A swaption, also known as a swap option, is an option contract that grants the owner the right but not the obligation to enter into a swap contract with specified terms. The swap contracts tend to be interest rate swaps, but can be other types of swaps as well.
With swaptions, one party can exchange a currency of the same value, an interest rate, or the liability of repaying a loan. Read on for how they work, the different types, pros and cons, and more.
How Swaptions Work
As mentioned above, a swaption is an option on a swap rate. Like other types of options contracts, the buyer pays a premium to enter into the swaption, and beyond that they are not obligated to act on the contract.
Although Swaptions are a type of option, they are more similar to a swap than to an option. Similarities to swaps include:
• They are traded over-the-counter instead of on centralized exchanges.
• They are customizable and offer a lot of flexibility since they are not standardized exchange products.
When two parties want to enter into a swap option agreement, they decide on the terms of the contract, such as the the premium, the expiration date, the notional amount, the swap’s legs (fixed vs. float), the benchmark for the floating leg, and the frequency of adjustment for the variable leg.
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Who Often Uses Swaptions
Swaptions are typically used by institutional investors instead of retail investors, although some private banks offer them to their clients. Large corporations, investment banks, commercial banks, and hedge funds use them for various purposes. It takes a lot of work and experience to create a portfolio of swaptions, so they generally aren’t used by individuals or small firms.
They are often used to hedge against macroeconomic risks such as interest rate risk or securities risks. If an institution thinks interest rates might change, they can enter into an agreement to protect against that. Financial institutions can also use them to change their interest payoff terms.
They tend to be used to hedge specific financings, but they can also be used to hedge a broader change in future interest rates. This can be useful if an institution holds a lot of debt maturities for the year and doesn’t want to risk losses.
The way swaptions are generally set up, their strikes are a strike above the current 10 year swap rate. Therefore the borrower takes on risk between the current rate and the higher rate, but not more than that.
Swaptions can be purchased in most major currencies, such as the U.S. Dollar, Euro, and British Pound.
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What Are the Different Types of Swaptions?
There are different types of swap options that each have different types of ‘legs’ in the predetermined swap contract they represent. The two types of options are payer and receiver.
If a buyer enters into a payer swaption, they are purchasing the right but not the obligation to enter into a future swap contract. When exercised, the buyer would become the fixed-rate (non-changing) payer and receive the floating rate (variable) payments.
Fixed interest rates don’t change with the market, they stay the same through the duration of a loan. Floating rates change based on a reference rate, the most common one being LIBOR. LIBOR is an average of interest rates that are collected from some of the top banks in London.
In a receiver swaption contract, the swap holder has the option to pay the floating rate and receive the fixed rate.
When Can a Swaption Be Exercised?
There are also swaptions that have different terms of execution. The three most common are:
American swaptions can be exercised on any date prior to and including the expiration date.
European options can only be exercised on the expiration date, making them less flexible.
Bermudan swaptions have several specific dates when they can be exercised prior to the expiration date.
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A borrower wants to purchase rate protection on their current floating rate debt maturities totalling $50 million. They decide that they would like to purchase the right, but not the obligation, to pay a fixed rate on their debts for ten years.
For this right, they are willing to take on the risk of 10 year interest rates up to 3.8%, but no higher than that.
The borrower enters into an agreement with a settlement date in the current year, for a notional amount of $50 million, with a 10 year term and a strike of 3.8%. The premium they must pay to enter in this contract is $400,000.
Including the premium, the rate is actually hedged higher than 3.8%, but for the sake of this example we will call the strike 3.8%.
If the strike is lower or the settlement date is farther in the future, this increases the value of the swaption and therefore increases the cost of the premium.
The borrower enters into this agreement to hedge against a large increase in swap rates but without choosing a specific rate they want when the contract expires.
It’s important to note that the swaption isn’t tied to the 10 year Treasury, it’s tied to 10 year swap rates, although their movements tend to be related. Also, swaptions are derivatives, so they aren’t the underlying assets themselves, but contracts derived from rates or assets.
When the settlement date occurs, there are two ways the swaption could turn out.
- If 10 year swap rates are below 3.8%, the option contract expires, the lender keeps the premium and the borrower uses the current swap rate.
- If 10 year swap rates are higher than 3.8%, the borrower exercises the option. In this case the provider of the swaption pays the borrower the difference between the swap rate and 3.8%. The borrower locks in the current swap rate for a swap agreement, and uses the payment they received to buy down the rate on this new swap.
Pros and Cons of Swaptions
There are a few reasons why financial institutions use swaptions, but there can be downsides to them as well. Some of the pros and cons of swap options are:
|Can be used to hedge against risk when there is a possibility that an interest rate will go up.||Swaptions can have longer durations than other types of options.|
|If the swaption is not exercised, the buyer loses the premium amount they put in.||There is a risk of the other party defaulting on the agreement.|
Entering into swaption agreements is one type of options trading strategy commonly used by institutional investors. They are usually used to help with restructuring a current financial position, alter a portfolio, hedge options positions on bonds, or adjust payoff profiles.
There are other types of options on the market that retail investors often trade.
If you’re ready to try your hand at options trading, You can set up an online options trading account and trade from the SoFi mobile app or through the web platform.
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