The post-Libor world: a global view from the BIS derivatives statistics

BIS Quarterly Review  |  December 2022  | 
05 December 2022
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 |  14 pages

The transition from Libor to "nearly risk-free" rates (RFRs) has led to structural changes that have reshaped the trading and hedging behaviour of participants in fixed income markets. Using the BIS Triennial Survey statistics, we document four major changes in the instrument mix and geographical distribution of the global turnover of OTC interest rate derivatives between 2019 and 2022. First, forward rate agreements (FRAs) became largely obsolete because of reduced fixing risk. This led to a decline in FRA trading, which dragged down overall turnover. Second, trading in swaps referencing RFRs increased. Third, the UK and US shares in global turnover dropped, whereas the share of the euro area rose. Finally, new instruments emerged to manage morphing basis risks in the post-Libor world. 1

JEL classification: E43, G12, G21, G23.

The latest BIS Triennial Central Bank Survey revealed four key changes between April 2019 and April 2022. First, the global turnover of over-the-counter (OTC) interest rate derivatives fell 19% to $5.2 trillion. This decline reflected a 74% drop in trading of forward rate agreements (FRAs), a type of OTC contract that allows investors to fix interest rates in advance. Second, overnight index swaps (OIS) – contracts that swap a fixed rate for an overnight rate – gained share in the turnover of interest rate swaps (IRS) for the Swiss franc, the Japanese yen and the pound sterling. Third, the United Kingdom and the United States remained the largest trading locations for OTC interest rate derivatives, but their shares in global turnover declined, whereas that of the euro area increased. Fourth, new types of basis swap (ie IRS contracts that swap different floating rates) emerged, while existing types gradually disappeared.

The transition from the London interbank offered rate (Libor) to "nearly risk-free rates" (RFRs; FSB (2014)) – henceforth the "benchmark rate reform" – is arguably the main driver of these structural changes for four reasons. First, the phase-out of Libor-based IRS limited the use cases for FRAs, thus reducing their turnover. Second, as publications of Libor in CHF, JPY and GBP ceased at end-2021, an increasing amount of IRS denominated in these currencies had to switch to the new RFRs. Since RFRs are based on overnight rates, the share of OIS in IRS turnover rose. Third, the different effects of the benchmark rate reform across jurisdictions led to a shift in trading locations.2 Lastly, since the reform gave rise to multiple reference rates, it created the need for new swaps that help manage new "basis risks" – ie the risks of loss when assets and liabilities reference different floating rates.

Key takeaways

  • The benchmark rate reform led to structural changes in OTC interest rate derivatives markets, driving up the share of instruments referencing overnight rates in overall turnover.
  • The reform reduced hedging needs for Libor-related risks, which led to a material drop in FRA trading and a shift in the geographical distribution of OTC turnover.
  • The benchmark reform reduced some basis risks but gave rise to new ones, stemming from the variety of reference rates in the post-Libor world and driving the rise in new types of basis swap.

This special feature studies these main implications of the Libor transition on fixed income markets, with a special focus on OTC derivatives. The rest of the feature is organised as follows. The first section briefly describes the benchmark reform and explains the main differences between Libor and RFRs. The second examines how the Libor transition changed risks in interest rate markets. The third uses Triennial Surveys and additional data sources to analyse four major implications of the reform for derivatives markets. The final section concludes.

RFRs have started replacing Libor as key interest rate benchmarks in major currencies. Libor in GBP, EUR, CHF and JPY ceased as of end-2021, and USD Libor is scheduled to be discontinued in June 2023. The main reason for the Libor cessation is that the rate is based on surveys and is therefore prone to manipulation (CFTC (2012), FSA (2012)). The same problem was common among other interbank offered rates (IBORs) (IOSCO (2013)). To address it, authorities, together with the private sector, developed new benchmark rates – called RFRs by market convention – based on transactions in active and liquid overnight lending markets (FSB (2014)). In addition, some existing IBORs (eg Euribor) were reformed with more robust methodologies and have remained in use (EMMI (2019)). Depending on the availability of the reformed IBORs for trading, some jurisdictions (eg the United Kingdom) adopted RFRs faster than others (eg the euro area).

