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WASHINGTON, Feb 28 (Reuters) – U.S. companies with the highest credit ratings sold a record $144 billion of debt securities so far in February to get ahead of further potential interest rate hikes, meeting strong demand from investors looking to capitalize on a spike in yields.Investment-grade rated corporate bond issuance in February has been the busiest ever for the month with the tally as of Monday already some $20 billion ahead of the now second-heaviest February in 2021, said BMO Capital Markets’ fixed income strategy director Dan Krieter in a report.Companies have been rushing to issue bonds as yields spiked to touch new highs with the Federal Reserve looking to keep interest rates higher for longer.Traders now expect the Fed to raise rates to about 5.4% in July, with only a minor decline by December, futures markets show . In early February, the market envisaged rates rising to a peak under 5.0%, with several rate cuts by year’s end.The average yield on U.S. investment grade bonds rose to 5.55% on Monday from just 4.94% on Feb. 1. (.MERC0A0).Latest UpdatesView 2 more stories “There’s much more yield now to be had in corporates,” said David del Vecchio, co-head of the U.S. investment grade corporate bond team at PGIM Fixed Income.February’s bonds were oversubscribed by 3.64 times on average, data from Informa Global Markets said.Investors still had plenty of cash, despite the flurry of issuance, said Blair Shwedo, head of IG corporate bond trading at U.S. Bank.Analysts expect $160-165 billion of new bond supply in March.”With more volatility, you may see some short term negative returns but overall, we’re well positioned to have a very nice positive total return in investment grade credit in 2023,” said Natalie Trevithick, head of investment grade credit strategy at investment management firm Payden & Rygel.Reporting by Matt Tracy in Washington; editing by Shankar Ramakrishnan and David GregorioOur Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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