Global non-financial companies have issued a record amount of bonds so far this year as groups including Petrobras, Enel and SABMiller have taken advantage of cheaper borrowing costs and more favourable economic and market conditions.

Corporate bond issues have hit $386bn in the year to date, according to Dealogic. That surpasses the amount raised in the same period in 2009 when companies rushed to issue after markets had frozen in the aftermath of Lehman Brothers’ collapse.

This year’s surge in issuance comes as the cost of borrowing for a wide range of companies, from blue-chips to highly leveraged companies has fallen after a broad rally in corporate credit and as cash-rich investors in the US and elsewhere have been buying corporate bonds in an effort to boost their returns after the Federal Reserve pledged to keep interest rates near zero until 2014.

Jean-Marc Mercier, global head of debt syndicate at HSBC, said companies, mindful of the fact that banks may not lend to them and seeing that market conditions have improved this year, were choosing to go straight to the bond markets to raise money.

“The key is low rates,” said Jim Glascott, head of global debt capital markets at Barclays Capital.

This year, average spreads on investment-grade bonds have narrowed to 184 basis points from 234bp at the end of 2011, according to a Barclays index. Average yields this month fell to 3.27 per cent, the lowest level since the index began in 1973. Junk bond yields have dropped to 7.19 per cent from 8.36 per cent at the end of last year.

Last week, for instance, Phillips 66, a refining business being spun off by US energy group ConocoPhillips, raised $5.8bn selling bonds.

The last few years have demonstrated that the cost of raising money for companies can quickly rise for reasons potentially unrelated to financial health of a specific issuer, like a natural disaster in Japan or a stumble in the eurozone’s efforts to solve its debt crisis. “Treasurers see asymmetric risk to waiting,” said Mr Glascott.

Issuance by corporates in Europe, Middle East and Africa – which at $126bn is below the record set in 2009 – is also being aided by more positive market sentiment.

Mr Mercier said that the $1tn injection of funds by the European Central Bank into the eurozone banking system had lifted sentiment in Europe. He said news that a majority of private bondholders had accepted the terms of a sovereign debt restructuring with Greece also “removed a big uncertainty that has been hanging over the market for the past 18 months”.

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