The transition from Libor to RFRs became evident in fixed income instruments. New issuance of Libor-based bonds nearly stopped in 2022 (Graph 1 .A, dark red bars), whereas issuance of RFR-based bonds increased substantially (dark blue bars). Similarly, new loans referencing Libor dropped materially in 2022 (light red bars), as they were replaced by RFR-based loans (light blue bars).3 Turning to derivatives, the majority of exchange-traded futures in US dollars referenced RFRs in 2022. Almost 100% of futures contracts in sterling and Swiss francs referenced RFRs (Graph 1 .B).4

There are two key differences between Libor and RFRs. The first relates to credit risk sensitivity. Libor was initially constructed to measure banks' unsecured term funding costs. The popular tenors – three and six months – incorporated compensation for term liquidity and credit risk (Michaud and Upper (2008)).5 By contrast, RFRs are far less sensitive to credit risk, as they are overnight, tightly linked to policy rates and in certain currencies – eg USD and CHF – reflect secured lending.6 In sum, while Libor facilitated linking the coupon of a fixed income instrument to bank borrowing costs, overnight RFRs are not suited for this. Second, Libor is an estimation of the interest rates over a future period, whereas RFRs track the evolution of actual interest rates. Libor is fixed and known at the start of the contract period. Since it reflects banks' expected borrowing costs, it is called a "forward-looking" term rate. In contrast, the coupon of RFR-based instruments refers to the average of actual overnight rates, known only at the end of the relevant period.7 This "backward-looking" approach is called compounding in arrears. Henceforth, for brevity we use RFRs to refer to both overnight RFRs and compounded RFRs. The key differences between old and new benchmark rates have major implications for fixed income markets.

The ecosystem of fixed income markets includes mainly banks, institutional investors and corporates trading in cash securities and derivatives. Typically, large global banks act as dealers in the derivatives segment and make the market for smaller banks and other agents. Cash securities (eg bonds and loans) are widely used for borrowing and lending. In turn, derivatives (eg IRS, FRAs and futures) are used mainly to transfer risk related to fluctuations in interest rates (Duffie and Stein (2015)).

IRS contracts – the most actively traded OTC interest rate derivatives – allow counterparties to swap different types of interest rate. To illustrate the mechanics of IRS, suppose bank A's asset is a bond paying a fixed coupon "Fix" (Graph 2), which is funded by a floating rate commercial paper (CP) with a coupon of size "Flo" (eg Libor). The bank then faces interest rate risk: if Flo increases above Fix, the bank suffers a loss. To hedge that risk, bank A enters into an IRSA with a dealer and receives a floating rate FloA while paying Fix.

Dealers who intermediate in the IRS market face fixing risk and basis risk. In the example above, the dealer can offset the IRSA exposure by entering into an opposite IRSB with bank B. If the terms of the two swaps are identical, the dealer is hedged. However, when the starting dates of the two swaps are different – eg IRSB starts later than IRSA – the dealer could face a loss if the two floating rates are fixed at different levels: FloA ≠ FloB (eg FloA = Libor today, FloB = Libor tomorrow). This risk is called "fixing risk". Alternatively, if the two floating coupons are fixed on the same day but reference different rates – eg FloA = Libor, FloB = RFR – the dealer faces the risk that a wedge between these rates would generate a loss. This risk is called "basis risk". To hedge fixing risk, the dealer could enter into FRAs, which fix the values of FloA and FloB today (Box A). To hedge basis risk, the dealer could enter into a basis swap, which swaps FloA for FloB (Box B).

The Libor transition fundamentally changed both fixing risk and basis risk. First, the use of RFRs as benchmark rates reduced fixing risk significantly. As the floating coupons in RFR-based swaps capture the daily realisation of overnight rates, they are "fixed" every day. This is structurally different from Libor-based swaps, in which the floating coupons are fixed typically for three or six months. Thus, the fixing risk in RFR-based swaps is an order of magnitude smaller than that in Libor-based swaps. Box A provides a simple example to illustrate the underlying mechanics. It also shows how FRAs can be used to hedge fixing risk in the Libor environment and why that hedging need is reduced in the new RFR environment.

