What Is a Floating-Rate Note (FRN)?
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What Is a Floating-Rate Note (FRN)?

4 Min.

A floating-rate note is a type of bond with a variable interest rate. This differs from a fixed-rate note with a set interest rate that does not change. The interest rate for a floating-rate note is linked to a short-term benchmark rate, such as LIBOR or the Fed funds rate, plus a constant quoted spread. Many floating-rate notes pay interest four times a year (quarterly), but some pay monthly, semiannually, or annually. Investors are attracted to floating-rate notes because they can benefit from higher interest rates since the rate on the floating-rate note adjusts periodically to reflect current market rates.

Basics

Floating-rate notes (FRNs), distinguished as debt instruments characterized by a variable interest rate, are intricately linked to benchmark rates. Notable benchmarks encompass the U.S. Treasury note rate, the Federal Reserve funds rate (commonly referred to as the Fed funds rate), the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR), or the prime rate. These dynamic debt instruments, commonly known as floaters, find issuance not only by financial institutions but also by governments and corporations, spanning maturities ranging from two to five years.

Exploring Floating Rate Notes (FRNs)

Floating-rate notes (FRNs) are pivotal in the U.S. investment-grade bond market, offering a distinctive advantage over fixed-rate counterparts. Unlike fixed-rate instruments, FRNs enable investors to capitalize on interest rate hikes, adjusting periodically to prevailing market rates. Typically benchmarked against short-term rates like the Fed funds rate, set by the Federal Reserve Bank for interbank short-term borrowing, FRNs present a dynamic investment avenue.

In fixed-income securities, the correlation between the rate or yield and time to maturity is a defining characteristic. A rising yield curve compensates investors for holding longer-term securities. Consequently, FRNs, tethered to short-term rates, often yield less than their fixed-rate counterparts. Investors accept a reduced yield in exchange for security, as the investment aligns with benchmark rate movements. However, if the short-term benchmark rate declines, so does the FRN's rate.

While FRNs offer a shield against market price volatility compared to traditional fixed-rate bonds, their performance hinges on the benchmark rate's dynamics. In a rising-rate environment, there is no guarantee that the FRN's rate will keep pace, exposing bondholders to interest rate risk.

Market price stability sets FRNs apart, as their variable rates contribute to less volatility and fewer price fluctuations. Despite this advantage, FRNs remain exposed to default risk, arising when the issuer fails to repay the principal amount. The variable nature of FRN coupon payments, representing interest payments, introduces an element of unpredictability. Some floaters may incorporate a cap and floor, delineating the maximum and minimum interest rates, and providing investors with essential parameters.

The flexibility of FRN interest rate adjustments, ranging from daily to yearly as chosen by the issuer, is detailed in the bond's prospectus. Additionally, payment frequency (monthly, quarterly, semiannually, or annually) is specified in the prospectus, shaping the investor's expectations.

Comparative Analysis: Callable vs. Non-Callable Floating Rate Notes

Floating-rate notes exhibit variability in their callable or non-callable nature, presenting distinct characteristics based on the issuer's prerogative. The callable option grants the issuer the authority to repay the principal and cease interest payments, a feature disclosed in advance, enabling premature bond redemption.

Advantages

  • FRNs allow investors to capitalize on rising rates, adjusting in tandem with market conditions.
  • They exhibit diminished susceptibility to price volatility.
  • Available across U.S. Treasuries and corporate bonds.

Drawbacks

  • Despite rate adjustments, FRNs remain exposed to interest rate risk if market rates outpace the rate resets.
  • Default risk looms if the issuing entity fails to fulfill principal repayment obligations.
  • In the event of declining market interest rates, FRN rates may experience a corresponding decrease.
  • Typically, FRNs yield lower rates compared to their fixed-rate counterparts.

Example of a FRN

In 2014, the U.S. Treasury Department initiated the issuance of floating-rate notes, outlining the subsequent attributes and prerequisites:

  • Minimum purchase threshold: $100
  • Two-year term or maturity
  • Face value settlement at maturity
  • Variable rate pegged to the 13-week Treasury bill
  • Quarterly disbursement of interest or coupon payments
  • Option to retain FRNs until maturity or opt for premature sale
  • Issued in electronic format
  • Interest income subject to Federal income tax.

Conclusion

Floating-rate notes offer dynamic investment opportunities with variable interest rates tied to short-term benchmarks. Despite their advantages, including flexibility and quarterly interest income, investors must navigate risks such as interest rate fluctuations and potential defaults. The callable nature of some FRNs adds complexity, allowing issuers early redemption. The U.S. Treasury's 2014 FRN example illustrates practical details, emphasizing their nuanced role in the investment landscape. Overall, FRNs are a versatile choice for investors seeking to navigate the intricacies of the bond market.

Floating-Rate Note (FRN)
London Interbank Offer Rate (LIBOR)
Federal Reserve (Fed)
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