The St. Paul Companies may seek to term out its commercial paper program via a senior public debt offering, according to BW sister publication Insurance Investment & Finance. Tom Bergmann, v.p., treasurer, said the trigger for a potential deal would be if the company's outstanding commercial paper, currently $300 million, were increased to $600 million. Given the staggered nature of commercial paper issuance and maturity, Bergmann was unable to estimate when the company may rack up the $600 million balance. The potential senior offering would draw off a previously filed $1 billion shelf registration, but the company has not yet determined the structure or considered any underwriters for the potential financing, saidThomas Bradley, cfo. "Right now we're modestly leveraged with a 19% debt-to-total capital ratio and have the ability to lever that up a little bit," Bradley said, adding the company would be comfortable taking its debt level into the mid-20s.
Last April, St. Paul tapped the bond market to term out its commercial paper program. It issued $500 million in senior notes split equally between a five-year 7 78% tranche and a 10-year 8 18% piece. Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette (now part of Credit Suisse First Boston) led the offering with co-leads Lehman Brothers and Williams Capital Group. Calls to CSFB, Lehman and Williams were not returned by press time.
Bergmann noted that if the company were to refinance in the near term he would expect improved rates over last April, given lower yields on benchmark Treasuries and tighter spreads for insurance paper. He declined to comment on pricing for a future offering, but one insurance banker said a new five-year issue would price at roughly 6% and a 10-year note would carry a 6.65-6.7% coupon. Bergmann said a number of banks would be considered for any debt deal, but he declined to comment specifically as to whether the underwriters for the last offering would be considered.