TOKYO Tokyo Electric Power Co (9501.T) will select underwriters this month for its first bond sale since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster, people close to the deal told Thomson Reuters DealWatch.
The issue is expected to be worth at least $1 billion according to one of the people.
The deal is being closely watched by Japan's corporate bond market, which Tepco dominated before the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami triggered the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986, bringing the company to its knees.
Tepco has been gauging demand for the landmark bond offering, as once-skeptical investors become more comfortable with the utility's outlook after the government provided more details on decommissioning and compensation costs, sources said last week.
Tepco, which is looking to sell the bond by the end of March, will hold meetings next week with several brokerages, who will make pitches to the company for a mandate to sell the bonds, said the people close to the deal, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private.
A Tepco spokesman on Friday said there was no change to the utility company's previously announced plans to sell the bond by the end of March but that he was unaware of any plans to meet brokers next week.
The utility, once Asia's largest, was essentially nationalized after Fukushima. It has struggled to contain radiation at the site and compensate victims of the accident while preparing to decommission the crippled power station.
The meeting will discuss investor demand, the likely size of the issue, the premium over government-bond yields Tepco will need to pay and the feasibility of selling the bond by Tepco's target date, they said.
Tepco is considering a multi-tranche issue with maturities of three-, five- and 10-years, they said.
"At the very least, it will be worth 100 billion yen," said one source. In the year leading up to the Fukushima disaster, Tepco sold 235 billion yen of bonds.
Sources have said Tepco will likely need to pay investors about 1 percentage point above the corresponding Japanese government bonds yields. This would be a rich premium considering other electric utilities pay about a third of that spread for their debt funding.
The government also owns 50.1 percent of the company following its bailout, seen by some investors as an implicit state guarantee on the company.
There are, however, some potential snags to Tepco's plans to issue by the end of March. According to one person familiar with the government's thinking, the government wants Tepco to delay the bond sale until after April, when legal changes allowing more financial support to the utility are enacted.
(Reporting by Issei Hazama; Writing by Thomas Wilson; Editing by William Mallard and Sam Holmes)