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Apple Bonds: 'Market Is Going to Be All Over It'

Jeff Cox
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Apple's groundbreaking move to issue debt could be just the thing the battered company needs to rehabilitate its image with investors.

Bond pros expect the tech giant later Tuesday to detail an offering on the high side of the $15 billion range, with some estimates as high as $18 billion, and pricing consistent to near top-quality investment grade.

Sources said the company is expected to offer $55 billion in debt by 2015, and that total orders for the first round are in the $42 billion range.

On its surface, the record-setting debt will be used to make good on a share buyback program.

Closer to the core, though, the move will show Apple (AAPL) is serious about rewarding shareholders who have stuck with the company, and will provide a carrot for a new wave of investors in the fixed income space.

(Read More: Apple Opens Bond Deal, Which Could Break Records )

"The market is going to be all over it," said Todd Duvick, corporate credit analyst at Stifel Nicolaus. "It's a name that everyone follows and they're comfortable with. From a credit perspective it's going to be a good diversification name for a lot of accounts."

Cantor Fitzgerald analysts predicted a "food fight" once the issuance hits.

"It's been kind of telegraphed since they released earnings," said Jeff Glenn, vice president of trading at Breckinridge Capital Advisors. "The deal has been well-received. ...From the last update, the deal is already very over-subscribed."

While Apple has some $170 billion cash on its balance sheet, about $100 billion is tied up overseas, making the debt issuance necessary.

(Read More: Apple Earnings Beat, Company Hikes Dividend )

Apple will announce more details later Tuesday on pricing and total size for the bond issue, which is expected to come in six parts.

"Buyers are going to try to elbow each other out. They're going to try to put in big orders, and they're going to get a small percentage of their orders filled even if it ends up being $15 billion," said Marilyn Cohen, CEO at Envision Capital Management.

"Aren't they the lucky guys that they're doing this at almost generational lows in yields?" she added. "All very impressive, in spite of stubbing their toes."

(Read More: Why Apple's Still a 'Buy' )

The move also comes as Apple's stock is finally showing signs of life after stumbling more than 18 percent this year. Shares rose more than 4 percent in Tuesday morning trading. The stock got a boost on reports Tuesday that Alisher Usmanov, the richest man in Russia and Britain, has bought a $100 million stake. (Read More: Russia's Richest Man Buys $100 Million Apple Stake )

Despite earnings that raised concerns over margins, the stock's recent performance has been positive, a reflection that the buyback program and the debt that will be issued to cover it have helped stoke new interest.

"This is truly a commitment to execute on that $100 billion buyback to shareholders," said Amit Daryanani, equity analyst at RBC Capital Markets, which has an "outperform" rating with a $550 price target on Apple. "This stock is very undervalued. The gross margin pressures, while they are real, might not be as severe as the stock price is implying."

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