Foreign exchange swaps and forwards are a key instrument in the global financial system for hedging, position-taking and short-term funding. They involve the exchange of notional amounts at a future date and, as funding vehicles, they are akin to other forms of collateralised borrowing (e.g. repo). The amounts involved are huge, but the instruments remain mysterious in some ways: because of an accounting peculiarity, they are treated very differently from other forms of collateralised debt. This column examines their geography and draws implications for both academics and policymakers. It finds that non-US residents’ US dollar forward payment obligations arising from foreign exchange swaps and forwards are likely to be even larger than the corresponding on-balance sheet US dollar debt. It also highlights the favourable regulatory treatment that these instruments receive, and argues that they represent a critical pressure point in international financial markets.
By Claudio Borio, Patrick McGuire, and Robert McCauley