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Arrears Swap: Definition and How It Works

Last updated 06/05/2024 by

Daniel Dikio

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Fact checked by

An arrears swap is a type of interest rate swap where the floating interest payments are determined and paid at the end of the interest period, based on the prevailing rates over that period. This financial instrument is primarily used to manage interest rate risk and can offer greater flexibility in certain market conditions compared to traditional swaps.

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What is an arrears swap

An arrears swap is a specialized form of interest rate swap. In a standard interest rate swap, one party exchanges a series of fixed interest payments for floating interest payments from another party, based on a reference interest rate like LIBOR or EURIBOR. However, in an arrears swap, the floating interest rate is not known at the beginning of the period but is instead calculated at the end, hence the name “arrears.”
The primary difference between an arrears swap and a standard interest rate swap is the timing of the interest rate determination and payment. In a standard swap, the floating rate for the current period is determined at the beginning of the period and paid at the end. In contrast, an arrears swap determines the floating rate at the end of the period, and the payment is made immediately thereafter.
This structure can be advantageous in certain market conditions, particularly when there is a need to hedge against interest rate movements that are anticipated to occur during the period.

How arrears swaps work

To understand how arrears swaps work, it’s important to grasp the mechanics of interest rate swaps in general. In a typical interest rate swap, two parties agree to exchange cash flows based on a notional principal amount. One party pays a fixed interest rate, while the other pays a floating rate, usually tied to a benchmark like LIBOR.
In an arrears swap, the key distinction lies in the timing of the floating rate calculation and payment:
  1. Payment structure: In an arrears swap, the floating interest rate for a given period is determined at the end of that period, based on the prevailing rate at that time.
  2. Interest calculation: For example, if the swap agreement specifies quarterly payments, the floating rate for the first quarter would be set at the end of that quarter, and the payment would be made immediately thereafter.

Illustrative example

Consider a swap agreement with a notional principal of $100 million and a floating rate tied to 3-month LIBOR. At the end of the first quarter, if the 3-month LIBOR is 2%, the floating payment for that period would be 2% of $100 million, adjusted for the quarter, which is approximately $500,000. This payment would be made at the end of the first quarter, and the floating rate for the next quarter would be determined at the end of that next quarter.

This timing difference can be beneficial in volatile interest rate environments where the direction of rate movements is uncertain or expected to change within the period.

Benefits of arrears swaps

Arrears swaps offer several advantages that can make them attractive to certain market participants:

Risk management

  • Flexibility in interest rate environments: By basing the floating rate on the end-of-period rate, arrears swaps allow participants to benefit from more recent interest rate information, which can be particularly useful in volatile markets.
  • Hedging against interest rate changes: Companies expecting significant interest rate movements during the period can better manage their exposure using arrears swaps, as the rate applied is closer to the actual payment date.

Comparison with other derivatives

  • Standard interest rate swaps: In contrast to standard swaps where the floating rate is set at the beginning of the period, arrears swaps provide a more up-to-date reflection of interest rate movements.
  • Options and other derivatives: While options provide the right but not the obligation to engage in a transaction at a future date, arrears swaps provide a direct exchange of cash flows based on the latest interest rate, making them simpler in certain hedging strategies.

Strategic financial management

  • Yield curve positioning: Investors and corporations can use arrears swaps to position themselves strategically on the yield curve, potentially gaining from expected interest rate shifts.
  • Cost of funds management: Financial institutions can manage the cost of their funds more effectively by aligning their interest payments closer to the time they need to make them.

Risks and considerations

While arrears swaps offer distinct benefits, they also come with risks and considerations that must be managed:

Interest rate risk

Volatility: Because the floating rate is determined at the end of the period, there is inherent uncertainty about the cash flow until that point. This can be problematic in highly volatile interest rate environments.
Unexpected rate movements: If interest rates move unexpectedly, the cost or benefit of the arrears swap could differ significantly from initial expectations.

Counterparty risk

Creditworthiness of counterparties: As with all swaps, there is a risk that the counterparty may default on its obligations, which can lead to financial loss.
Mitigation strategies: Credit support annexes (CSAs), collateral requirements, and other risk mitigation measures are often employed to manage counterparty risk.

