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LaGuardia secures $2.5bn via muni bonds

A Delta Air Lines Inc. Terminal Ahead Of Earnings Figures...Delta Air Lines Inc. planes sit on the tarmac at LaGuardia Airport (LGA) in New York, U.S., on Monday, Oct. 21, 2013. Delta Air Lines Inc. is scheduled to release earnings figures on Oct. 22. Photographer: Ron Antonelli/Bloomberg©Bloomberg

Donald Trump did not mince words when he likened the dilapidated state of LaGuardia Airport in New York City, a hub for 28m travellers last year, to that of infrastructure in a third world country.

The presumptive Republican nominee in the White House race has offended whole classes of the electorate — among them women, immigrants, the disabled and Muslims — as the November election looms.

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But his targeting of LaGuardia did not cause much consternation. US vice-president Joe Biden offered a similar characterisation of the airport in 2014.

The airport, which cost the city of New York $40m when it was constructed in the 1930s, took a crucial step towards changing that depiction on Tuesday.

A group hired to reconstruct and operate a new terminal at LaGuardia for 35 years secured $2.5bn of financing in one of the year’s marquee municipal bond offerings.

The sale of the debt, led by Citigroup, Wells Fargo and Barclays, attracted more than 150 investors, a person familiar with the transaction said. New 30-year bonds maturing in 2046 priced with a yield of 3.27 per cent and a 5 per cent coupon, the person added.

In contrast, 30-year US Treasuries closed Tuesday’s session with a yield of 2.60 per cent, while a Bank of America Merrill Lynch index of triple B rated municipal bonds across multiple maturity dates yielded 2.88 per cent.

The consortium of borrowers, known as the LaGuardia Gateway Partners, includes airport operator Vantage Airport Group, construction company Skanska and Meridiam Infrastructure, an investor and asset manager of infrastructure projects.

The influx of foreign buyers into the US municipal bond market as sovereign bond yields decline has suppressed borrowing costs for many cities, states and public agencies seeking to fund public works.

The debt sale included bonds that mature between 2026 and 2051 in both tax-exempt and taxable offerings. New insured 35-year paper priced with a yield of 3.41 per cent.

The Port Authority, which owns LaGuardia and its sister airports John F Kennedy and Newark Liberty, is expected to contribute another $2.2bn to the project, including investment in new roads, parking and the unification of a Delta Air Lines terminal.

The consortium will kick in an additional $200m of equity, financing documents showed.

Earl Heffintrayer, an analyst with credit rating agency Moody’s, said the construction project was “among the most complex Moody’s has rated”, citing poor geological conditions, environmental contamination, space constraints and issues with keeping the current facilities in operation during construction.

Moody’s rated the bonds Baa3, one notch above junk.

The first half of the LaGuardia reconstruction is expected to be completed by 2019, just as attention turns to the 2020 general elections in the US.

eric.platt@ft.com

Twitter: @ericgplatt

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