New Records for the Bond Market

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Last week's $33 billion-plus of new corporate bonds saw new record lows for interest rates and a new record for an emerging-market U.S.-dollar issue.

Petrobras (NYSE: PBR  ) drilled into $7 billion of new cash with four bond offerings ranging from three to 30 years. That's the biggest U.S.-dollar emerging-market issue since 1995, when records started being kept. The SEC filing lists use of proceeds as "general corporate purposes." The Brazilian driller is planning on spending $225 billion to increase production over the next several years, so it's a good bet that's where the money is headed.

IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) issued $2.25 billion in three- and five-year paper. The three-year paper's 1% coupon rate is the lowest ever issued. Even when borrowing big bucks, Big Blue didn't tell us anything beyond "general corporate purposes" for the use of proceeds.

Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG  ) scrubbed up $2 billion with two- and 10-year issues. The longer paper's 2.3% coupon rate set a new record low for 10-year corporate debt. What's P&G doing with the money? You guessed it, general corporate purposes.

McDonald's (NYSE: MCD  ) half-billion of 30-year debt definitely wasn't on the dollar menu. The 3.7% coupon set a new record low for 30-year corporate paper. $250 million of 10-year debt was also on the menu. General corporate purposes was a popular phrase last week.

At least one company was willing to add just a bit of color to its plans for the new money. Praxair's (NYSE: PX  ) press release included, "The company anticipates using the proceeds of the offering to repay short-term debt, to fund share repurchases under the company's share repurchase program and for general corporate purposes." I'm not ready to make a CAPScall on Praxair, but the combination of a rising dividend, decent valuation, and confidence to finance a share buyback with debt calls for more research and possibly a follow-up article.

Corporations continue lining up to take advantage of low interest rates and have been announcing plans to fund share buybacks with debt. Foolish investors should think very carefully before taking the other side of that trade.

Fool contributor Russ Krull owns shares of McDonald's, but no other company mentioned. You can follow his stock picks on CAPS. The Motley Fool owns shares of International Business Machines. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of McDonald's, Procter & Gamble, and Petroleo Brasileiro. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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