LIVERPOOL, England (Reuters) - Bank loans are back in favour this year with British companies and banking relationships have also improved markedly, corporate treasurers said at their annual conference this week.
A vast majority said they would rather take out a loan than issue bonds, and many said they saw no shortage of liquidity at banks, even for companies without a top credit rating.
“I think treasurers relied on their banks a bit too much pre-2008, but you have to be a little nervous about relying on capital (markets) because public markets can come and go,” Katherine Horrell, group treasurer at Centrica (CNA.L), said.
Companies can access lower interest rates and longer-term funding in bond markets than through loans, but treasurers said that bond markets’ exposure to macroeconomic swings was often too great to merit the risk. Over five years of global financial crisis, banks have typically cut back on loans to businesses.
Julie Fabris, group treasurer of Birds Eye Iglo Group, the private equity-owned frozen food business, said single-B rated Iglo came close to tapping debt markets for a refinancing but opted for a 250 million euro (£210.7 million) loan in October.
“At the end of the day the bank lending market was more attractive,” she said. “For that reason, when there is talk about a lack of liquidity and lack of funds available, I question whether this is really the case.”
Polls taken during presentations at the conference showed that trust in banks is also recovering. More than one third said they thought banks’ relationships with corporates were “brilliant”, up from just over a fifth in the same poll in 2012.
None of the treasurers described the relationship as “broken”, compared to 22 percent in 2012.
Almost 90 percent said that relationship banking was more relevant today than in the past.
However, Russell Maybury, head of corporate debt capital markets (DCM) for UK and Ireland at Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS.L) warned companies not to forget the strategic benefits of diversifying and said companies that do borrow on capital markets are moving towards structured products.
Some treasurers said they were also diversifying to protect against another credit crunch.
“We buy a lot of property and we finance that property through a mixture of leasing, bank debt and also private placements,” said Chris Denley, group financial controller Whitbread Group (WTB.L), owner of Costa Coffee and Premier Inn.
Last year European corporate bond issuance increased by 62 percent year-on-year in 2012, according to Thomson Reuters data. That compared to a 37-percent slump in corporate loan volumes.
Editing by Louise Ireland