Dollar debt in FX swaps and forwards: huge, missing and growing

what is fx swap debt

Unlike a foreign exchange swap where the parties own the amount they are swapping, cross currency swap parties are lending the amount from their domestic bank and then swapping the loans. A currency swap is a transaction in which two parties exchange an equivalent amount of money with each other but in different currencies. The parties are essentially loaning each other money and will repay the amounts at a specified date and exchange rate. The purpose could be to hedge exposure to exchange rate risk, to speculate on the direction of a currency, or to reduce the cost of borrowing in a foreign currency. These episodes point to a need for statistics that track the geography of outstanding short-term dollar payment obligations.

what is fx swap debt

On the other side of the ledger, as much as two thirds of the dollar-denominated bonds issued by non-US residents could be hedged through similar off-balance sheet instruments. That fraction seems to have fallen as emerging market borrowers have gained prominence since the GFC. In a foreign currency swap, each party to the agreement pays interest on the the other’s loan principal amounts throughout the length of the agreement. When the swap is over, if principal amounts were exchanged, they are exchanged once more at the agreed upon rate (which would avoid transaction risk) or the spot rate.

How a Currency Swap Works

Similarly, if firms and governments use $2.4 trillion of currency swaps to hedge $4.8 trillion of international bonds, then they hedge half or less. This makes it very difficult to measure the debt and funding involved. The balance sheets show only the final outcome of a series of swap and forward transactions. For instance, if a bank swaps its home currency for dollars, its dollar assets end up exceeding its dollar liabilities.

We estimate that such operations by reserve managers sum to at least $300 billion. This box explains how the accounting treatment of borrowing and lending through the FX swap and related forward market gives rise to missing debt. In the process, it also shows what would happen if FX swaps were treated the same as repurchase agreements (repos) – two transactions that can be considered to be forms of collateralised lending/borrowing. The table shows the corresponding balance sheets, with the subscript X denoting foreign currency positions.

Currency swaps are important financial instruments used by banks, investors, and multinational corporations. Currency swaps were originally done to get around exchange controls, governmental limitations on the purchase and/or sale of currencies. Although nations with weak and/or developing economies generally use foreign exchange controls to limit speculation against their currencies, most developed economies have eliminated controls nowadays. For instance, given the hundreds of billions of swaps of yen for dollars by Japanese banks, the Japanese authorities have encouraged their banks to extend the maturities of their swaps (Nakaso 2017).

Also, instead of using currency swaps, companies can use natural hedges to manage currency risk. Finally, companies can choose to remain in their domestic market and avoid foreign currency transactions altogether, eliminating the need for currency swaps or other hedging strategies. Foreign currency swaps can involve the exchange of fixed rate interest payments on currencies. Or, one party to the agreement may exchange a fixed rate interest payment for the floating rate interest payment of the other party. A swap agreement may also involve the exchange of the floating rate interest payments of both parties.

FX swaps, regulation, and financial stability

In addition to hedging exchange rate risk, this type of swap often helps borrowers obtain lower interest rates than they could get if they needed to borrow directly in a foreign market. Foreign currency swaps can be arranged for loans with maturities as long as 10 years. Currency swaps differ from interest rate swaps in that they can also involve principal exchanges.

FX swaps/forwards are a critical segment of global financial markets. Despite their role, the geography of their utilisation remains opaque. And, largely because of accounting conventions, their regulatory treatment differs markedly from that of instruments that, economically, are also forms of secured debt.

The third relates aggregate market data to the hedging of trade and the asset-liability management of non-banks. The fourth delves into banks’ role, tracing banking systems’ post-GFC reliance on the market for funding. The second source is the BIS international banking statistics, which cover about 8,350 internationally active banks. The reporting population outnumbers that of the derivatives statistics, but the value overlap is great given the concentration of international banking. We use the apparent currency mismatches visible on-balance sheet to infer the amounts of swaps and forwards. Assuming that the net FX position is zero, as typically encouraged by bank supervisors, we estimate the net use of swaps as the net positions in a given currency.

  1. This makes it very difficult to measure the debt and funding involved.
  2. According to the Federal Reserve and regulators in the UK, LIBOR will be phased out by June 30, 2023, and will be replaced by the Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR).
  3. About 5% of the $3.4 trillion in US imports were foreign currency-invoiced (Boz (2020)).
  4. The lack of direct information makes it harder for policymakers to anticipate the scale and geography of dollar rollover needs.

Currency swaps are widely used by multinational corporations and financial institutions to manage their foreign exchange exposure. Like any financial instrument, currency swaps possess several limitations and risks. 4 In addition to market-making activities (see below), the gross figure is boosted by the vehicle currency role of the US dollar. For instance, a European institution seeking to invest in a Thai baht asset may swap euro for dollars and then dollars for baht, i.e. both borrow and lend dollars via FX swaps.

Accounting treatment, data sources and gaps

While the corresponding cash flows are captured and treated equivalently in liquidity regulation, the picture is quite different for the leverage ratio in particular. As a first approximation,6 FX swaps are exempt; repos included in full. This is surprising, given that the two instruments are roughly equivalent from an economic perspective. If a currency swap deal involves the exchange of principal, that principal will be exchanged again at the maturity of the agreement.

The Basics of Currency Swaps

17 BIS data provide only a partial picture of the dollar books of banks headquartered in China, Korea, Russia and many other countries. An aggregation of these banks’ observed dollar positions, however, suggests that they are, overall, net borrowers of dollars via FX swaps, pointing to an even wider gap than shown in Graph 6. BIS data do not capture at all the dollar positions of other non-reporting banking systems, some of which may be dollar lenders via FX swaps (eg oil-producing countries). The maturity of the instruments is largely short-term (Graph 1, centre and right-hand panel).

These questions, together with their regulatory implications, would merit further consideration. The outstanding amounts of FX swaps/forwards and currency swaps stood at $58 trillion at end-December 2016 (Graph 1, left-hand panel). 2 FX swaps and outright forwards cannot be distinguished in stocks data. Ideally, we would exclude from our analysis non-deliverable forwards (NDFs), which entail just a fractional payment, but they are not identified individually in the stocks data. This is unlikely to weaken our conclusions, as turnover data show that NDFs account for less than 10% of the average daily turnover of FX swaps, forwards and currency swaps. Payment obligations arising from FX swaps/forwards and currency swaps are staggering.

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