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Interest Rate Swaps

An interest rate swap is a forward contract in which one stream of future interest payments is exchanged for another based on a specified principal amount. Interest rate swaps usually involve the exchange of a fixed interest rate for a floating rate, or vice versa, to reduce or increase exposure to fluctuations in interest rates or to obtain a marginally lower interest rate than would have been possible without the swap. A swap can also involve the exchange of one type of floating rate for another, which is called a basis swap.

Interest rate swaps are the exchange of one set of cash flows for another. Because they trade over-the-counter (OTC), the contracts are between two or more parties according to their desired specifications and can be customized in many different ways. Swaps are often utilized if a company can borrow money easily at one type of interest rate but prefers a different type.

 

There are three different types of interest rate swaps: Fixed-to-floating, floating-to-fixed, and float-to-float.

 

  • Fixed-to-Floating

       

       For example, consider a company named TSI that can issue a bond at a very                 attractive fixed interest rate to its investors. The company's management feels             that it can get a better cash flow from a floating rate. In this case, TSI can enter             into a swap with a counterparty bank in which the company receives a fixed rate           and pays a floating rate.

 

       The swap is structured to match the maturity and cash flow of the fixed-rate                 bond and the two fixed-rate payment streams are netted. TSI and the bank                   choose the preferred floating-rate index, which is usually LIBOR for a one-,                   three-, or six-month maturity. TSI then receives LIBOR plus or minus a spread               that reflects both interest rate conditions in the market and its credit rating.

  • Floating-to-Fixed

 

       A company that does not have access to a fixed-rate loan may borrow at a                     floating rate and enter into a swap to achieve a fixed rate. The floating-rate tenor,         reset, and payment dates on the loan are mirrored on the swap and netted. The           fixed-rate leg of the swap becomes the company's borrowing rate.

 

  • Float-to-Float

 

       Companies sometimes enter into a swap to change the type or tenor of the                   floating rate index that they pay; this is known as a basis swap. A company can             swap from three-month LIBOR to six-month LIBOR, for example, either because           the rate is more attractive or it matches other payment flows. A company can a             also switch to a different index, such as the federal funds rate, commercial paper,         or the Treasury bill rate.