Credit Default Swaps

Credit Default Swaps

A Credit Default Swap (CDS) is a financial derivative crucial for managing credit risk independently from interest rate risk, offering enhanced liquidity compared to traditional bonds. It enables investors to assume long or short positions with varying maturities, requiring less capital than direct bond investments. The mechanics involve a protection buyer and seller agreeing on terms that include the issuer and specific credit events, with settlements calculated based on the Loss Given Default (LGD) multiplied by the notional amount.

CDS contracts are priced based on the issuer’s spread, reflecting the cost to insure against credit events and compared to fixed coupon rates standardized by the International Swaps and Derivatives Association to ensure market consistency. The price of a CDS adjusts with changes in the spread, influenced by factors like the swap zero curve and hazard rates, which estimate the probability of a credit event. For example, a bank purchasing a CDS may pay a premium that accounts for the difference between the market and par values of the CDS, similar to how bond prices are sensitive to interest rate shifts.

$$ \text{CDS Price } \approx 1 + ((\text{Fixed Coupon} − \text{CDS Spread}) \times \text{EffSpreadDur}_{CDS}) $$

Single-Name CDS Entities

Single-name reference entities in credit default swaps (CDS) encompass both private corporations and sovereign borrowers. CDS indexes, which vary across regions, often provide subindexes that focus on a specific sector or borrower type. For instance, the S&P 500 CDS index, a real-world example, includes subindexes for sectors like technology, healthcare, and finance.

Active fixed-income portfolio managers frequently employ CDS strategies to adjust credit spread exposure to individual issuers, specific sectors, or borrower types. These strategies are typically based on anticipated changes in the credit curve level, slope, or shape. The credit curve here refers to the CDS curve, a plot of CDS spreads across maturities for a single reference entity or index.

Investment Strategies and Hedging

Investors may take a long or short CDS position in one issuer or issuer type, or a long or short position overweighting one reference entity or group of entities and underweighting another. When using CDS strategies to hedge bond portfolios, investors must always consider the potential impact of basis changes on the strategy over the investment horizon.

Fixed-income exchange-traded funds (ETFs) offer derivatives such as futures and options that are different from CDS contracts. ETF futures are a contract to take future delivery of an ETF and trade on a price rather than a spread basis. The underlying ETF prices are derived from all-in bond yields held by the fund, so ETF derivative prices change with changes in both benchmark rates and credit spreads.

Application of CDS Long-Short Strategies

For instance, consider two companies, Apple Inc. (issuer A) and Tesla Inc. (issuer B). If an investor anticipates that Apple’s credit spreads will narrow compared to Tesla’s, they can purchase bonds from Apple and sell short a duration-matched amount of bonds from Tesla. Alternatively, if a liquid single-name CDS market exists for both companies, the investor can sell protection on Apple and buy protection on Tesla for the same notional amount and tenor.

These strategies can also be applied in a top-down approach. For example, an investor might overweight the technology sector based on expected spread levels compared to their total portfolio. This can be achieved by selling or buying protection on a CDS subindex contract.

Capitalizing on Economic Trends

In a scenario where an active manager expects a weaker economy and a widening of high-yield versus investment-grade credit spread levels, they can buy five-year protection on a high-yield CDS index and sell protection on an investment-grade CDS index for the same tenor.

CDS long-short strategies can also be based on expected credit curve slope changes. For example, if an investor expects Amazon’s CDS curve to steepen due to higher than expected profits and stable leverage, they can capitalize on this view through CDS curve trades.

Capitalizing on Spread Changes

An investor can leverage their market perspective by selling short-term protection using a single-name CDS contract and buying long-term protection on the same reference entity. This strategy requires duration matching of the positions, akin to benchmark yield curve strategies. For instance, if Apple Inc. is the reference entity, an investor can sell short-term protection on Apple’s CDS and buy long-term protection on the same.

Curve Strategy

The curve strategy applies to expected credit curve slope changes for a CDS index or subindex. An investor anticipating the end of a growth cycle, like the 2008 financial crisis, might expect the CDS curve for industrial issuers to flatten amid rising near-term credit spreads. They can purchase short-term CDS subindex protection on industrials and sell long-term protection on the same subindex to capitalize on a flattening view.

Top-Down Approach

An investor taking a top-down approach with a similar bearish economic view might consider a flattening trade for an entire CDS index, such as the Markit CDX North America Investment Grade Index.

Additional CDS strategies aim to capitalize on the basis difference between CDS and cash bonds or exploit specific events that affect CDS spreads and curves. Basis differences arise from various factors but are also due to differences in liquidity across derivative and cash markets.

