Fighting fire with fire

Bloomberg looks at how low interest rates are driving corporate decision-making:

Companies facing the biggest pension deficit since at least 1994 are selling bonds at the fastest pace in more than seven years to plug the hole, betting that future returns will exceed their borrowing costs.

United Parcel Service Inc., the world’s largest package- delivery business, Dow Chemical Co., Northrop Grumman Corp. and PPG Industries Inc. sold at least $5.25 billion of investment- grade U.S. corporate bonds in November to fund their pensions, making it the busiest month since June 2003, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The Federal Reserve’s effort to hold down interest rates to stimulate the economy has caused corporate pension obligations, which are pegged to bond yields, to rise by $105.8 billion this year to $1.44 trillion as of October, according to Milliman Inc. Now, companies are taking advantage of borrowing costs at about the lowest on record as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. says interest rates will rise as the global economy recovers.

“They’re fighting fire with fire,” John Lonski, chief economist at Moody’s Capital Markets Group in New York, said in a telephone interview. “They’re being victimized by low bond yields, so why not go ahead and use them as an offset?”

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