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Equity-Linked Notes (ELNs): Types, Examples, and Pros

Last updated 03/19/2024 by

Silas Bamigbola

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Equity-linked notes (ELNs) combine fixed-income investments with potential equity returns. This article delves into ELN definitions, workings, pros, and cons, helping you grasp this unique investment product.

Understanding equity-linked notes (ELNs)

Equity-linked notes, commonly referred to as ELNs, are a unique investment product that appeals to investors seeking a balance between capital protection and potential returns linked to the performance of equities. This financial instrument is structured to return the initial investment with an additional variable interest portion that is dependent on the performance of the linked equities.

How ELNs work

In its simplest form, ELNs can be explained using a hypothetical scenario. Consider a $1,000 5-year ELN, which allocates $800 to purchase a 5-year strip bond with a 4.5% yield-to-maturity. The remaining $200 is invested in call options for a specific equity, such as the S&P 500, over the 5-year life of the note. If the options expire worthless, the investor receives the initial $1,000 investment. However, if the options appreciate in value with the underlying equity’s performance, those returns are added to the $1,000 principal that will eventually be returned to the investor.
ELNs offer unlimited upside potential for returns, making them attractive to investors with a bullish outlook on the market. Even in the worst-case scenario, most ELNs provide full principal protection, which is a key feature that appeals to risk-averse investors. However, it’s important to note that ELNs only pay out upon maturity, which may result in an opportunity cost for investors if only the principal is returned in the end.

Equity-linked note caps, participation rates, and leverage

In practice, ELNs come with specific terms and features that influence their performance. One such term is the participation rate, which represents the percentage amount that an investor participates in the appreciation of the underlying equity. If the participation rate is 100%, a 5% increase in the underlying equity corresponds to a 5% increase in the eventual payout on the note. However, the costs associated with structuring and managing ELNs can reduce the participation rate. For instance, with a 75% participation rate, a 5% appreciation in the underlying equity translates to a 3.75% increase for the investor.
ELNs can also incorporate various structures and features, such as averaging formulas to smooth out returns on the equity-linked portion. Some ELNs may have a periodic cap that limits the upside by realizing returns at a specific level at regular intervals. Additionally, there are ELNs that utilize dynamic hedging instead of options, which involves leveraging to enhance returns from the underlying equity.
Overall, equity-linked notes provide a versatile tool for investors who aim to safeguard their principal while still benefiting from the potential upside of an equity investment.

Pros and cons of equity-linked notes (ELNs)

Here is a list of the benefits and drawbacks to consider.
  • Potential for above-average returns
  • Full principal protection, even in worst-case scenarios
  • Unlimited upside potential
  • Attractive to risk-averse investors
  • Opportunity cost due to maturity-only payouts
  • Participation rate may reduce actual returns
  • Complex structures and management costs

Customizing ELNs for specific objectives

Investors can tailor equity-linked notes (ELNs) to align with their specific financial objectives. For instance, an investor who wants to focus on a particular sector, like technology or healthcare, can structure an ELN to be linked to a basket of equities from that sector. The potential returns and risks would then be tied to the performance of those specific stocks.

Customization example: Sector-specific ELN

Consider an investor who believes in the growth potential of the technology sector. They can create an ELN linked to a basket of tech giants like Apple, Amazon, and Google. If the tech sector experiences robust growth, the investor’s ELN will reflect those gains. However, if the tech sector faces challenges, the principal protection feature of ELNs ensures that the initial investment remains secure.

Customization example: Global equity ELN

Now, imagine an investor who seeks international exposure to hedge against domestic market fluctuations. They can structure an ELN tied to a global equity index, such as the MSCI all country world index. This allows them to participate in the performance of stocks from various countries, providing diversification and potential for global growth.

Real-world applications of ELNs

ELNs have found applications in various real-world scenarios, both by individual investors and institutions. Understanding these applications sheds light on the versatility of this investment product.

Application example: Retirement planning

Individuals planning for retirement often seek a mix of security and growth. ELNs can play a role in retirement portfolios by providing the potential for enhanced returns while preserving the initial investment. By structuring an ELN with a suitable participation rate and underlying equity, retirees can balance the need for growth with capital protection.

