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LONDON (Reuters) - The world's top oil companies raised a record $31 billion of debt in the first two months of 2015, Morgan Stanley research shows, taking advantage of ultra-low borrowing costs to prop up dividends, balance sheets and acquisition funds.
The top U.S. and European oil companies, including ExxonMobil (XOM.N), Chevron (CVX.N), BP (BP.L), Total (TOTF.PA) and Statoil (STL.OL), accounted for 48 percent of a total of $63 billion of debt raised by oil and gas companies globally in January and February.
Since the start of the year, Exxon issued $8 billion of debt, while Total, Chevron and BP each issued $6 billion, according to the bank's research.
The $31 billion raised in the first two months of 2015 is higher than the previous record quarter set in the first quarter of 2009 when these companies issued $28 billion.
The halving of global oil prices LCOc1 since last July has roiled oil companies, forcing many to cut spending and sell assets in order to maintain their balance sheets and pay dividends.
But most major oil companies still need to increase borrowing in order to break even, given lower oil revenues.
Exceptionally low interest rates in Europe and the United States have also allowed large companies to raise debt at record low rates, Morgan Stanley said.
Companies are also raising funds for potential acquisitions in the sector, which is expected to pick up in the second half of the year, it said.
Reporting by Ron Bousso