Currency and interest rate swaps allow companies to more efficiently navigate the global markets by bringing together two parties that have an advantage in different markets. In general, both interest rate and currency swaps have the same benefits for a company. First, let's define interest rate and currency swaps.
What Is an Interest Rate Swap?
An interest rate swap involves the exchange of cash flows between two parties based on interest payments for a particular principal amount. However, in an interest rate swap, the principal amount is not actually exchanged. Instead, the principal amount is the same for both sides of the currency and a fixed payment is frequently exchanged for a floating payment that is linked to an interest rate, which is usually LIBOR (a benchmark rate that represents the interest rate at which banks lend funds to each other on the international interbank market for short-term loans.)
What Is a Currency Swap?
A currency swap involves the exchange of both the principal and the interest rate in one currency for the same in another currency. The exchange of principal is done at market rates and is usually the same for both the inception and maturity of the contract.
In the case of companies, these derivatives or securities help to limit or manage exposure to fluctuations in interest rates or to acquire a lower interest rate than a company would otherwise be able to obtain. Swaps are often used because a domestic firm can usually receive better rates than a foreign firm.
A currency swap is considered a foreign exchange transaction and, as such, they not legally required to be shown on a company's balance sheet. This means that they are "off-balance sheet" transactions, and a company might have debt from swaps that are not disclosed in their financial statements.
Leveraging Global Markets Through Currency and Interest Rate Swaps
Suppose company A is located in the United States and company B is located in England. Company A needs to take out a loan denominated in British pounds and company B needs to take out a loan denominated in U.S. dollars. These two companies can engage in a swap to take advantage of the fact that each company has better rates in its respective country. These two companies could receive interest rate savings by combining the privileged access they have in their own markets.
Swaps also help companies hedge against interest rate exposure by reducing the uncertainty of future cash flows. Swapping allows companies to revise their debt conditions to take advantage of current or expected future market conditions. Currency and interest rate swaps are used as financial tools to lower the amount needed to service a debt as a result of these advantages.
The benefits that a company receives from participating in a swap far outweigh the costs although there is some risk associated with the possibility that the other party will fail to meet its obligations.
For further reading, see "Corporate Use of Derivatives for Hedging" and "How Does the Foreign-Exchange Market Trade 24 Hours a Day?"