Application example: Corporate risk management

Corporations use ELNs to manage specific risks. For instance, a company operating internationally may face currency exchange rate fluctuations. They can create an ELN tied to the currency pairs that impact their business, mitigating the impact of adverse exchange rate movements. ELNs are valuable tools for managing risk while potentially benefiting from favorable market conditions.

Tax implications of ELNs

Understanding the tax implications of equity-linked notes (ELNs) is essential for investors. The tax treatment of ELNs can vary depending on factors such as the structure of the note and the
investor’s jurisdiction. It’s important to consult with a tax professional to navigate the tax landscape associated with ELNs.

Taxation example: Capital gains treatment

In some jurisdictions, ELN returns may be treated as capital gains. For instance, if an investor holds an ELN until maturity and realizes gains, these gains could qualify for favorable capital gains tax rates. However, the specific tax treatment can vary, so understanding the tax code in your area is crucial.

Taxation example: Interest income

In other cases, ELN returns may be classified as interest income. This can result in different tax treatment, potentially subjecting the returns to ordinary income tax rates. Investors need to be aware of how their ELN returns are categorized for tax purposes, as this can impact the after-tax yield.

Risk management with ELNs

ELNs can serve as a valuable tool for managing risks in an investment portfolio. Understanding how to use ELNs for risk management can enhance an investor’s financial strategy.

Risk management example: Hedging against market volatility

Investors can utilize ELNs to hedge against market volatility. For instance, if there is uncertainty in the equity markets, they can structure ELNs to provide downside protection while still participating in any potential upside. This approach allows investors to navigate turbulent market conditions with reduced risk exposure.

Risk management example: Currency risk mitigation

Global investors often face currency exchange rate fluctuations. ELNs can be structured to mitigate currency risk by linking returns to specific currency pairs. This strategy helps protect investments from adverse currency movements, particularly in international portfolios.

Regulatory considerations for ELNs

Understanding the regulatory environment surrounding ELNs is crucial for investors. Various jurisdictions may have different rules and requirements for the issuance and trading of ELNs.

Regulatory consideration example: Prospectus and disclosure requirements

In some regions, ELN issuers may be required to provide detailed prospectuses and disclosures to potential investors. These documents offer insights into the note’s terms, risks, and potential returns. Investors should carefully review these materials to make informed decisions.

Regulatory consideration example: Reporting and compliance

ELN issuers and market participants must adhere to regulatory reporting and compliance standards. These standards help ensure transparency and fairness in the ELN market. Investors should have confidence that ELNs are traded within a regulated framework.


Equity-linked notes (ELNs) are an intriguing investment option that merges fixed-income investments with potential equity returns. This financial instrument is designed to offer investors full principal protection while enabling them to benefit from the upside potential of the linked equity. While ELNs have the allure of unlimited potential returns, they also come with certain complexities and risks, including participation rate reductions and the opportunity cost of waiting until maturity for returns. ELNs are best suited for investors with a bullish market outlook and a willingness to tolerate longer investment horizons. As with any investment, thorough understanding and careful consideration are essential for making informed choices regarding ELNs.
Investors are advised to consult with financial professionals and conduct comprehensive research before delving into the world of equity-linked notes to ensure that they align with their financial goals and risk tolerance.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the risks associated with ELNs?

ELNs come with risks such as potential participation rate reductions and the opportunity cost of waiting until maturity for returns. Understanding these risks is crucial for ELN investors.

Are ELNs suitable for all investors?

ELNs are not suitable for all investors, particularly those with a low tolerance for complexity and a desire for immediate returns. They are typically more appealing to investors who can tolerate a longer investment horizon.

How do ELNs compare to traditional bonds?

ELNs differ from traditional bonds in terms of their risk-reward profile. While traditional bonds offer fixed returns, ELNs provide the potential for higher returns, but with added complexity and risk.

Key takeaways

  • Equity-linked notes (ELNs) offer the potential for above-average returns while providing full principal protection.
  • Investors should be aware of participation rates, maturity-only payouts, and management costs associated with ELNs.
  • ELNs are best suited for investors with a longer investment horizon and a tolerance for complexity.

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