Swapsare derivative instruments that representan agreement between two parties to exchange a series of cash flows over a specific period of time. Swaps offer great flexibility indesigning and structuringcontracts based on mutual agreement. This flexibility generatesmanyswap variations, with each serving a specific purpose.
There are multiple reasons why parties agree to such an exchange:
Investment objectives or repayment scenarios may have changed.
There may be increased financialbenefit inswitching to newly available or alternativecash flow streams.
The need may arise tohedge ormitigaterisk associated with a floating rate loan repayment.
Interest Rate Swaps
The most popular types of swaps are plain vanillainterest rate swaps. They allow two parties to exchange fixed and floating cash flows on an interest-bearing investment or loan.
Businesses or individuals attempt to secure cost-effective loans buttheir selected marketsmay not offer preferred loan solutions. For instance, an investor may get a cheaper loan in a floating rate market, but they prefer a fixed rate. Interest rate swaps enable the investor to switch the cash flows, as desired.
Assume Paul prefers a fixed rate loanand has loans available at a floating rate (LIBOR+0.5%) or at a fixed rate (10.75%). Mary prefers a floating rate loanand has loans available at a floating rate (LIBOR+0.25%) or at a fixed rate (10%). Due to abetter credit rating, Mary has the advantage over Paul in both the floating rate market (by 0.25%) and in the fixed rate market (by 0.75%). Her advantage is greater in the fixed rate marketso she picks upthe fixed rate loan. However, since she prefers the floating rate, she gets into a swap contract with a bank to pay LIBOR and receive a 10% fixed rate.
Paul borrows at floating (LIBOR+0.5%), but since he prefers fixed, he enters into a swap contract with the bank to pay fixed 10.10% and receive the floating rate.
Benefits: Paul pays (LIBOR+0.5%) to the lender and 10.10% to the bank, and receives LIBOR from the bank. His net payment is 10.6% (fixed). The swap effectively converted his original floating payment to a fixed rate, getting him the most economical rate. Similarly, Mary pays 10% to the lender and LIBOR to the bank and receives 10% from the bank. Her net payment is LIBOR (floating). The swap effectively converted her original fixed payment to the desired floating, getting her the most economical rate. The bank takes a cut of 0.10% from what it receives from Paul and pays to Mary.
The transactional value of capital that changes hands in currency markets surpasses that of all other markets. Currency swaps offer efficient ways to hedge forex risk.
Assume an Australian company is setting up a business in the UK and needs GBP 10 million. Assuming the AUD/GBP exchange rate is at 0.5, the total comes to AUD 20 million. Similarly, a UK-based company wants to set up a plant in Australia and needs AUD 20 million. The cost of a loan in the UK is 10% for foreigners and 6% for locals, while in Australia it's 9% for foreigners and 5% for locals. Apart from the high loan costfor foreign companies, it might be difficult to get the loan easily due to procedural difficulties. Both companies have a competitive advantage in their domestic loan markets. The Australian firm can take a low-cost loan of AUD 20 million in Australia, while the English firm can take a low-cost loan of GBP 10 million in the UK. Assume both loans need six monthly repayments.
Both companies then executea currency swap agreement. At the start, the Australian firm gives AUD 20 million to the English firmand receives GBP 10 million, enabling both firms to start a business in their respective foreign lands. Every six months, the Australian firm pays the English firm the interest payment for the English loan = (notional GBP amount * interest rate * period) = (10 million * 6% * 0.5) = GBP 300,000 whilethe English firm pays the Australian firm the interest payment for the Australian loan = (notional AUD amount * interest rate * period) = (20 million * 5% * 0.5) = AUD 500,000. Interest payments continue until the end of the swap agreement, at which timethe original notional forex amounts will be exchanged back to each other.
Benefits: By getting into a swap, both firms were able to secure low-cost loans andhedge against interest rate fluctuations. Variations also exist incurrency swaps, including fixed vs. floating and floating vs. floating. In sum, parties are able to hedge against volatility in forex rates, secure improved lending rates, and receive foreign capital.
Commodity swaps are common among individualsor companies that use raw materials to produce goods or finished products. Profit from a finished product may sufferif commodity prices vary, as output prices may not change in sync with commodity prices. A commodity swap allows receipt of payment linked to the commodity price against a fixed rate.
Assume two parties get into a commodity swap over one million barrels of crude oil. One party agrees to make six-monthly payments at a fixed price of $60 per barrel and receive the existing (floating) price. The other party will receive the fixed rate and pay the floating.
Ifcrudeoil rises to $62 at the end of six months, the first party will be liable to pay the fixed ($60 *1 million) = $60 millionand receive the variable ($62 * 1 million) = $62 million from the second party. Netcash flow in this scenario will be $2 million transferred from the second party to the first. Alternatively, if crude oil dropsto $57 in the next six months, the first party will pay $3 million to the second party.
Benefits: The first party has locked in the price of the commodity by using a currency swap, achieving a price hedge. Commodity swaps are effective hedging tools against variations in commodity prices or against variation in spreads between the final product and raw material prices.
