NEW YORK, Feb 19 (IFR) - Panama filed with the SEC on Thursday to sell up to US$3.04bn in debt, raising expectations that the sovereign could soon come to the international bond market.
Bankers have been awaiting a mandate decision from the sovereign, which sent out request for proposals earlier this month.
It is the second Central American country to take aim at foreign investors this week, after Ba1/BB/BB+ rated Costa Rica mandated Deutsche and HSBC for an up to US$1bn offering.
Both sovereigns are expected to consider raising 30-year money in a market that still enjoys a decent bid for duration, with investors seeking yield pick-up further up the curve - especially among sovereigns.
Mexico, Colombia and the Dominican Republic have all issued 30-year debt this year.
Panama, rated Baa2/BBB/BBB, has an outstanding US$750m 4.3% 2053 that priced in May 2013 at par to yield 139.7bp.
That bond is currently trading at around 95.75-96.75 for a mid-market yield of 4.50%, or a G-spread of around 178bp.
Panama was last in the market in September 2014, when it raised US$1.25bn through the sale of a 4% 2024 with leads Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Citigroup.
Those bonds, which priced at 99.275 to yield 4.089%, have since climbed to 104.00-104.75 for a mid-market yield of 3.45% or a G-spread of around 138bp.
Fitch today affirmed its BBB rating on Panama with a stable outlook.
It said Panama has the highest growth rate of BBB rated countries, in part due to the expansion of the Panama Canal.
But ambitious public investment programs have widened the fiscal deficit in recent years, Fitch said. As a result, general government debt climbed to 38.3% of GDP last year, up from 36.7% in 2013.
Fitch expects that number to stabilize around 40%.
"Panama's repeated hikes in deficit limits and these recent issues in tax administration have weakened the credibility of fiscal policy," the rating agency said.
It cited the country's easy access to the international capital markets, long-dated debt profile, and a sovereign wealth fund with assets worth 3% of GDP, as important fiscal buffers. (Reporting by Paul Kilby; additional reporting by Davide Scigliuzzo; Editing by Marc Carnegie)