Corporate events like mergers and acquisitions and leveraged buyouts, which influence CDS spreads by affecting bondholders differently from shareholders, are also crucial. These topics are addressed elsewhere in the curriculum.

Practice Questions

Question 1: An investor is considering using derivatives to hedge their bond portfolio. They are considering both credit default swaps (CDS) and fixed-income exchange-traded funds (ETFs) derivatives. Which of the following statements accurately describes the key differences between these two types of derivatives?

  1. CDS contracts are based on the credit spread of a single reference entity or index, while ETF derivatives are based on the all-in bond yields held by the fund.
  2. CDS contracts and ETF derivatives are essentially the same, with both types of contracts based on the credit spread of a single reference entity or index.
  3. ETF derivatives are based on the credit spread of a single reference entity or index, while CDS contracts are based on the all-in bond yields held by the fund.

Answer: Choice A is correct.

Credit Default Swaps (CDS) and fixed-income Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs) derivatives are both financial instruments used for hedging purposes, but they function differently. A CDS is a financial derivative or contract that allows an investor to “swap” or offset their credit risk with that of another party. It is based on the credit spread of a single reference entity or index. This means that the value of a CDS contract is derived from the credit risk associated with a specific entity or a group of entities (in the case of an index). On the other hand, ETF derivatives are based on the all-in bond yields held by the fund. This means that the value of an ETF derivative is derived from the total return of the bonds held in the ETF, including both the interest payments and any changes in the value of the bonds themselves. Therefore, the key difference between these two types of derivatives lies in the underlying asset from which their value is derived.

Choice B is incorrect. CDS contracts and ETF derivatives are not essentially the same. As explained above, they are based on different underlying assets and serve different purposes. While both can be used for hedging purposes, they offer different types of protection and are subject to different risks.

Choice C is incorrect. This statement incorrectly reverses the underlying assets for CDS contracts and ETF derivatives. As explained above, CDS contracts are based on the credit spread of a single reference entity or index, while ETF derivatives are based on the all-in bond yields held by the fund.

Question 2: An investor is considering a long-short strategy using Credit Default Swaps (CDS) based on expected credit curve slope changes. The investor expects an issuer’s CDS curve to steepen if its near-term default probability declines as a result of higher than expected profits and stable leverage. Which of the following best describes the current shape of the issuer’s credit curve?

  1. The credit curve is downward-sloping, implying a relatively high near-term expected default probability that decreases over time.
  2. The credit curve is upward-sloping, implying a relatively low near-term expected default probability that rises over time.
  3. The credit curve is flat, implying a constant expected default probability over time.

Answer: Choice B is correct.

The current shape of the issuer’s credit curve is upward-sloping, implying a relatively low near-term expected default probability that rises over time. This is because the investor expects the issuer’s CDS curve to steepen if its near-term default probability declines as a result of higher than expected profits and stable leverage. An upward-sloping credit curve indicates that the market expects the issuer’s credit risk to increase over time. This is consistent with the investor’s expectation that the issuer’s near-term default probability will decline, leading to a steeper credit curve. The steepness of the credit curve is a measure of the market’s expectation of the issuer’s future credit risk. A steeper curve indicates a higher expected increase in credit risk over time. Therefore, an upward-sloping credit curve is consistent with the investor’s expectation of a decline in near-term default probability and a steepening of the credit curve.

Choice A is incorrect. A downward-sloping credit curve implies a relatively high near-term expected default probability that decreases over time. This is inconsistent with the investor’s expectation of a decline in near-term default probability and a steepening of the credit curve.

Choice C is incorrect. A flat credit curve implies a constant expected default probability over time. This is inconsistent with the investor’s expectation of a decline in near-term default probability and a steepening of the credit curve. A flat credit curve indicates that the market does not expect the issuer’s credit risk to change significantly over time, which is not consistent with the investor’s expectations.

Glossary

  • Swap Zero Curve: A yield curve that plots the interest rates of a series of hypothetical interest rate swaps.
  • Hazard Rate: The rate at which an event will occur, given that it has not already occurred.
  • Credit Default Swaps (CDS): A financial derivative or contract that allows an investor to “swap” or offset his or her credit risk with that of another investor.
  • Fixed-Income Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs): A type of investment fund and exchange-traded product, with shares that are tradeable on a stock exchange.
  • Credit Spread: The difference in yield between a U.S. Treasury bond and another debt security of the same maturity but different credit quality.
  • Long-Short Strategy: An investment strategy that involves buying long securities that are expected to increase in value and selling short securities that are expected to decrease in value.

LOS 6(f): Discuss the use of credit default swap strategies in active fixed-income portfolio management


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