Oxford bond debut success shows UK universities another course
Oxford bond debut success shows UK universities another course
$1 billion bond, the first in its 1,000-year history, is good news for Britain’s top academic institutions at a time of anxiety over Brexit-related funding shortfalls and calls to scrap student tuition fees.
The 100-year bond, launched on Dec. 1 with a 2.5 percent coupon, has taken the market for deals for UK universities and colleges to a new level on a par with such big US names as Harvard and Yale.
Technically, the bond was the biggest from any university in the world. Buying interest equalled $2 billion or double its face value.
The day after its launch, it was among the top 20 traded issues in the whole of Europe, according to Trax, a subsidiary of debt trading platform MarketAxess.
That is cause for celebration for peers contemplating bond sales, even if their credit scores are less impressive than Oxford’s gold-plated triple-A rating. The oldest university in the English-speaking world, Oxford topped a global ranking by The Times newspaper for the first time last year.
It’s an uncertain time for Britain’s academic institutions.
The cost of student tuition fees, which make up almost half of UK universities’ revenues, has been catapulted to the top of the political agenda by young voters who deserted Britain’s ruling Conservative party in a snap election in June.
Universities expect these fees — currently £9,250 ($12,424) a year — to be reviewed in the new year, meaning they are unlikely to rise further and could even be cut.
“I think the whole higher education sector is worried about the debate around tuition fees,” Oxford’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor for planning and resources David Prout told Reuters after the bond sale earlier this month.
Britain’s plan to leave the EU in March 2019 is also weighing heavily.
UK universities are already finding it harder to attract and retain EU-born students and staff, with official figures showing undergraduate course applications from EU students fell 7 percent this year.
The other countries in the EU send around 58,000 students, or 8 percent of undergraduates and 15 percent of postgraduate students, to the Russell Group comprising 24 top-tier universities in the UK. Around 25,000 of their staff come from other EU countries, too.
Once Britain leaves, these institutions could also lose their places on EU-funded research projects after 2020.
A big worry is how Brexit will affect the UK’s ability to borrow from the European Investment Bank, UK universities’ biggest source of lending.
The bank, the EU’s main development lender, stopped support in March after London triggered the Article 50 clause to formally start the EU withdrawal process.
Some 36 British universities, including University College London, Edinburgh, Swansea, Bangor, Newcastle and Oxford, have borrowed almost €3 billion ($3.52 billion) from the EIB over the past decade to fund campus upgrades.
That’s more than any other country and almost double the amounts that went to Germany and France.
Last year alone, the EIB lent €671 million to UK universities.
But unless EU treaties are amended, Britain will have to leave the EIB after Brexit.
“This (EIB funding) is an area where people (at universities) feel there might be changes, so they are looking at the option of the public and private placement markets,” said Dominic Kerr, managing director of Debt Capital Markets for HSBC.
Kerr has helped launch seven of the eight public bonds that have so far been issued by UK universities, including the first by Cambridge in 2012.
Kerr estimates there have been around 50 market-based funding deals for UK universities and individual colleges in total if “private placements” — bonds offered directly to a just one or a few investors — are included.
Fraser Dixon, JP Morgan’s executive director for UK & Ireland debt capital markets, said he had several interested calls after his bank arranged the Oxford bond.
“Having seen what is able to be achieved in the markets and with the EIB possibly disappearing as an option, I think other institutions will be considering their options,” Dixon said.
“The bond markets are offering greater capacity and longer-dated money than the EIB traditionally has.”
Many still hope EIB funding will not vanish altogether.
An EU-UK “divorce deal” outline published last week specifically stated: “The UK considers that there could be mutual benefit from a continuing arrangement between the UK and the EIB,” and that it wanted to “explore” the possibilities.
The EIB does lend to non-EU universities in countries such as Morocco and Tunisia, and the group is mulling an offshoot that would include the UK, sources have told Reuters.
“Looking ahead, if there were to be clarity on the future relationship with the UK, let’s see, but from our side we would happily look at supporting higher education in the years ahead,” an EIB source said.
Oil mixed on tighter US outlook
- Traders said US markets were lifted by a tightening outlook for fuel markets in the coming months
- The Iran supply cut may also be more than compensated for by production increases outside OPEC
SINGAPORE: Oil prices were mixed on Tuesday, with US fuel markets seen to be tightening while the Sino-US trade dispute dragged on international crude contracts.
US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures for September delivery were up 27 cents, or 0.4 percent, at 0306 GMT, at $66.70 per barrel. The contract expires on Tuesday.
The more active October futures were up 7 cents, or 0.1 percent, to $65.49 a barrel.
Traders said US markets were lifted by a tightening outlook for fuel markets in the coming months.
Inventories in the United States for refined products such as diesel and heating oil for this time of year are at their lowest in four years.
This is occurring just ahead of the peak demand period for these fuels, with diesel needed for tractors to harvest crops and the arrival of colder weather during the Northern Hemisphere autumn raising consumption of heating oil.
Outside the United States, Brent crude oil futures were somewhat weaker, trading at $72.18 per barrel, down 3 cents from their last close.
This followed the United States offering on Monday 11 million barrels of crude from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) for delivery from Oct. 1 to Nov. 30.
The released oil could offset expected supply shortfalls from US sanctions against Iran, which will target its oil industry from November.
Because of the sanctions, French bank BNP Paribas said it expected oil production from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), of which Iran is a member, to fall from an average of 32.1 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2018 to 31.7 million bpd in 2019.
Still, traders said overall market sentiment was cautious because of concerns over the demand outlook amid the trade dispute between the United States and China.
A Chinese trade delegation is due in Washington this week to resolve the dispute, but US President Donald Trump told Reuters in an interview on Monday he does not expect much progress, and that resolving the trade dispute with China will “take time.”
The impact of the Iran sanctions is not yet clear.
China has indicated that it will continue to buy Iranian oil despite the US sanctions.
The Iran supply cut may also be more than compensated for by production increases outside OPEC.
BNP Paribas said non-OPEC output would likely grow by 2 million bpd in 2018 and by 1.9 million bpd next year.
“Depending on when pipeline infrastructure constraints are lifted in the US, non-OPEC supply growth by the end of 2019 may prove higher than currently assumed,” the bank said.
The search for new oil has increased globally in the last two years, with the worldwide rig count rising from 1,013 at the end of July 2016 to 1,664 in August 2018, according to energy services firm Baker Hughes.
The biggest increase was in North America, where the rig count shot up from 491 to 1,057 in the last two years.
How prices develop will also depend on demand.
“We see global oil demand growing by 1.4 million barrels per day in both 2018 and 2019,” BNP Paribas said, implying that global markets are likely to remain sufficiently supplied.