LOS ANGELES — The Port of Oakland accelerated a planned bond refunding to Thursday as municipal market yields plummeted during the financial gyrations that followed Congress’ last-minute action to lift the federal debt ceiling.
Marilyn Sandifur, a Port spokeswoman, said officials made the decision Wednesday afternoon to accelerate the refunding it had been working on so that they could enter the markets Thursday.
“The goal of the bond deal is to refund some of the port’s outstanding bonds for debt service savings and it is a fixed-rate transaction,” Sandifur said.
The $347 million deal came with A-level ratings. Interest on the bonds is subject to the alternative minimum tax, though it’s otherwise tax-exempt.
Bank of America Merrill Lynch priced the bonds with a top yield of 5.2% for the 2031 maturity, according to Thomson Reuters.
Ahead of the sale, Standard & Poor’s revised its outlook for the port to positive from stable, affirming its A rating on the senior-lien revenue bonds.
Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings this week affirmed their respective A-plus and A2 ratings on the port’s senior revenue bonds. Both gave the agency a stable outlook.
“We are pleased that the port’s ratings were reaffirmed,” Sandifur said.
The port operates Oakland International Airport and a major container facility.
In March, Fitch downgraded the port’s intermediate revenue bonds to A-minus from A.
In fiscal 2009, the Oakland airport experienced a 27% decline in passenger boardings on the airport side while it was also hurting on the port side, said Kurt Krummenacker, an analyst in Moody’s public finance group.
“The Bay Area airports seem to ebb and flow in market share over time,” he said. “Over the last several years, it has flowed back to the San Francisco airport.”
Some of the factors that have weighed in San Francisco International Airport’s favor are economic conditions on the Oakland side of the bay, but the San Francisco airport also has made improvements and reduced its cost to the airlines, drawing more business its way, Krummenacker said.
However, Oakland has experienced a rebound on the port side as container traffic was strong enough in 2010 to make up for the amount it lost during the downturn, Krummenacker said. Revenues for the port’s airport service dropped by 1.3% in 2010, but its seaport activity experienced a 13.9% increase in TEUs — twenty-foot equivalent units, a measure used for capacity in container transportation — in fiscal 2010, according to the Moody’s report.
Krummenacker said the Port of Oakland had been planning the refunding to achieve savings.
The airport is not insulated from the federal funding debates that have roiled Washington. After the most recent Federal Aviation Administration authorization lapsed in July, 60 engineers and contractors who were working on a new control tower at the airport were temporarily furloughed.
“The concerns we have about the federal fiscal troubles are part of our concerns that have led to the negative outlook in the airport sector since August of 2008,” Krummenacker said. “We expect the federal fiscal woes to continue to have a dampening effect on airport credit, because airports rely on federal grant funding.”