Foreign exchange swaps

Foreign exchange swaps (called forex swaps or just swaps) are not to be confused with "proper" currency swaps, which will be covered later. Forex swaps are forward deals done on a different basis, and are the deal type done by the market maker banks in the vast majority of cases.

A forex swap is the exchange of two currencies now (i.e. spot) at a specified exchange rate (which does not have to be the current exchange rate but usually is a rate close to the current rate - it is a benchmark rate on which the "points" are based) coupled with an agreement to exchange the same two currencies at a specified future date at the specified exchange rate plus or minus the swap points. Swaps points are also called forward points and are quoted, for example, as 590 / 600. This quote is interpreted as follows:

• the left side (specified exchange rate + 590 points) is the rate at which the quoting bank will buy USD in 60 days for USD sold spot now (client buys spot and sells forward)

• the right side (specified exchange rate + 600 points) is the rate at which the quoting bank will sell USD after 60 days for USD bought spot now (client sells spot and buys forward).

It is important to note that the points run from the second decimal and are in terms of price (of the variable currency). The following should be clear:

Forward swap = outright forward - SP

Outright forward = SP + forward swap

Using the earlier numbers:

Forward swap = outright forward - SP

= 7.5611 - 7.5 = 0.0611

Outright forward = SP + forward swap = 7.5 + 0.0611 = 7.5611.

An example is called for: a number of years ago the Local Country central bank encouraged the inflow of foreign exchange by offering the banks cheap swap rates. This means that the local banks were "encouraged" to borrow offshore and swap USD for LCC, which is unwound on the forward date, giving them a virtually risk-free profit. The following are the numbers (utilizing some of the numbers used earlier):

Specified rate (= spot rate = SP) = USD / LCC 7.5

Period of forward deal = 60 days

Interest rate parity forward rate = USD / 7.5611 (i.e. "fair value" rate)

USD rate (assume borrowing in US) (irbc) = 5.0% pa LCC rate (assume lending in LC) (irvc) = 10.0% pa

Forward points offered = 550.

A local bank borrows USD 1 000 000 at 5.0% from a US bank and sells this to the Local Country central bank. The central bank credits the bank's current account in its books (i.e. excess cash reserves) by LCC 7 500 000 (USD 1 000 000 x 7.5). This of course amounts to the exchange of currencies in the first round of the swap. The central bank undertakes to exchange USD 1 000 000 plus interest at 5% for LCC in 60 days' time (the second exchange) at the forward rate of:

Forward rate = specified rate (the benchmark rate) + forward swap points = 7.50 + 550 (i.e. 0.0550) = 7.555

Forward consideration (USD) = borrowing x [1 + (irbc x 60/365)]

= USD 1 000 000 x [1 + (0.05 x 60/365)] = USD 1 000 000 x 1.008219 = USD 1 008 219.

This means that the central bank will supply USD 1 008 219 at an exchange rate of USD / LCC 7.555 at the conclusion of the swap after 60 days.

The bank withdraws the created20 LCC7 500 000 from the central bank and invests this in a local bank (other bank most likely) NCD at 10.0%. The proceeds at the end of the forward period are:

Forward consideration (LCC) = deposit x [1 + (irvc x 60/365)]

= LCC 7 500 000 x [1 + (0.10 x 60/365)] = LCC 7 500 000 x 1.01643836

= LCC 7 623 288.

On the due date of the swap, the central bank supplies USD 1 008 219 to the local bank for a LCC 7 617 095 (USD 1 008 219 x 7.555)21. This of course amounts to the exchange of currencies in the opposite direction, ie it is the second round of the swap. The local bank fulfils its obligation to the US bank (USD 1 008 219 = borrowing plus interest), and pockets the profit on the swap of LCC 6 193. This amount is the difference between the amount paid by the bank that issued the NCD and the amount paid by the bank to the terms of the swap contract (LCC 7 623 288 - LCC 7 617 095).


A forward-forward is a swap deal between two forward dates as opposed to an outright forward that runs from a spot to a forward date. An example is to sell USD 30 days forward and buy them back in 90 days time. The swap is for the 60-day period between 30 days from deal date (now = T) and 90 days from deal date. The backdrop to this deal may be that the client (company) previously bought USD forward (30 days' ago for the date 30 days from now) but wishes to defer the transaction by a further 60 days because it will not need the USD until then. This deal22 is illustrated Figure 13.

example of a forward-forward deal

Figure 13: example of a forward-forward deal

Variations of forward-forwards are foreign exchange agreements (FXAs) and exchange rate agreements (ERAs). Together they are referred to as synthetic agreements for forward exchange (SAFEs). The FXA is the same as a forward-forward as explained above, but on the first settlement date, T+30 in our example, the settlement takes place as in the case of a FRA, i.e. in cash reflecting the difference between the exchange rate set in the outright forward contracted on T-30 and the exchange rate set in the swap on T+0. The difference may be a profit or a loss for the client, which of course will be the reverse for the bank. An ERA is the same as a FXA, but takes no account of the movement in spot rates between T-30 and T+0.23

Time options

As noted above, when a bank does an outright forward it is undertaking to buy or sell a specified currency on a future date at an exchange rate specified at the outset. This type of contract does not suit every non-bank client. A client may have a requirement for a hedge but is not sure exactly when forex is required (e.g. an importer), or to be sold (e.g. an exporter). In these cases forex time options are appropriate instruments. This instrument is the same as an outright forward with the maturity date specified, but the client has the option to settle at any time within a specified period. The specified period may be anytime during the period of the contract, or anytime between a future date and the expiry date of the contract.

A forex time option is not to be confused with a currency option in terms of which the holder has the option but not the obligation to buy (call) or sell (put) a specified currency at a specified strike rate before or on the expiry date. An option premium is payable, which is not the case with a time option. In the case of a time option, the holder has the obligation to settle but has flexibility in terms of the settlement date.

Functions/uses of the forward foreign exchange market

There are many reasons for the existence of the forward foreign exchange market, but it is essentially used to cover a number of risks that are encountered by investors and commercial companies that are engaged in importing and exporting. The four main uses of the forward market are:

• Commercial covering.

• Hedging an investment.

• Speculation.

• Covered interest arbitrage.

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