By Joshua Franklin
NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. public companies sold more than $60 billion (48 billion pounds) in shares in May, the biggest monthly haul ever, as they capitalized on a stock market rally fueled by hopes that the COVID-19 pandemic is subsiding.
The benchmark S&P 500 Index <.SPX> has risen around 40% off of recent lows, hit in late-March at the height of market panic during the coronavirus outbreak, and is now roughly 10% shy of all-time highs hit in February.
The whipsawing markets stunted companies' ability to issue new shares and raise cash, with just $4.8 billion sold in March, the lowest monthly total since December 2018, Refinitiv data showed.
The market has rocketed back with $22.3 billion sold in April and $65.3 billion in May, the highest on record.
The likes of Southwest Airlines Co <LUV.N> and cruise operator Carnival Corp <CCL.N> have issued new stock to raise money. Major shareholders in companies such as BlackRock Inc <BLK.N> and U.S. drugmaker Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc <REGN.O> have cashed out their stock, with the market rebound far from certain to last.
"We're talking to a lot of companies around the fact that the market is here, you don't know what lies in the economy to come," said Ryan Parrish, head of Americas equity capital markets syndicate at Bank of America <BAC.N>. "If you even remotely have a need you should get it done now."
The share sales echo a similar trend in U.S. debt markets, where companies have raised more than $1 trillion so far in 2020.
As in debt markets, the balance of companies selling new shares has shifted from those facing an imminent cash crunch to those stocking up on rainy day funds.
"There are a whole host of companies that have been hugely impacted by COVID-19 and have had to recapitalize," said Santosh Sreenivasan, head of equity-linked capital markets for the Americas at JPMorgan Chase & Co.
"Issuers that have seen their stock prices recover are now also taking the perspective that they don't want to miss this window in case this rebound is short-lived," Sreenivasan said.
Graphic: U.S. public companies sell the rally https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/editorcharts/qzjvqjjxnpx/eikon.png
(Reporting by Joshua Franklin in New York; Editing by Richard Chang)