If Argentina can raise money for 100 years, and Greece can print bonds despite still being in a bailout — then why not Iraq?
The war-torn country has defied conventional logic by issuing a $1 billion five-year security on Wednesday, without the backing of the U.S. The state’s declaration of victory over Islamic State in Mosul, the country’s second-largest city, has clearly provided the impetus to brave issuing debt on its own.
Investor demand was huge — the deal was seven times oversubscribed. This enabled the lead managers to lower the indicated yield by 25 basis points to a final 6.75 percent. This is lower than what’s available from a similar Ukraine bond, though it is well above the recent five-year issue from Greece, which trades at 4.6 percent. The credit ratings are similar.
So what’s the appeal? Iraq does have the benefit of being able to export oil again. Holders of the 2028 bond comprise all the major emerging market investors, and it is likely they have queued up to take part in this new deal. An issue of this size will enter the emerging market bond indexes, and with an order book so strong it is likely to perform well. It becomes a self-fulfilling must-buy if investors are not to underperform their peers.
But that should not be an investment principle.
This is another example of the insatiable demand for yield that so worries central banks and market commentators. This would seem to define the very idea of a credit bubble: A wholly insufficient reward for what must be seen as a considerable risk, as Iraq is still in the midst of a serious civil conflict in the most unstable region in the world.
Return of capital seems to have taken a back seat to a decent coupon.
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Marcus Ashworth is a Bloomberg Gadfly columnist covering European markets. He spent three decades in the banking industry, most recently as chief markets strategist at Haitong Securities in London.