Commercial paper

July 27, 2023
Short-term, unsecured debt is known as commercial paper. Corporations often issue this kind of debt to meet their immediate cash needs, such as salaries, vendor payments, inventory purchases, and rent. Commercial paper has maturities averaging approximately 30 days, ranging from one to 270 days. Commercial paper often matures at its face value, despite being issued at a discount. Commercial paper has a minimum denomination of $100,000 and pays interest at a market-based fixed rate.

What is commercial paper?

Commercial paper is a kind of contract note that is unsecured and pays a fixed interest rate. Large banks or enterprises often issue it to cover short-term receivables and satisfy short-term financial obligations, such as funding for a new project. The issuing entity offers the paper assuming it can pay interest and principal by maturity, similarly to any other bond or debt instrument. It is rarely used as a means of financing longer-term obligations since there are better alternatives available.

History of the commercial paper

When merchants in New York began to sell their short-term debts to dealers who operated as intermediaries, commercial paper was first introduced more than a century ago. To be able to sell the notes to banks or other investors, these dealers would purchase them below par value. The investor would afterward receive payment from the borrower equivalent to the note's par value.

The first money market dealer who purchased commercial paper was Marcus Goldman of Goldman Sachs. After the Civil War, the company he owned grew to one of the nation's largest commercial paper dealers. Up to World War II, the Federal Reserve also started exchanging Treasury notes and commercial paper to alter the amount of money circulating among banks.

After the war, more businesses started issuing commercial paper, which eventually rose to the top among debt instruments in the money market. The emergence of the consumer credit sector played an important part in this growth, as many credit card issuers used the proceeds from the sale of commercial paper to offer facilities and services to cardholders to businesses. The card issuers would afterwards buy the receivables that the clients had put on the cards from these businesses (and profit tremendously on the spread).

In the 1980s, there was a heated argument about whether banks were breaking the Banking Act of 1933 by backing commercial paper, and this is not regarded as a bond by the SEC. Commercial loans and commercial paper remain the main sources of short-term financing for investment-grade issuers today, and commercial paper is still heavily employed in the credit card sector.

Commercial paper markets

Historically, commercial paper has been published and exchanged in denominations of $100,000 among institutions, with notes over this amount becoming available in $1,000 increments. Banks have a small secondary market for this paper. However, powerful financial companies like investment companies, banks, and mutual funds have historically been the primary buyers in this market.

Private investments have historically allowed wealthy individuals access to commercial paper offers. When Lehman Brothers were declared bankrupt in 2008, the market suffered significantly. As a result, new regulations and constraints on the kind and quantity of commercial paper that may be kept inside money market mutual funds were put in place. Nevertheless, online sellers, funded by financial affiliates, are making these products more readily available to retail investors.

Interest rates on commercial paper normally surpass those on guaranteed instruments and tend to increase in tandem with the expansion of the national economy. Some financial institutions permit their customers to use commercial paper fund accounts online, like a cash or money market account, for writing cheques to send money.

Investors should be advised that the FDIC does not guarantee these notes. Similar to any other kind of corporate bond or debenture, they are only supported by the issuer's ability to make payments. Regularly assessing commercial paper using the same methodology as corporate bonds, Standard & Poor's and Moody's offer the highest possible ratings of AAA and Aaa, respectively. Offerings of commercial paper with lower ratings carry higher interest rates, just like any other debt investment. However, since only investment-grade corporations can provide commercial paper, there is no trash market.

Commercial paper defaults

Typically, the Issuing and Paying Agent, or IPA, informs investors and any related exchange commission regarding the commercial paper issuer's default. Investors that possess defaulted commercial paper have few options because it is unsecured, except for calling in any other debts or selling any owned shares of the firm. A sizable default could terrorize the whole market for commercial paper. Many issuers of commercial paper invest in insurance as a backup.

More defaults occur today than in previous years. Commercial paper issuers defaulted on about 3% of their issuance in the United States before the financial crisis of 2007–2008. In 2007–2008, that number rapidly increased. In reality, out of concern about a continuing default, the quantity of commercial paper outstanding had decreased by almost 29% by September 2008.

When the gigantic transportation company Penn Central filed for bankruptcy in 1970, it became one of the most well-known instances of commercial paper default. All of the company's commercial paper obligations were in default. Its creditors suffered a financial loss as a direct result. Penn Central commercial paper was so prevalent that it negatively impacted the whole industry. Investors lost all faith in the product from issuers without connection to Penn Central. Within a month, the market for commercial paper shrank by over 10%. Following this financial disaster, it became customary in the market to purchase backup loan commitments as a sort of insurance for commercial paper.

Trading in commercial paper

Small retail investors can buy commercial paper, but doing so is more challenging due to several limitations. Commercial paper's main buyers and sellers are large financial institutions, hedge funds, and multinational organizations. To purchase and hold commercial paper, a retail investor would require access to very large sums of money; in the absence of this, indirect investing is available through mutual funds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), or a money market account managed and kept at a depository institution.

