Interest rate swap

July 27, 2023
Future interest payments on a set principal amount are swapped in a forward contract called an interest rate swap. They may hedge their bets against or profit from interest rate swings by exchanging fixed for variable rates. Plain vanilla swaps is a term used to refer to interest rate swaps, the simplest and most common kind of swap.

What is the interest rate swap?

An interest rate swap (IRS) is a derivative agreement in which the two participants commit to swap one type of future interest payment for another depending on a predetermined principal amount. These contracts often include swapping a fixed interest rate for a variable interest rate or vice versa. A swap may help limit susceptibility to interest rate volatility or receive a cheaper interest rate. Furthermore, interest rate swaps are sometimes known as simple vanilla swaps. These contracts are exchanged over the counter (OTC) and may be customized based on the parties' preferences.

The concept of interest rate swap

An interest rate swap is a contract between two participants in which one source of interest payments is exchanged for another over a certain period. Swaps are derivative instruments that trade on the open market.

The most widely transacted and liquid interest rate swaps are referred to as "vanilla" swaps because they swap fixed-rate payouts for floating-rate payments depending on LIBOR (London Inter-Bank Offered Rate), and this is the interest rate that high-credit-quality financial institutions charge one another for short-term funding. The LIBOR rate is the daily standard for floating short-term interest rates. Although other interest rate swaps exist, vanilla swaps account for the overwhelming bulk of the market.

Investment and commercial financial institutions with excellent credit scores are swap market players, providing their customers with fixed and floating-rate cash flows. A company, a bank, or a shareholder on one side (the bank customer) and a financial investment or commercial financial institution on the other are the counter-parties in a conventional swap transaction. After executing a swap, a bank often offsets the exchange via an inter-dealer brokerage and keeps a charge for putting up the initial swap. If a swap transaction is big, the inter-dealer brokerage can set up to sell it to many partners, spreading the risk of the swap. This is how financial institutions that provide swaps frequently eliminate the risk, or interest rate exposure, that comes with them.

Interest rate swaps initially aided firms in managing their floating-rate debt burdens by enabling them to pay fixed rates while receiving floating-rate payments. Companies might secure the current fixed rate while getting payments that mirrored their floating-rate debt in this manner. (Some companies paid floating and got fixed rates to match their stock or obligations.) Nevertheless, since swaps represent the market's projections for future interest rates, they have become an appealing instrument for other fixed-income market players such as traders, shareholders, and financial institutions.

A proper interest rate swap agreement explicitly states the contract's parameters, covering the relative interest rates payable by either party and the payment schedule (e.g., quarterly, monthly, or yearly). Furthermore, the contract specifies the swap agreement's start and maturity dates, as well as the fact that both individuals are obligated by the conditions of the contract until the maturity date.

The interest rate swap from a trade standpoint

Interest rate swaps are exchanged over the counter, and the two participants must normally agree on two points when entering into an interest rate swap contract. Before entering into a trade, the duration and conditions of the exchange must be considered. The duration of the swap determines the contract's start and end dates, while the conditions of the swap determine the fixed rate at which the swap will operate.

Different forms of interest rate swaps

Interest rate swaps are classified into three types: fixed-to-floating, floating-to-fixed, and float-to-float.

    i.  Fixed-to-floating

Consider a firm, TSI, which can offer its shareholders a bond with an extremely appealing fixed interest rate. The business executives believe that a variable rate will provide greater cash flow. In this instance, TSI may swap with a partner bank, receiving a fixed rate and paying a fluctuating rate.

The exchange is constructed to reflect the fixed-rate bond's term and cash flow, and both fixed-rate payment flows are summed. For a one-, three-, or six-month term, TSI and the financial institution choose the desired floating-rate index, often the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). TSI is then given the LIBOR plus or minus a margin reflecting both market interest rate circumstances and its credit grade.

The Intercontinental Exchange, the body in charge of LIBOR, will cease releasing one-week and two-month USD LIBOR after December 31, 2021. All other LIBOR rates will be phased out after June 30, 2023.

   ii.   Floating-to-Fixed

If a corporation cannot get a fixed-rate loan, it can get financing at a floating rate and use a swap to acquire a fixed rate. The loan's floating-rate tenor, resetting and due dates are copied and tallied on the swap. The swap's fixed-rate portion becomes the organization's borrowing rate.

  iii.   Float-to-Float

Corporations may occasionally use a basic exchange to vary the kind or tenor of the variable rate index they pay. A corporation may switch from a three-month to a six-month LIBOR if the rate is more appealing or fits other payment flows. A corporation may also change its indexes, such as financial paper, the federal funds rate, or the rate of the US Treasury bill.

The swap rate

The "swap rate" is the fixed interest rate demanded by the recipient in return for the risk of paying the short-term LIBOR (floating) rate over time. The forward LIBOR curve reflects the market's expectation of the level that LIBOR will be in the future at any particular moment.

The overall value of the swap's fixed rate flows will be equivalent to the amount of predicted floating rate payments suggested by the forward LIBOR curve at the period of the swap contract. As future LIBOR expectations shift, fixed-rate traders must engage in new swaps. Swaps are often priced in terms of this fixed rate or the "swap spread," which refers to the difference between the swap rate and the corresponding municipality's bond yield for a similar maturity.

