Apple Plans Six-Part Bond Sale

Company’s first offering since 1996 could total as much as $20 bln, trader says.

Apple Inc., the iPhone maker seeking to help finance a $100 billion capital reward for shareholders with borrowed money, may sell its first bonds in almost two decades as soon as today with a six-part offering.

The company intends to issue debt that includes floating-rate notes maturing in 2016 and 2018 and fixed-rate securities due in 2016, 2018, 2023 and 2043, Apple said today in a regulatory filing. Proceeds may help Cupertino, California-based Apple avoid so-called repatriation taxes on its $102.3 billion of funds held overseas as it returns an additional $55 billion to shareholders through 2015 to compensate for a stock that’s been hammered by signs of slowing growth.

“You’ll see a meaningful amount of interest,” Ashish Shah, the head of global credit investment at New York-based AllianceBernstein LP, which oversees $256 billion in fixed-income assets, said in a telephone interview. “It’s a high-quality name which brings in a lot of different kinds of buyers.”

The offering, being managed by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Deutsche Bank AG, follows a $1.95 billion dollar sale last week from Microsoft Corp. The world’s biggest software maker issued $1 billion of 10-year, 2.375 percent securities to yield 70 basis points more than Treasuries, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. They traded yesterday at 100.2 cents on the dollar to yield 2.35 percent, according to Trace, the bond-price reporting system of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.

Apple may sell as much as $20 billion of debt, Tom Tucci, managing director and head of Treasury trading in New York at CIBC World Markets Corp., said in an e-mail today. That would make it the largest dollar-denominated offering on record. Roche Holding AG tops the list with a $16.5 billion six-part deal from February 2009, followed by AbbVie Inc.’s $14.7 billion six-part issue in November, Bloomberg data show.

“There’s strong demand for bonds across the board,” Anthony Valeri, a market strategist with LPL Financial Corp. in San Diego, which oversees $350 billion, said in a telephone interview. “When you bring in a new name to a starved market I think it will be well received.”

Average yields on investment-grade debt worldwide dropped to a record-low 2.45 percent yesterday from 3.37 percent a year ago, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Global Corporate Index.

 

No AAA

While Apple’s $145 billion of cash is more than the combined funds of every AAA rated U.S. company including Microsoft, it failed to win the bond market’s highest credit grade from Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s. Moody’s rated the firm Aa1 with S&P giving it a grade of AA+.

That rating tier is “inconsistent” with Apple’s credit risk, according to Fitch Ratings, which yesterday said the company’s “significant liquidity cushion” was overshadowed by the threat of volatile consumer preferences, significant competition and rapid technology changes. While Fitch hasn’t released a public grade for Apple, it said such a ranking would likely fall “at the highest end” of the single-A tier, lower than where Moody’s and S&P graded the debt.

Microsoft, along with Johnson & Johnson, Exxon Mobil Corp. and Automatic Data Processing Inc., is rated Aaa by Moody’s and AAA at S&P.

Concern that Apple’s pace of sales growth is slowing were reinforced last week by a forecast for narrowing gross margins and sales this quarter that may miss analysts’ predictions by as much as $4.9 billion. Apple had its first profit decline in a decade last quarter amid accelerating competition in mobile devices from Samsung Electronics Co.

Using new debt to finance Apple’s $55 billion addition to its plan to return cash to shareholders through 2015 with buybacks and dividends may require annual issuance of between $15 billion and $20 billion, Ping Zhao, an analyst at CreditSights Inc. in New York, wrote in a report April 23. Apple would probably receive a “very attractive rate” for as much as $50 billion in new debt, Barclays Plc analyst Ben Reitzes wrote in a report last month.

Apple’s debt sale is coming more than nine years after the company cleared its balance sheet of bonds when the $300 million of 6.5 percent 10-year notes it sold in February 1994 matured. Apple issued new convertible debt in 1996 that was called in 1999, Bloomberg data show.

 

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