It can be challenging for an individual or retail investor to purchase and possess commercial paper due to regulatory expenses, the size of investable cash, and physical access to the capital markets.

For instance, round lots of $100,000 are often sold when selling commercial paper. This level limits who can purchase commercial paper to institutional investors and affluent people. Additionally, broker-dealers issuing commercial paper on behalf of a customer already have established connections with institutional purchasers who actively participate in the market by making sizeable purchases of primary issues. They would not certainly try to find the money for the deal from private investors to fund the transaction.

Commercial paper rates and pricing

The current rates for commercial paper are available on the Federal Reserve Board's website. Additionally, the FRB releases the rates for AA-rated financial and non-financial commercial paper every weekday at 4:15 p.m. in its H.15 Statistical Release. The Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation (DTCC) provided the data for this publication, and the rates were derived using an estimated link between the coupon rates of new issues and their maturities.

Each day, further details on rates and trade volume for the previous day's activities are accessible. Amounts for each outstanding issue of commercial paper are also accessible every Wednesday at the close of business and on the final day of work monthly.

Varieties of commercial papers

Generally, four kinds of commercial papers are; checks, certificates of deposit (CDs), promissory notes, and drafts.

·       Checks

A check is a written instruction to a bank to send a particular sum of money to a named individual or organization. Personal checks, which private parties issue, and cashier's checks, which financial institutions issue, are both checks.

·       Certificates of deposit (CDs)

Banks and other financial organizations provide certificates of deposit (CDs) as a time deposit. It is an assurance that a certain amount of money will be paid to the depositor on a given day in the future. The maturities and interest rates of CDs are frequently set.

·       Promissory notes

It is a written agreement to pay a certain amount to a particular set date or upon demand. In business transactions, promissory notes are frequently used as a mechanism for one party to borrow money from another party.

·       Drafts

A draft is a written directive that instructs a bank to transfer a certain amount of money to a named individual or organization. Drafts come in two varieties: sight drafts, which must be handed to the bank immediately, and time drafts, which must be paid later.

Advantages and Risks of Commercial Paper


Using commercial paper as a financing source has several benefits. One benefit is speed; since commercial paper can be issued fast, it's an excellent choice for businesses that need to generate money swiftly. Another benefit is adaptability; businesses may obtain money using commercial paper for various objectives, including working capital, financing inventory, and debt refinancing. Commercial paper may assist businesses in showing prospective investors their financial stability and trustworthiness, potentially boosting their total credit rating. It also often has lower prices than short-term borrowing options, such as bank loans.


The use of commercial paper does come with certain drawbacks, though. These include:

·       Credit risk, where the issuer of the paper may fail to meet its financial obligations.

·       Interest rate risk, where the value of the paper may shift in response to variations in interest rates. Liquidity risk, where the paper may be difficult to trade or sell

·       Regulatory risk, where the paper is not susceptible to the same rules as other kinds of securities, increases the risk of fraud or other wrongdoing by the issuer.

Why is the commercial paper used?

Companies usually issue commercial paper to generate money to satisfy their immediate financial commitments. This might involve utilizing the money to pay bills, pay off debt, fund capital projects, and fulfill other financial obligations. The purpose of issuing commercial paper is to give businesses a prompt, affordable, and efficient means to raise the money they require to satisfy their financial responsibilities and expand their operations.

Who issues commercial papers?

Large, financially sound businesses with strong credit ratings typically issue commercial paper. Corporations, financial organizations, and other companies may be among them. Companies that issue commercial paper are seeking to obtain money to fulfill their immediate cash needs, and they may utilize the money raised from the sale of the paper for several things, such as working capital, financing inventories, and debt refinancing.

The distinction between commercial paper and corporate bonds

Both commercial paper and corporate bonds are financial securities businesses issue to raise money. Nevertheless, there are several significant distinctions between the two:

i.       Credit ratings

Financially sound businesses with high credit ratings often issue commercial paper, whereas businesses with a wide range of credit ratings may issue corporate bonds.

ii.     Interest rates

Due to the lower risk associated with the paper, commercial paper interest rates are often lower than corporate bond rates.

iii.    Maturities

Commercial paper's short-term maturity generally ranges from a few days to 270 days. Contrarily, corporate bonds have maturities that generally range from five to thirty years.

iv.    Registration

Unlike corporate bonds, commercial paper is not subject to the same amount of regulatory monitoring since it is not registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

v.     Trading

While corporate bonds are frequently traded on exchanges in addition to the over-the-counter (OTC) market, commercial paper is typically traded over-the-counter (OTC).

vi.    Collateral

While corporate bonds are normally not collateralized, some commercial paper may be supported by collateral, like inventory or accounts receivable.


Commercial paper is a kind of short-term, unsecured debt issued by corporations (up to 270 days in maturity). It is cheaper than taking out a loan for company needs like payroll or rent. Commercial paper is appealing to issuers in part because of the low-interest rate that comes with it. The rate may not be as attractive to investors as other options, but it may be better than the return on certain bonds (such as Treasuries). Also, it is a way to diversify one's holdings in the market.