Rupert Murdoch may have had a wish granted yesterday.The Fox topper said an investment-grade rating from one of the large rating agencies was his dearest goal and he may have accomplished just that yesterday, when his News Corp. went to borrow money in the U.S. bond markets. Heather Goodchild, an analyst with Standard & Poor’s, said she’d recommend a BBB- rating — low investment grade — to the company’s senior debt offering if it sold at least $ 500 million worth of bonds and if the proceeds go to repay bank loans due in 1994. Instead, Merrill Lynch, which led an underwriting team of bankers, found more than $ 1 billion worth of buyers. As a result, News Corp. sold a two-part issue, one of $ 500 million 10-year notes at interest of 8.65% and the other $ 500 million worth of 20-year notes with 9.33% interest. The offering completely sold out, said Grant Kvalheim, a managing director of Merrill Lynch. “It was the largest corporate bond offering today and the market was there.” Such success doesn’t always come so easily. News Corp.’ debt offering last fall was scaled back and still didn’t sell well. And Time Warner paper is still sitting around unsold. TW has borrowed more than $ 3 billion in the last month through bond offerings and investor response has been less than enthusiastic. Moody’s Investors Service still rated the News Corp. issue as high junk at B2 . S&P will be officially rating the offering after it receives documentation, said Goodchild. But if everything checks out as expected, “If it’s all senior debt and measures up to what we said, the whole thing will be rated BBB-,” she said. News has about $ 2.5 billion in bank debt that comes due in February 1994. It could tap the debt markets again soon through the $ 1 billion left in a shelf registration it filed with the Securities & Exchange Commission last week. With an investment-grade rating, News Corp. is likely to be more actively restructuring its balance sheet, fixing more of its debt at lower interest rates , and possibly setting itself up to pursue some acquisitions, said analysts.
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