The same logic applies when analyzing money and seeing interest as a price for money. If the actual return on investment varies between two nations (adjusted for inflation), traders will swarm to the country with the greater returns. Interest rates must be raised to halt this trend. The interest rate parity hypothesis explains this link. When examining interest rates, it is critical to differentiate between actual and nominal rates, with the difference indicating the inflation rate. The greater the nation's predicted inflation, the more remuneration traders will want when investing in a certain currency.

The swap curve

The swap curve is a graph of rates over all possible maturities, as seen in the graphic below. The swap curve is an incredibly significant interest rate reference since it incorporates an overview of ahead LIBOR predictions and the market's view of other elements, such as the availability of funds, demand and supply patterns, and bank credit rating.

Even though the swap curve is often comparable in form to the analogous sovereign yield curve, swaps with matching maturities may trade greater or lesser than sovereign rates. The "swap spread" is the difference between the two. Typically, the gap has been positive across maturities, indicating banks' greater credit risk against sovereigns. Other variables, like liquidity, demand, and supply patterns, have resulted in a negative swap spread at more extended maturities in the United States today.

Since the swap curve represents both LIBOR predictions and bank financing, it is an excellent indication of fixed-income market trends. In certain circumstances, the swap curve has overtaken the Treasury curve as the dominant reference for valuing and exchanging corporate bonds, advances, and mortgages.

Applications of interest rate swaps

i.       Hedging is one of the applications for interest rate swaps.

Suppose a company believes that interest rates will rise shortly and has a loan on which they pay interest. Suppose this loan is tied to three-month LIBOR rates. If the business feels that the LIBOR rate will rise soon, it may hedge its cash flow by choosing fixed interest rates through an interest rate swap. It will give the corporation's cash flow some predictability.

ii.     Interest rate swaps are used by banks to control interest rate risk

They often spread their interest rate risk by constructing smaller swaps and spreading them in the market through an inter-dealer brokerage. When we look at who the market makers are in the company, we will go into this characteristic and transaction in depth.

iii.    A fantastic resource for fixed-income investors

They utilize it to speculate and create markets. Initially, it was just for companies, but as the market evolved, individuals began to see it as a means to evaluate the interest rate opinions of market players. At this point, many fixed-income players began actively engaging in the market.

iv.    The interest rate swap is a good management tool for a portfolio

It aids in lowering the risk associated with interest rate volatility. Long-dated interest rate swaps assist fund managers who desire to embark on a long-duration approach by increasing the portfolio's total length.

Investing in interest rate swaps

Because of its many applications, interest rate swaps have become a crucial instrument for many sorts of shareholders, along with corporate treasurers, risk managers, and banks. These are some examples:

·       Portfolio administration

Investors may use interest rate swaps to modify their interest rate risk and mitigate the risks presented by fluctuations in interest rates. Executives may ramp up or negate their susceptibility to fluctuations in the shape of the yield curve by boosting or lowering interest rate exposure in different areas of the yield curve via swaps, and they can also express opinions on credit spreads. Swaps may also be used to replace less liquid fixed-income products. Furthermore, long-dated interest rate swaps may lengthen the duration of a portfolio, making them an excellent instrument in Liability Driven Investing, in which managers seek to align the tenure of assets with that of long-term obligations.

·       Speculation

Since swaps need minimal initial capital, they allow fixed-income investors to bet on interest rate changes while possibly avoiding the costs of long and short positions in Treasuries. To bet that five-year rates will decline using money in the Treasury market.

·       Finance for corporations

As previously mentioned, firms with floating rate obligations, such as LIBOR-linked loans, may engage in swaps that pay fixed and get floating. Corporations can also set up swaps to pay to float and get fixed interest rates to hedge against dropping interest rates or if floating rates better fit their assets or revenue stream.

·       Risk administration

Banks and other financial organizations are engaged in many loans, derivatives contracts, and other investment activities. Most fixed and floating interest rate exposures often cancel out, but any residual interest rate risk may be mitigated via interest rate swaps.

·       The bond issue with an interest rate lock.

Firms that issue fixed-rate bonds often use swap arrangements to lock in the current interest rate. It allows them time to venture out and locate bond investors. They quit the swap contracts after the bonds are sold. If interest rates have risen since the choice of selling bonds, the swap agreements will be more valuable, offsetting the higher financing cost.

Risks of interest rate swaps

The potential risks of interest rate swaps include the following:

·       Interest rate risk: Because interest rates fluctuate, there is an inherent risk for both parties to the arrangement. It indicates that the recipient will benefit if the variable interest rate decreases, whereas the payer will profit if it rises.

·       Credit risk: These agreements are often vulnerable to the counter-party's credit risk. It occurs when one of the contract parties defaults and cannot make the payments. The opposite party finds it difficult to collect.


For a fee, two parties might agree to swap interest payments for a certain length of time, known as an interest rate swap. They may be tailored to the parties' specific requirements and trade over the counter (OTC). To hedge against the risk of interest rate fluctuations or to get a more favorable borrowing rate, parties to an interest rate swap would often swap fixed payments for variable payments or vice versa.