Corporate fixed-income investors often find themselves overshadowed by their stock-trading counterparts — especially during a crisis.
The global outbreak of Covid-19 last year had equity investors pressing investor-relations teams for finance and strategy updates as they tried to determine how their shares might perform during the pandemic. But they weren’t the only investors worried by the economic shut down.
As corporate bond defaults surged in hard-hit sectors like oil and gas, retail, and restaurants, fixed-income investors were also looking to IR teams to explain how their companies would weather the crisis and pay off loans.
“Equity investors want to know how much the company is going to grow by,” explained Craig Marks, senior director of investor relations at AstraZeneca. “Debt investors want to know if you’re going to pay them back.”
For the second year, fixed-income investors ranked their favorite debt issuers in Institutional Investor’s 2020 ranking of Global Fixed-Income Investor Relations. More than 1,110 bond and credit specialists from over 600 financial services firms voted in this year’s survey, evaluating investment-grade and high-yield debt issuers on attributes like proactive communication and engagement with bond holders and prudent, value-creating use of debt.
This year’s top-ranking firms included JPMorgan Chase & Co., which ranked first among banks, and T-Mobile USA, which was No. 1 in the technology, media, and telecommunications sector. Morgan Stanley placed first in the non-bank financial sector, while Chinese real estate developer Zhenro Properties Group led the real estate and construction category.
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Maggie Mui, head of investor relations at Zhenro, said her team focused on staying engaged with fixed-income investors during the pandemic through a combination of online meetings, virtual events, social media, email, and phone calls. As the IR team for a Chinese company, this included making themselves available for early morning and late-night calls with investors in different time zones, since no one could travel internationally.
“Investors had great concerns on how the operating environments and the business were affected and thus became very conservative at one point,” Mui said. “We spent great efforts in engaging with investors, broadening our investor base, and optimizing financial status and credit ratings. All this contributed to the successful issuance of China high-yield deals by the company throughout the rest of 2020.”
AstraZeneca — which ranked second in the health-care and pharmaceuticals sector — likewise emphasized staying in regular contact with fixed-income investors throughout the year, including updating investors on the progress of the pharmaceutical company’s Covid-19 vaccine. According to Marks, it helped that AstraZeneca has dedicated IR resources for fixed-income professionals — something he said many companies don’t have.
“A lot of corporates see it as an add-on — like if I get enough time, I’ll see my debt investor,” he said. “We actively seek them out and provide a service for them.”
Other top firms in this year’s ranking included Indonesia’s Indika Energy, Japanese interior design and construction company NOMURA Co., American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings, Brazilian pulp and paper company Suzano, Brazilian oil and gas company Petrobras, Bausch Health Cos., and CVS Health Corp.