Australia's Westpac breaks bond hiatus with first SOFR deal

SYDNEY, May 25 (Reuters) - Westpac Banking Group on Tuesday will reopen Australia’s big banks bond-market taps for the first time in more than a year, in a deal marking the first use of a non-USD Libor benchmark rate to price the debt.

The country’s second-largest lender is offering senior bonds for the first time since January 2020, with part of the issue due to be priced at a spread over the Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR), which is replacing Libor, according to a memo seen by Reuters.

Australia’s big banks are bursting with cash and had abandoned onshore and offshore senior markets since the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) introduce the Term Funding Facility (TFF) in March 2020 to ensure access to liquidity at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Citigroup, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, RBC Capital Markets and Westpac are managing the issue, which also includes a 10-year tranche, according to the note.

“There’s been a long hiatus since we’ve seen the major banks access term funding markets given their access to the central banks’ TFF and the substantial uplift in deposits,” said Allan O’Sullivan, Westpac’s head of debt capital markets syndication.

The Big Four have not yet deployed the massive A$200 billion ($155.16 billion) funding facility in full but it expires in June and repayments start in 2023.

“There’s been some expectation amongst market participants as to when we might see the return of the major banks to the senior unsecured market, so it’s positive that investors are seeing a transaction from them on their screens again,” O’Sullivan added.

Westpac’s benchmark bond issue will be priced in New York hours and the final spread to SOFR will be calculated then, one of the managers said. Australia and New Zealand Banking Group , the nation’s third-largest lender, is also expected to issue senior unsecured bonds in coming weeks.

Libor (London Interbank Offered Rate) is being replaced with rates compiled by central banks after lenders were fined billions of dollars for trying to rig the reference rate for their own gain in 2012.

SOFR is published by the New York Federal Reserve to use as a reference point for U.S. dollar derivative and debt transactions.

Britain’s financial regulators in March called a formal halt to nearly all Libor rates from the end of this year, piling pressure on markets to quicken a switch in interest rates used in $260 trillion of contracts globally.

“The (Australian) major banks have done their homework and are prepared as global markets adjust to the next phase of offshore benchmark settings,” said Ian Campbell, Citigroup head of debt capital markets in Australia.

In late 2019, Westpac's largest peer Commonwealth Bank issued the country's first public deal that did not use the local LIBOR-equivalent benchmark, the bank bill swap (BBSW) rate. []

$1 = 1.2890 Australian dollars Reporting by Paulina Duran in Sydney; Additional reporting by Scott Murdoch; Editing by