New, high-grade bond issues in the U.S. totaled more than $17 billion last week. Add in lower-quality bond issues, and the total tips in at more than $20 billion. Who's been taking advantage of today's low interest rates, and what are they doing with all that money? The following companies accounted for nearly $13 billion of the week's new high-quality debt.

Company

Amount

Coupon Rate

Maturity

Becton, Dickinson (NYSE: BDX) $1.5 billion 1.75%–3.125% 5 and 10 years
Boston Properties* (NYSE: BXP) $850 million 3.7% 7 years
Cigna (NYSE: CI) $2.1 billion 2.75%–5.375% 5, 10, and 30 years
Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE: CL) $1.0 billion 0.6%–2.45% 3, 5, and 10 years
Dow Chemical (NYSE: DOW) $2.0 billion 4.125%–5.25% 10 and 30 years
Mattel (NYSE: MAT) $600 million 2.5%–5.45% 5 and 30 years
Toronto-Dominion Bank (NYSE: TD) $1.85 billion Floating -2.375% 2 and 5 years
Xstrata Finance $3.0 billion 2.85%–6% 3, 5, 10, and 30 years

Sources: Reuters, SEC filingsm and Digital Look.
*Boston Properties' debt issued by operating partnership Boston Properties, LP.

In most cases, public companies are required to file SEC documents with details of the bond offering, including how the money will be used. Unfortunately, those details often don't go into any detail.

Boston Properties is using the money to repurchase exchangeable notes. Cigna's new debt is being used to fund its acquisition of HealthSpring. Colgate-Palmolive is paying off euro-denominated debt. Dow Chemical is refinancing debt. Mattel is borrowing to pay for its acquisition of Hit Entertainment.

Becton, Toronto-Dominion, and Anglo-Swiss mining giant Xstrata didn't provide any details beyond "general corporate purposes."

Becton, Colgate-Palmolive, Mattel, and Toronto-Dominion all issued debt with coupon rates below their dividend yields. In theory, these companies could improve cash flow by borrowing and using the money to repurchase shares.

It's easy for a stock investor to ignore the bond market. But a look at a company's credit rating, capital structure, and plans for new debt should be part of your Foolish research.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.