Importance of LIBOR Floors in the Short Term

March 11, 2021

Sources: Nomura and Bloomberg Sources: Nomura and Bloomberg

Leveraged loans (secured bank loans to high-yield borrowers) and collateralized loan obligations (CLOs) are floating-rate assets whose coupons reset to a reference interest rate, most commonly 3-Month LIBOR. The quarterly coupon payments rise and fall with the level of LIBOR.

As the COVID-19 pandemic forced a global economic shutdown last March, the Federal Reserve (Fed) immediately cut short-term rates back to zero. Leveraged loan investors’ demand helped bring a return for LIBOR floors. Lenders negotiate with borrowers to have a LIBOR floor in order to mitigate the risk of falling interest rates. For example, if the floor is at 1%, even if the actual LIBOR number drops below the 1% threshold, the effective rate will be calculated on 1% LIBOR floor. LIBOR floors also impact CLO debt and equity investors who benefit from higher excess spread. The CLO liabilities are typically floored at 0%, while the portion of assets (leveraged loans) benefit from interest rates setting to higher rates at the floor.

Key Takeaway

LIBOR floors support the leveraged loan and U.S. CLO market in today’s zero-interest-rate environment. The Fed’s forward guidance is still indicating no interest rate hikes until 2023, which reinforces the importance of LIBOR floors in the short term. Investors’ lack of interest in floating-rate investments has been particularly notable in recent years. However, demand has picked up in recent months, as the fixed-income market has been focused on reflation and increasing odds for Fed liftoff from zero prior to 2023.

Tags: Leveraged loans | Collateralized loan obligations | LIBOR | Coronavirus | Federal Reserve | Fixed income | Interest Rates

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