What is Credit Spread?

What is Credit Spread?

 it is calculated as the difference between the yield on a corporate bond and the benchmark rate. The yield on a government bond generally is considered to be a benchmark rate. The credit spread thus gives an indication of the additional risk that lenders take when they buy corporate debt versus government debt of the same maturity.

Changes in the spread indicate that perceptions of the risk of a specific issuer has changed or that perceptions of general market conditions have changed. For example, if the market becomes more skeptical about the creditworthiness of an issuing company, the spread of that company’s bonds widens (its yield relative to the benchmark widens).

Or, if markets become more negative and risk-averse, spreads in general tend to widen. Similarly, if sentiment towards an issuer or a market improves, the relevant spreads would decrease.

Understanding Credit Spread

The spread is used to reflect the additional yield required by an investor for taking on additional credit risk. Credit spreads commonly use the difference in yield between a same-maturity Treasury bond and a corporate bond. As Treasury bonds are considered risk-free due to their being backed by the U.S. government, the spread can be used to determine the riskiness of a corporate bond.

For example, if the credit spread between a Treasury note or bond and a corporate bond were 0%, it would imply that the corporate bond offers the same yield as the Treasury bond and is risk-free. The higher the spread, the riskier the corporate bond.

Formula for Credit Spread

Credit Spread =  corporate bond yield – treasury bond yield

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Note: The maturity dates of both the corporate bond and Treasury bond must be the same.

In addition, it is not uncommon for investors to substitute the Treasury bond yield with a benchmark bond yield of their choice. As such, the formula would look as follows:

Credit Spread =  corporate bond yield – benchmark bond yield

For example, an investor may choose to use an AAA-rated corporate bond yield as the benchmark bond yield.

Movements in Credit Spreads

Credit spreads are not static – they can tighten and narrow over time. The change is generally attributed to economic conditions.

For example, investors tend to purchase U.S. Treasuries during deteriorating market conditions and sell their holdings in corporate bonds. Capital inflows to U.S. Treasuries would increase the price of the treasuries and decrease their yield.

On the other hand, capital outflows from corporate bonds would decrease the price and increase the yield on the bonds. In such a scenario, credit spreads between U.S. Treasuries and corporate bonds would widen.

Example

An investor is looking to determine the condition of the U.S. economy. Historically, the average credit spread between 2-year BBB-rated corporate bonds and 2-year U.S. Treasuries is 2%. The current yield on a 2-year BBB-rated corporate bond is 5%, while the current yield on a 2-year U.S. Treasury is 2%. What is the current credit spread, and what insight is an investor able to gain from looking at the change in credit spreads?

The current spread is 3% (5% – 2%). With credit spreads historically averaging 2%, this may provide an indication that the U.S. economy is showing signs of economic weakness.