On the Term Structure of Default Premia in the Swap and LIBOR Markets

P. Collin-Dufresne, B. SOLNIK

The Journal of Finance

June 2001, vol. 56, n°3, pp.1095-1115

Departments: Finance

Existing theories of the term structure of swap rates provide an analysis of the Treasury–swap spread based on either a liquidity convenience yield in the Treasury market, or default risk in the swap market. Although these models do not focus on the relation between corporate yields and swap rates (the LIBOR–swap spread), they imply that the term structure of corporate yields and swap rates should be identical. As documented previously (e.g., in Sun, Sundaresan, and Wang (1993)) this is counterfactual. Here, we propose a model of the default risk imbedded in the swap term structure that is able to explain the LIBOR–swap spread. Whereas corporate bonds carry default risk, we argue that swap contracts are free of default risk. Because swaps are indexed on “refreshed”-credit-quality LIBOR rates, the spread between corporate yields and swap rates should capture the market's expectations of the probability of deterioration in credit quality of a corporate bond issuer. We model this feature and use our model to estimate the likelihood of future deterioration in credit quality from the LIBOR–swap spread. The analysis is important because it shows that the term structure of swap rates does not reflect the borrowing cost of a standard LIBOR credit quality issuer. It also has implications for modeling the dynamics of the swap term structure