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Fixed Coupon CDS is the same as CDX

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Everyone is quoting A Credit Trader these days! Felix Salmon of Portfolio (soon moving to Reuters), attempts to communicate the bottom-line of ACT’s post on the duration risk of CDS. Felix usually does a fantastic job with credit derivatives, but I thought a little helping hand might be useful on this coupon issue. If you understand how the CDX index is quoted, you already understand the fixed coupon, since it’s basically the same idea. The fixed coupon mechanism simply takes standardization a step further.

For example, the CDX index trades at a spread determined by the market, but also features a fixed coupon, or strike. This coupon is set at the beginning of each series (so the IG12 coupon was set when it was launched as the new on-the-run index). I don’t know what the new coupon is at the moment, but let’s say the coupon is set at 250 bps, and the index is trading at 250bps as well. In this case, the index is essentially trading at par since the market spread equals the coupon. Now, let’s assume the index widens to 300 bps and you want to buy protection at this level. There’s obviously a mismatch: the market wants 300 bps but the contract only demands 250 bps. What do you do? You make a small upfront payment to the dealer to clean up the mismatch (basically the present value of the difference between 300 bp and 250 bp payments). Trading upfront eliminates fiddling with duration assumptions and makes the transaction “cleaner.” This can be troublesome when trading the synthetic tranches as well, and there have been proposals to make similar changes to tranche quotes.

The “clean-up” upfront payment can get large when spreads widen a lot, thus introducing a technical slowdown in short trading since a large difference between the coupon and the market spread can make for expensive shorts. The opposite, of course, is also possible. If the index is trading tighter than the coupon, the dealer needs to pay you an upfront payment when you buy protection.

The big bang fixed coupon described by A Credit Trader and Felix follows the same logic as the index, but with standard 100bp/500bp coupons. If you are trading CDS with a 100bp coupon, you could say the CDS is trading at par when the market spread is 100bp (or trading at a discount when the market spread > 100 bp coupon). As a result, the CDS contract has become more bond-like.

See? Easy peasy.

Update: It occurs to me you can see this in action in a previous post. The CDSW screenshot shows IG11 trading at 237bps, with a coupon of 150bps. Looking at the numbers to the left of the green circle, you can see that the CDX is trading at a discount (~96) and that you need to pay ~$300k upfront to clean up the mismatch

Written by DK

March 30, 2009 at 10:32 pm

Posted in Finance

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