Looking through this awards book as it is about to be sent to the printers it is impossible not to be struck by the sheer energy and effort that has gone into the deals captured in these pages.
Whatever else, you lot work hard (there’s a reason that some of us became journalists rather than finance types).
Issuance records were broken all over the place.
It was the busiest year ever for M&A, for instance, with the 63,000 completed transactions valued at US$5.9trn, according to Refinitiv numbers. That was an annual increase of 64% in value terms, and up more than US$1.5trn over the previous record set in 2015.
It was a similar story in the new issue equity markets, with 2021 setting an all-time record and eclipsing the pandemic-dominated year of 2020. Some US$1.3trn was raised – up 19% – from 7,206 transactions. Growth in global IPOs (including SPACs) was even stronger – US$413bn was raised, up 83% and another all-time high. (The fact that most of them are now trading below issue is probably best glossed over.)
Both M&A and ECM were put in the shade by debt markets, though. In fact, even adding M&A and ECM together didn’t get close to the total raised in the bond markets.
Refinitiv counted 29,124 bond deals that totalled US$10.2trn – just 3% below the all-time record of 2020. And while investment grade corporate bonds declined by 6%, high-yield bonds jumped 17% to hit nearly US$650bn. EM debt totalled US$384bn, another record.
Loan land, meanwhile, saw US$5.5trn raised from more than 10,000 deals. Some US$1.2trn of that was leveraged.
Given those numbers, it is no wonder that debt bankers (and journalists) look askance at the level of attention given to the equity and M&A sectors. It really is debt that makes the financial world go round.
The most remarkable story told by the issuance data, though, is in the world of ESG (no longer such a novel arena that we have to spell out what the letters stand for).
Green bonds hit US$489bn of issuance in 2021, nearly double the previous year. Mind you, that was nothing compared to the more than 300% increase in sustainable lending, which hit a record US$717bn.
In another recognition of the way the banking industry is changing, IFR has for the first time included a diversity and inclusion award, with the US D&I house gong going to Siebert Williams Shank.
So 2021 is destined to be remembered for record issuance – and the record fees (and bonuses) that were the result.
It also looks likely that 2021 will also go down as a high-water mark for deal activity and banking profitability. Issuance seems certain to slow in 2022 – which might actually come as a relief for those of you who have been putting in 18-hour days for most of the past two years (especially the grads and juniors who actually do all the work).
It is even possible that 2021 will come to be seen as the last year of the post-financial crisis period of ZIRP and NIRP and QE to infinity.
As inflation returns and central banks begin to unwind the extraordinary support measures that have lasted off and on for more than a decade, it’s even tempting to think that 2022 might be the year that normality returns. But who knows what normal is anymore?
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