BIS warns of $80 trillion of hidden FX swap debt

In each case, the investor takes on foreign currency debt – in the form of a forward (case 1), the forward leg of the FX swap (case 2) or the amount borrowed in the cash repo market (case 3). And, in each, the investor must pay foreign currency to settle the maturing debt. The authors also measure the missing dollar debt for non-banks resident outside the United States and for banks headquartered outside the US.

So swaps are now done most commonly to hedge long-term investments and to change the interest rate exposure of the two parties. Companies doing business abroad often use currency swaps to get more favorable loan rates in the local currency than they could if they borrowed money from a bank in that country. Either company could conceivably borrow in its domestic currency and enter the foreign exchange market, but there is no guarantee that it won’t end up paying too much in interest because of exchange rate fluctuations. Currency swaps are an essential financial instrument utilized by banks, multinational corporations, and institutional investors. Although these type of swaps function in a similar fashion to interest rate swaps and equity swaps, there are some major fundamental qualities that make currency swaps unique and thus slightly more complicated. An FX forward, also sometimes called a forex forward outright transaction, is a one-legged transaction executed for a forward value date that differs from the current spot value date.

BIS officials have been loudly calling for forceful interest rate hikes from central banks as inflation has taken hold, but this time it struck a more measured tone. The $80 trillion-plus “hidden” debt estimate exceeds the stocks of dollar Treasury bills, repo and commercial paper combined, the BIS said. It has grown from just over $55 trillion a decade ago, while the churn of FX swap deals was almost $5 trillion a day in April, two thirds of daily global FX turnover. BIS officials have been loudly calling for forceful interest rate hikes from central banks as this year’s inflation spike has taken hold, but this time it struck a more measured tone.

These three sources, together with BIS data on international debt securities and global trade, provide a sense of the instruments’ use. Triangulating between the various sources also allows a rough cross-check of the approximations made. Accounting conventions leave it mostly off-balance sheet, as a derivative, even though it is in effect a secured loan metatrader web with principal to be repaid in full at maturity. 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.

  1. While the corresponding cash flows are captured and treated equivalently in liquidity regulation, the picture is quite different for the leverage ratio in particular.
  2. The first section recalls the relationship between FX swaps, currency swaps and forwards as well as their accounting treatment, explaining how the missing debt arises.
  3. Company A could hypothetically take out a loan from an American bank at 4% and Company B can borrow from its local institutions at 5%.
  4. Evidence of G-SIBs and reporting banks”, ECB Macroprudential Bulletin 6, October.
  5. Indeed, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision has issued guidance to address this problem (BCBS 2019b, 2018).
  6. The net-gross distinction is bound to be especially large for banks acting as market-makers, which have both long and short positions in the instrument.

Thus, central bankers at the BIS appear concerned about the potential ramifications of too much money trading hands in the shadows. Accordingly, there are worries that the scale of such transactions could lead to problems on the horizon. That said, like all derivatives, the market for swaps is very complex. Other banks and large institutions use swaps for hedges or relatively cheaper financing. But when done through unregulated banks (shadow banks), the risks of these hedges can outweigh the value they provide. US non-banks have sold only $600 billion in non-dollar-denominated debt to non-residents (US Treasury et al (2016)).

BIS warns of $80 trillion of hidden FX swap debt

To do this they typically use “tom-next” swaps, buying (or selling) a foreign amount settling tomorrow, and then doing the opposite, selling (or buying) it back settling the day after. An FX swap is a type of financial derivative that involves exchanging one currency for another at a specified rate and then exchanging the two currencies back again at a different rate. This type of derivative is used by investors to hedge their foreign exchange exposure, minimize transaction costs, or take advantage of arbitrage opportunities in the foreign exchange market. Leg 1 takes place at the initial date of the currency swap transaction, typically at the prevailing spot rate. The parties will exchange or swap their respective currencies in equivalent amounts given that particular spot rate. FX swaps have been employed to raise foreign currencies, both for financial institutions and their customers, including exporters and importers, as well as institutional investors who wish to hedge their positions.

‘Huge, Missing and Growing:’ $65 Trillion in Dollar Debt Sparks Concern

To be sure, we are not arguing for a specific treatment of repos and swaps. Nor are we saying that the treatment needs to be identical, at least if the uses of the instruments and broader implications for financial stability are considered. Currency swaps are financial contracts between two parties to exchange a specific amount of one currency for an equivalent amount of another currency. The purpose of currency swaps is to reduce currency risk, achieve lower financing costs, or gain access to a foreign currency.

Understanding Foreign Currency Swaps

For simplicity, the aforementioned example excludes the role of a swap dealer, which serves as the intermediary for the currency swap transaction. With the presence of the dealer, the realized interest rate might be increased slightly as a form of commission to the intermediary. Typically, the spreads on currency swaps are fairly low and, depending on the notional principals and type of clients, may be in the vicinity of 10 basis points. Therefore, the actual borrowing rate for Companies A and B is 5.1% and 4.1%, respectively, which is still superior to the offered international rates. “The missing dollar debt from FX swaps/forwards and currency swaps is huge,” the Switzerland-based institution said, describing the lack of direct information about the scale and location of the problems as the key issue. “The missing dollar debt from FX swaps/forwards and currency swaps is huge,” the Switzerland-based institution said, adding the lack of direct information about the scale and location of the problems was the key issue.

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). As noted, as long as one assumes that banks roughly match their FX exposures, BIS international banking statistics offer a detailed picture of the geography of banks’ use of FX swaps/forwards – their main hedging instrument. We focus on the dollar, given its dominance in international finance, generally, and in the market, in particular. Inspection of the corresponding time series provides some evidence for these links (Graph 3, left-hand panel). Non-financials’ FX swaps/forwards (red line) co-move with world trade (black).

If there is a full exchange of principal when the deal is initiated, the exchange is reversed at the maturity date. Currency swap maturities are negotiable for at least 10 years, making them a very flexible method of foreign exchange. Foreign exchange swaps and cross currency swaps are very similar and are often mistaken as synonyms.

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The funding disruptions were so serious that they prompted major central banks to put in place FX swap arrangements to channel the necessary US dollar funding to those that needed it most. Currency swaps are used by various financial institutions and multinational corporations that have exposure to multiple currencies. Some examples include multinational corporations, banks, investment funds, governments and central banks, and international organizations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Company B now has an American asset (the bonds) on which it must pay interest. Interest payments go to the swap bank, which passes it on to the American company and vice versa. Leg 2 takes place at the maturity date of the swap at the forward exchange rate. This process involves a second swap of the agreed-upon currency amounts taking into account any forward swap points that depend on the interest rate differential between the two currencies. The direction of this swap of currencies is the reverse of the initial swap done in Leg 1. It estimated that $2.2 trillion worth of currency trades are at risk of failing to settle on any given day due to issues between counterparties, potentially undermining financial stability.

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