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Saudi Arabia gears up for international bond debut as EMs eye debt markets

A flurry of frontier market countries are looking to tap the international bond markets as policymakers aim to boost public finances in the face of low commodity prices.

Next month, Saudi Arabia is expected to issue debt on the international market for the first time, in what Capital Economics says could be a record-breaking deal.

"Argentina got the ball rolling earlier this year when it sold $16.5 billion of dollar bonds, the largest amount ever issued by an emerging market sovereign. This may soon be usurped by Saudi Arabia," economists Liza Ermolenko and Jason Tuvey said in a report on Wednesday.

Vehicle light trails pass the Kingdom Tower on King Fahad Road in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Kevin Winter | Getty Images
Vehicle light trails pass the Kingdom Tower on King Fahad Road in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, Ghana launched a $750 million international bond with a yield of 9.25 percent this month and Nigeria plans to raise $1 billion from a bond issue slated for this year.

Like Saudi Arabia, both African countries are producers of crude oil.

"Selling bonds on the international market will help many of these countries cope with the fallout from lower commodity prices," Ermolenko and Tuvey said.

"Crucially, as well as financing budget deficits, the dollar revenues can be used to plug current account shortfalls, which would help to shore up currencies and stem the bleed of foreign exchange reserves. In the case of Saudi Arabia, the bond sale, alongside ongoing fiscal austerity, adds to the reasons to think that the Kingdom can adjust to low oil prices without abandoning the dollar peg," they added.

Papua New Guinea, which is another oil-producing country and enjoyed its first full year of gas production in 2015, also attempted to drum up investor interest in an international bond this year, according to media reports. However, previous attempts have been stymied by political instability and corruption allegations.


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Nigeria's prospects appear more promising. Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun told CNBC Africa last week that prospective investors had shown interest in the bond "even without (the government) asking." The economy is set to contract in 2016 for the first time in 21 years and the government is trying to reduce borrowing via Treasury bills and increase it via bonds and international markets.

For the right deal, investor demand seems to be in place. On Thursday, Russia's Finance Ministry reopened the books for its international bond launched in May, according to media reports. It plans to top up the $1.75 billion issue with a further $1.25 billion amid high investor demand and a need to close its budget deficit.

—With contribution from CNBC Africa.