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Covered bonds in Japan debut

January 09, 2008 | "The Financial Times"

Shinsei Bank, rescued by foreign private equity buyers seven years ago, is likely to be the first group to issue a covered bond in Japan, aiding the internationalisation of an asset class that has been popular mainly in Europe.

Moody’s on Tuesday assigned the bank’s Y50bn ($457m) issue a provisional Aaa rating, the highest investment grade rating and five notches above Shinsei’s long-term rating of A2.

A pool of residential mortgage loans backs the bank’s covered bonds. The maturity date is February 2018.

“This appears to be the first covered bond to come out of Japan,” said Heiko Langer, a senior covered bond analyst BNP Paribas. “It will be quite interesting to see if there is more from the region.”

With spreads widening since last year, the bonds had grown attractive. “On top of that, the mortgage-backed securities market is still pretty much closed.” The two factors could drive internationalisation.

Covered bonds are considered safer than others because creditors have a preferential claim to at least the collateral should the issuer go bankrupt. Hence the higher ratings that agencies can assign. Companies are able to borrow at a lower cost than a bond issued at its own rating.

In spite of a reputation for being safe, the resilience of the covered bond asset class has come under scrutiny in Europe after the suspension of the debt in November by the industry’s governing council due to concerns over the widening of spreads. UK covered bonds suffered the most, with German and French issues more stable.

Since Shinsei’s turnround, it has faced difficulties generating profit in the Japanese market, partly due to the absence of a lending revival. It also reflects competition from banks such as Mizuho and Mitsubishi UFJ, which have larger retail networks, and changes in consumer finance, which Shinsei had hoped would be one of its core businesses.

By Lindsay Whipp in Tokyo

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