FX Swaps vs. FX Forwards

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The popularity of FX swaps and FX forward contracts exploded over the past two decades, accounting for nearly 50% of the $7+ trillion daily turnover in today’s Forex market. It also represents a hidden threat to the global financial system, as companies do not have to record those transactions on their balance sheets.

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An FX swap consists of two transactions between two parties. They are the preferred method of multinational companies to access capital outside their home market.

  • Company ABC requires $1,100,000 for a business expansion in the US, and in four months, it needs €1,000,000 for a distributor payment in the EU.
  • Company 123 requires €1,000,000 for a business expansion in the EU, and in four months, it needs $1,100,000 for payment of a tax bill.
  • Their financial institutions match the requirements, and the companies exchange capital via an FX swap at the FX spot rate on the date they enter the FX swap.
  • At the same time, they enter into an FX forward contract dated four months from now to swap the funds at the same FX spot rate.

An FX forward contract is a single transaction that allows companies to hedge currency risk. It is often used by commodity companies.

  • Commodity producer XYZ believes the Euro will decrease in value and wants to lock in the price for future delivery seven months from now when it delivers €5,000,000 worth of commodities to customer 123.
  • It uses an FX forward contract worth €5,000,000 dated seven months from now at today’s FX spot price, guaranteeing a more favourable price at delivery.

Understanding the difference between FX swap and FX forward is necessary before agreeing on either contract.

Four core FX swap vs. FX forward differences:

 

FX swaps

FX forward

Number of transactions

Two transactions, usually one FX spot transaction and one FX forward transaction, are agreed upon simultaneously by both parties.

One transaction at a future date at the best available FX spot price when the contract starts.

Mechanism

Two parties agree to swap currencies when they enter the FX swap and decide to purchase the original currency at a future date.

One party agrees to purchase one currency for another at a future date at today’s FX spot price.

When is it suitable?

An FX swap is suitable for a party requiring the base currency at a future date.

An FX forward is ideal for a party seeking to hedge its currency exposure.

Period

It can last several years, depending on the agreement between both parties.

It can last several years, depending on the requirements of the party writing the contract.

 

Let’s take a closer look at FX swap vs. FX forward requirements. Capital is necessary to enter an FX swap. Since an FX swap includes an FX forward as part of the second transaction, the parties must deposit a fraction of the total transaction size. Forex transactions usually involve leverage, and many FX swap deposits must only cover 10%. The amount may differ depending on the agreement between the parties and the banks or financial institutions involved in the transaction.

As part of our FX swap vs. FX forward comparison, traders should be aware of the two primary types of currency swaps.

  1. Fixed-for-fixed rate currency swap: Two parties exchange fixed interest payments in currency A for fixed interest payments in currency B. In this currency swap, the two parties exchange the principal amount of the underlying loans.
  2. Fixed-for-floating rate currency swap: Two parties exchange fixed interest payments in currency A for floating interest payments in currency B. They do not exchange the principal amount of the underlying loans in this currency swap.

Traders should consider the pros and cons before agreeing to the FX swap vs. FX forward offers.

  • Protection against negative Forex fluctuations.
  • A reverse transaction can close out the original transaction.
  • Increased security as an FX swap guaranteed the return of principal at a future date.
  • Companies do not have to record swaps and forwards on their balance sheets, improving their financial stability on paper.
  • Access to cheaper loans.
  • A fixed future exchange rate could be less favourable than the FX spot rate.
  • Wrong assessment about the timing of capital requirements.
  • Increased risk for longer-term contracts.
  • Low liquidity.
  • Higher costs to maintain contracts.

Regarding FX swaps vs. FX forwards, the popularity of both derivative contracts and their hidden risks should be explored. An FX swap grants companies access to cheaper interest rates, while an FX forward allows a company to hedge against currency fluctuations. The former consists of two simultaneous transactions versus one for the latter. 

What is the difference between an FX spot and an FX forward?

An FX spot contract is a transaction that occurs on the spot at the best available price. An FX forward contract is a transaction for a specific amount at a future date at today’s FX spot rate.

What is the difference between a forward contract and a swap?

A forward contract is a single transaction that takes place in the future at the FX spot rate available during the issuance of the forward contract. A swap consists of two transactions that occur at the same time. The first one is swapping one currency for another, usually at the FX spot price, and agreeing to swap them back at a future date, often via a forward contract.

How does an FX swap work?

An FX swap contract requires two parties willing to swap currencies and agreeing to swap them back at a future date if they need the funds in the original currency. This allows both companies to escape currency fluctuations. However, this transaction in the FX spot contract could result in currency exposure, increased risk, and potential losses.

What is the difference between a swap and an outright forward?

A swap is a contract between two parties who require their funds back in the original currency. For example, one company swaps USD for EUR with a counterparty and swaps them back from EUR to USD at a future date. An outright forward contract is for companies that want to hedge their currency exposure. For example, an EU commodity company might lock in prices for a future sale at today’s FX spot price based on the assumption that the Forex market will move against them by the time they can deliver their products to US customers.

Is an FX Swap two forwards?

An FX swap is not two forward contracts but includes one FX spot transaction and usually includes one FX forward contract for the second swap at a future date.

Is an FX forward a swap?

An FX forward is not a swap, as it represents a single transaction at a future date at today’s FX spot price.

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