Business / Financial Markets

Mizuho's Wall Street itch revealed in huge Actavis deal

by Finbarr Flynn and Takako Taniguchi

Bloomberg

When Actavis was preparing to buy Allergan, it gave Mizuho Financial Group Inc. a weekend to decide if it wanted to help come up with $46 billion in loans to back the deal, which had been code-named Project Fruit Basket.

Mizuho Chief Executive Officer Yasuhiro Sato had an answer by Monday morning: Yes. Four months later, Japan’s second-largest bank by assets was in line to lead a $21 billion bond sale that refinanced the loans.

Its role in the offering helped catapult Mizuho to the 11th-biggest underwriter of investment-grade notes in the U.S. this year, up 10 spots since 2011. Mizuho, stung by losses in the U.S. during the global credit crisis, has repeatedly pointed to the Actavis deal as indicative of its aspiration to take a greater share of the lucrative market.

Mizuho isn’t alone. Japan’s mega-banks are increasingly turning to the U.S. to boost profits as lending margins at home vanish amid a third year of record monetary stimulus.

“If you’re a global chief financial officer and you’re looking for a partner, these guys are willing,” said Makarim Salman, the head of Japanese financial research at Jefferies Group LLC in Tokyo. “They’re prepared to take a lower spread I suspect than some of their competitors, so they can be very competitive.”

Companies have sold a record $885.2 billion of investment-grade securities in the U.S. this year, and Mizuho has lead-managed the three biggest offerings, co-managing AT&T’s sale in April and Kraft Heinz’s sale in June.

It’s underwritten $20.9 billion of the notes since Dec. 31, more than double the same period last year.

The bank also purchased some $42 billion of North American loan commitments from Royal Bank of Scotland Group this year, and hired more than 100 RBS bankers, including 30 for its debt capital markets business.

“We feel that it’s a great investment in the Americas to put our money there,” Mizuho Securities USA Inc. Chief Executive Officer John Koudounis said in an interview in June. “We’re accelerating our growth story from this acquisition by about a year and a half, or two years.”

Mizuho has overtaken Japan’s biggest bank, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc., to become the nation’s biggest underwriter of the investment-grade dollar debt. Mitsubishi UFJ’s ranking has fallen one level to 15th, excluding self-led deals.

The renewed expansion into overseas markets has been profitable for Japanese lenders, though less local knowledge of borrowers exposes them to risk when credit markets sour, according to David Marshall, a senior analyst at research firm CreditSights Inc. in Singapore.

Mizuho should know: It lost more than ¥670 billion after it ramped up its structured-finance business for packaging U.S. subprime debt at the end of 2006 just before the market crashed.

Nine major Japanese banks loaned over ¥60 trillion through overseas branches in the fiscal year ended March 31, double the amount five years earlier, Bloomberg Intelligence senior analyst Francis Chan wrote in a July 15 report.

Overseas lending by Mitsubishi UFJ swelled 25 percent from a year earlier to ¥42.4 trillion at the end of June, exceeding its domestic corporate balance of ¥42.2 trillion. It was the first time loans abroad overtook those in Japan for the lender, which owns Union Bank in California.

“The Japanese mega-banks have been saying really for the last few years they see very limited growth opportunities in their domestic market,” said Alastair Macdonald, a Tokyo-based analyst at Macquarie Group Ltd. “In a number of areas of lending, they think market pricing has become uneconomic” at home.

Mizuho’s domestic lending fell 0.4 percent to ¥51 trillion in the quarter ended June 30 from three months earlier, as loan margins narrowed. The bank posted net income of ¥158 billion in the period, a 2.1 percent increase, trailing an about 16 percent gain at both Mitsubishi UFJ and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc., Japan’s third-largest bank by assets.

Yields on Japanese corporate bonds have dwindled to an average of 0.24 percentage point more than sovereign debt, compared with a 1.58 percentage-point premium for U.S. company notes, Bank of America Merrill Lynch indexes show. Sales in Japan’s corporate bond market fell to a nine-year low in the first half as banks offered loans for cheaper rates. Local investors are also increasing overseas bond holdings to access higher spreads.

For Mizuho, becoming a top 10 underwriter in the U.S. is no longer just “a dream,” according to Yutaka Fukushi, the head of global capital markets at Mizuho Securities Co.

“Client numbers are increasing, and we’re able to add more value for some of our existing clients because of the addition of RBS staff,” he said. “What the RBS bankers said when they came over is ‘We’d undervalued Mizuho.’ “