Market risk and liquidity concerns

Market depth: Arrears swaps may not be as liquid as standard interest rate swaps, leading to potential difficulties in entering or exiting positions.
Pricing complexity: The pricing and valuation of arrears swaps can be more complex due to the need to model interest rate movements and their impact on future cash flows.

Applications of arrears swaps

Arrears swaps are used in various scenarios and industries where precise management of interest rate risk is critical:
  1. Corporate finance:
    • Treasury management: Corporations use arrears swaps to manage the interest rate risk associated with their debt portfolios, particularly when they have a view on future interest rate movements.
    • Project finance: In large projects with significant financing needs, arrears swaps can provide a more precise hedge against fluctuating interest rates over the project lifecycle.
  2. Financial institutions:
    • Asset-liability management: Banks and other financial institutions use arrears swaps to align the interest rates on their assets and liabilities, optimizing their interest rate risk profile.
    • Derivative trading: Investment banks and hedge funds engage in arrears swaps as part of their broader trading and risk management strategies.

Valuation of arrears swaps

The valuation of arrears swaps involves several steps and considerations, including:

Pricing models

Discounted cash flow analysis: The most common method involves discounting the expected cash flows of the swap to their present value using appropriate discount rates.
Forward rate modeling: Forward interest rates are used to project future floating rates, which are then applied to calculate the cash flows at the end of each period.

Factors influencing valuation

Interest rate volatility: Higher volatility in interest rates can increase the complexity and uncertainty in the valuation process.
Yield curve shape: The shape of the yield curve affects the forward rates and, consequently, the expected cash flows of the arrears swap.
Credit risk: The creditworthiness of the counterparties involved in the swap can impact the discount rates used in the valuation, reflecting the risk of default.

Legal and regulatory aspects

Arrears swaps are subject to various legal and regulatory requirements designed to ensure transparency, stability, and compliance in financial markets:

Regulatory framework

Dodd-Frank Act: In the United States, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act imposes reporting and clearing requirements on swaps, including arrears swaps.

EMIR: In the European Union, the European Market Infrastructure Regulation (EMIR) sets out similar requirements for derivative transactions.

Compliance and reporting

Trade reporting: Parties to an arrears swap must report their transactions to a trade repository, providing transparency to regulators and market participants.

Collateral requirements: Depending on the regulatory jurisdiction, parties may need to post collateral to mitigate counterparty risk, which is especially relevant for arrears swaps given their payment timing.


What is the main difference between an arrears swap and a standard interest rate swap?

The main difference lies in the timing of the floating rate determination and payment. In an arrears swap, the floating rate is determined at the end of the period and paid immediately, whereas in a standard swap, the floating rate is determined at the beginning of the period and paid at the end.

Why would a company choose to use an arrears swap?

A company might choose an arrears swap to benefit from more up-to-date interest rate information, particularly in volatile or uncertain interest rate environments, to better manage their interest rate exposure.

How are the payments in an arrears swap determined?

Payments in an arrears swap are determined by calculating the floating rate based on the prevailing interest rate at the end of the period, applied to the notional principal amount for that period.

What are the key risks associated with arrears swaps?

Key risks include interest rate risk due to volatility, counterparty risk if the other party defaults, and market risk related to the liquidity and pricing complexity of arrears swaps.

Key takeaways

  • Definition and Purpose: An arrears swap is an interest rate swap where the floating rate is determined and paid at the end of the interest period, providing more up-to-date interest rate exposure.
  • Benefits: They offer flexibility in volatile markets, better hedging capabilities against interest rate movements, and strategic financial management opportunities.
  • Risks: Involve interest rate risk, counterparty risk, and market risk, requiring careful management and mitigation strategies.
  • Applications: Widely used in corporate finance, asset-liability management, and derivative trading to manage interest rate risk.
  • Valuation and Regulation: Valuation requires complex modeling of interest rates and discounting cash flows, and they are subject to regulatory requirements like trade reporting and collateral posting.

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