For many corporations, borrowing short-term money from banks is often a laborious and annoying task. The desire to avoid banks as much as possible has led to the widespread popularity of commercial paper. (See Why do companies issue bonds instead of borrowing from the bank?)

Commercial paper is an unsecured, short-term loan issued by a corporation, typically for financing accounts receivable and inventories. It is usually issued at a discount, reflecting current market interest rates. Maturities on commercial paper are usually no longer than nine months, with maturities of between one and two months being the average.

For the most part, commercial paper is a very safe investment because the financial situation of a company can easily be predicted over a few months. Furthermore, typically only companies with high credit ratings and credit worthiness issue commercial paper. Over the past 40 years, there have only been a handful of cases where corporations have defaulted on their commercial paper repayment.

Commercial paper is usually issued in denominations of $100,000 or more. Therefore, smaller investors can only invest in commercial paper indirectly through money market funds.


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