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Last Week's Billion-Dollar Borrowers

New corporate bond issues were slow last week at less than $20 billion, but there were a few big deals in the market.

Viacom (NASDAQ: VIA  ) led the borrowing by broadcasting five-, 10-, and 30-year notes raising a total of $3 billion. The money is going toward "general corporate purposes, including, but not limited to, the repayment of outstanding indebtedness and the repurchase of shares under its share repurchase program." When you can borrow money for five years at 2.5%, why not buy back some shares?

Berkshire Hathaway's (NYSE: BRK-B  ) railroad Burlington Northern Santa Fe, made the billion-dollar borrowers club with $1.5 billion split between 10- and 30-year tranches. The "Use of Proceeds" statement in the SEC filing was pretty vague, listing "general corporate purposes, which may include but are not limited to working capital, capital expenditures, repayment of outstanding indebtedness, and distributions."

American Tower (NYSE: AMT  ) called the credit markets with 5.5- and 10.5-year paper totaling $1.25 billion. The money will go toward paying down credit facilities, financing recent acquisitions, and general corporate purposes. My Foolish colleague Steve Symington shed some light on those recent acquisitions, which saw American Tower acquire more than 4,000 towers in Brazil and Mexico from NII Holdings for $800 million.

Our fourth billion-dollar borrower is Prudential (NYSE: PRU  ) , which issued $1.05 billion in debt split evenly between five-year floating, five-year fixed, and 30-year fixed-rate paper. In a somewhat curious twist, Prudential made separate SEC filings for each issue. The two five-year issues are slated for general corporate purposes. The 30-year note is being used to refinance part of a $500 million, 4.75% issue that matures next April. The coupon rate on the new 30-years is 5.1%, so this is a rare case in which debt service costs will go up a little following a refinance.

Cenovus Energy (NYSE: CVE  ) didn't quite make the billion-dollar club with 10- and 30-year notes totaling $800 million. The money is being used to redeem some 4.5% notes due in September 2014. Coupon rates on the new paper are 3.8% for the 10-years and 5.2% for the 30-years. Cenovus breaks even on debt service costs with the refinance, but it stretches the maturity out by quite a bit.

New corporate bond issues continue to be running light since whispers about tapering hit the news a few months ago. According to Barron's Market Lab, this week last year saw more than $35 billion of new issues. We're also seeing some refinancings that aren't lowering debt service costs. I expect those will be rare for quite some time, but they should be more common as shorter-term paper issued at historically low rates begins to mature.

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