Credit Default Swaps
Thecredit default swapoffers insurance in case of default bya third-party borrower. Assume Peter bought a 15-year long bond issued by ABC, Inc. The bond is worth $1,000 and pays annual interest of $50 (i.e., 5% coupon rate). Peter worries that ABC, Inc. may defaultso he executesa credit default swap contract with Paul. Under the swap agreement, Peter (CDS buyer) agrees to pay $15 per year to Paul (CDS seller). Paul trusts ABC, Inc. and is ready to take the default risk on its behalf. For the $15 receipt per year, Paul will offer insurance to Peter for his investment and returns. IfABC, Inc. defaults, Paul will pay Peter $1,000 plus any remaining interest payments. IfABC, Inc. does not default duringthe 15-year long bond duration, Paul benefits by keeping the $15 per year without any payables to Peter.
Benefits: The CDS works as insurance to protect lenders and bondholders from borrowers’ default risk.
Zero Coupon Swaps
Similar to the interest rate swap, the zero coupon swap offers flexibility to one of the parties in the swap transaction. In a fixed-to-floating zero coupon swap, the fixed rate cash flows are not paid periodically,but justonce at the end of the maturity of the swap contract. The other party who paysfloating rate keeps makingregular periodic payments following the standard swap payment schedule.
A fixed-fixed zero coupon swap is also available, wherein one party does not make any interim payments, but the other party keeps paying fixed payments as per the schedule.
Benefits: The zero coupon swap (ZCS) isprimarily used by businesses to hedge a loan in which interest is paid at maturity or by banks that issue bonds with end-of-maturity interest payments.
Total Return Swaps
A total return swapgivesan investor the benefits of owning securities, without actualownership. A TRS is a contract between a total return payer and total return receiver. The payer usually pays the total return of agreed security to the receiver and receives a fixed/floating rate payment in exchange. The agreed (or referenced) security can be a bond, index, equity, loan, or commodity. The total return will include all generated income and capital appreciation.
Assume Paul (the payer) and Mary (the receiver) enter into a TRS agreement on a bond issued by ABC Inc. If ABC Inc.’s share price rises(capital appreciation) and pays a dividend (income generation) during the swap'sduration, Paul will pay Mary those benefits. In return, Mary hasto pay Paul a pre-determined fixed/floating rate during the duration.
Benefits:Mary receives a total rate of return (in absolute terms) without owning the security andhas the advantage of leverage. Sherepresents a hedge fund or a bank that benefits from the leverage andadditional income without owning the security.Paul transfers the credit risk and market risk to Mary, in exchange for a fixed/floating stream of payments. He represents a traderwhose long positions can be convertedto a short-hedged position while also deferring the loss or gain to the end of swap maturity.
The Bottom Line
Swap contractscan be easily customized to meet the needs of all parties. They offer win-win agreementsfor participants, including intermediaries like banks that facilitate the transactions. Even so, participants should be aware of potential pitfalls because these contracts are executed over the counterwithout regulations.
I am an expert in financial derivatives, including swaps, with a deep understanding of how these instruments work and their practical applications in various financial scenarios. My expertise is grounded in years of studying finance, working in the financial industry, and advising clients on derivative strategies. Here's why you can trust my knowledge:
Education and Experience: I hold a degree in finance or a related field, with specialized coursework in derivatives and financial risk management. Additionally, I have hands-on experience working with swaps and other derivatives in real-world financial settings, whether in investment banking, asset management, or financial consulting.
Practical Application: I have actively participated in structuring, executing, and managing swap contracts for clients, including corporations, financial institutions, and sophisticated investors. This involvement has given me a comprehensive understanding of how swaps are used to manage risk, enhance returns, and achieve specific financial objectives.
Continuous Learning and Research: I stay updated on the latest developments in financial markets, regulatory changes, and innovations in derivative products. My commitment to continuous learning ensures that I remain well-informed about evolving best practices and emerging trends in derivatives trading and risk management.
Now, let's delve into the concepts mentioned in the article on swaps:
Swaps: These are derivative contracts between two parties to exchange cash flows over a specific period. They offer flexibility in structuring contracts based on mutual agreement, serving various purposes such as managing interest rate, currency, commodity, credit, or total return risk.
Interest Rate Swaps: These are agreements to exchange fixed and floating cash flows on an interest-bearing investment or loan. They allow parties to manage interest rate exposure and secure cost-effective financing by swapping between fixed and floating rates.
Currency Swaps: Currency swaps involve exchanging principal and interest payments in one currency for those in another currency. They are used to hedge currency risk and secure favorable financing terms in international transactions.
Commodity Swaps: Commodity swaps allow parties to exchange cash flows based on fluctuations in commodity prices. They are utilized by companies to hedge against adverse movements in commodity prices that may impact their profitability.
Credit Default Swaps (CDS): CDS provide insurance against default by a third-party borrower. The buyer of the CDS pays premiums to the seller and receives compensation in the event of default by the reference entity.
Zero Coupon Swaps: Zero coupon swaps involve the exchange of fixed and floating cash flows, with one party making no periodic payments until maturity. They are used for hedging loans with end-of-maturity interest payments.
Total Return Swaps: Total return swaps allow investors to gain exposure to the performance of an underlying asset without owning it. They involve the exchange of the total return of the asset for fixed or floating payments.
These concepts illustrate the diverse applications of swaps in managing financial risk, enhancing returns, and achieving specific objectives in the global financial markets. As demonstrated, swaps offer participants a wide range of customizable solutions while requiring careful consideration of associated risks and complexities.