate signals trouble ahead

By David Oakley in the Financial Times:

A German sovereign bond auction failed on Wednesday as investors shunned one of the most liquid and safe assets in the world in a warning for governments seeking to raise record amounts of debt to stimulate slowing economies.

The fate of the first eurozone bond auction of 2009 signals trouble ahead as governments around the world hope to issue an estimated $3,000bn in debt this year, three times more than in 2008.

The 10-year bonds failed to attract enough bids to reach the €6bn the German government wanted. Bids of €5.24bn, a cover of only 87 per cent, amounted to the second worst auction on record in terms of demand.

Such developments were rare before the credit crisis. Before the seven German bond auctions that failed last year, the last German bond auction to fail was in July 2000 after the dotcom crash.

Analysts said the vast amount of supply is deterring investors and a growing number of countries, including those with deep and mature bond markets, such as Germany, the UK and Italy, are struggling to attract buyers.

The Netherlands has seen bond auctions fail, the UK and Italy have been forced to offer investors higher yields to meet their auction targets, while Spain and Belgium have cancelled offerings because of a lack of demand.

The German finance agency admitted that investor appetite for government debt had waned, although insisted the auction was “not a disappointment”.

Meyrick Chapman, a UBS fixed-income strategist, said when a German bond auction failed it “does suggest there may be trouble ahead for other governments wanting to raise money in the debt markets. Before the financial crisis, German bond auctions just did not fail.”

However, analysts stress the heavy supply is being offset by fears of deflation and recession, which are typically supportive to government bonds and have depressed yields, which have an inverse relationship with price, to historical lows.

The UK on Wednesday successfully sold £2bn in gilts due to mature in 2038. But Robert Stheeman, chief executive of the UK Debt Management Office, has warned that the large supply of debt could deter buyers of gilts. Britain is planning to raise £146.4bn in bonds this financial year – three times more than last year.

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