Second, the transition to RFRs gave rise to a coexistence of multiple reference rates, which created new basis risks. In addition to the RFRs discussed above, other types of reference rate have been emerging to fulfil different market needs (Schrimpf and Sushko (2019)). For one, "term RFRs" are based on RFR derivatives and capture expectations of future rate moves. For another, credit-sensitive term rates – such as reformed IBORs – are based on unsecured short-term borrowing markets and arguably better reflect the term borrowing costs of banks (Table 1). The new basis risks that arise in the RFR environment are especially important for financial intermediaries like banks which are both lenders and borrowers. Box B reviews basis risks in the Libor and the RFR worlds.

Given the structural changes outlined above, we expect to see four main implications of the Libor transition for OTC interest rate derivatives. First, given the reduced fixing risk in the RFR environment, the turnover of FRAs should decrease. Second, as benchmark rates shift from term Libor to RFRs based on overnight rates, an increasing share of IRS should be OIS. Third, to the extent that the reform affects jurisdictions differently, the geographical distribution of OTC derivatives turnover, as well as the attendant currency composition, would change. Finally, the emergence of new basis risks should increase the turnover of corresponding basis swaps.

FRA turnover slumped

The material decline in FRA trading is a clear hallmark of the Libor transition. On the one hand, the need to use FRAs to hedge fixing risk in IRS positions became negligible in the RFR environment. On the other hand, the scope for speculation with FRAs became limited. Since these contracts need to reference a forward-looking term rate that is known at the start of the period, they are incompatible with RFRs.8  As a result, the daily turnover of FRAs dropped significantly, from $1.9 trillion (30% of global turnover) in 2019 to only $0.5 trillion (10%) in 2022, leading to a 19% decline in total OTC derivatives turnover (Graph 3.A). The turnover of USD-denominated FRAs had the most sizeable decline: from $1.3 trillion in 2019 to just $0.03 trillion in 2022 (Graph 3.B). This decline reflected the shrinking activity in FRAs referencing USD Libor, as shown by data reported to the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation (DTCC) (Graph 3.C). FRAs denominated in GBP, JPY and CHF also virtually ceased trading, declining by more than 90% each.

The only exception from the overall decline in FRA trading was EUR-denominated FRAs. The turnover of these contracts expanded from $387 billion (20% of total FRA turnover) in 2019 to $421 billion (85%) in 2022. This expansion reflected the increasing trading activity of FRAs referencing Euribor, which is a reformed IBOR that will continue to be used (ECB (2020)). Since Euribor is a forward-looking term rate like Libor, swaps referencing Euribor give rise to fixing risk and the need to use FRAs to hedge this risk.9 In addition, the expansion of Euribor FRAs could also stem from hedging or speculating on future Euribor values.

Turnover of OIS gained traction

Given the increasing adoption of RFRs, which are based on overnight rates, the share of OIS in total IRS turnover increased in 2022 for the currencies most affected by the benchmark reform, such as the Swiss franc, the yen and sterling. This share increased to above 90% for GBP, and above 60% for JPY and CHF contracts (Graph 4.A). The increase was mainly driven by the nearly full adoption of RFRs for swaps in these currencies, as revealed by DTCC data (Graph 4.B). This is a significant change compared with 2019, when the share of RFR-based contracts was less than 15% for the Swiss franc and yen, and less than 70% for sterling.10

In the case of USD and EUR contracts, the share of OIS in IRS turnover remained relatively stable (Graph 4.A). Despite the increasing adoption of RFRs in these currencies (Graph 4.C, blue bars), they mainly replaced existing overnight rates – ESTR took over EONIA for EUR contracts and SOFR partially replaced EFFR for USD ones.11 The share of IRS referencing credit-sensitive term rates remained sizeable. More than 50% of USD swaps referenced Libor in 2022, and roughly 40% of EUR swaps referenced Euribor. USD Libor swaps were probably used to run down legacy positions given the planned cessation of Libor in June 2023.12 The sizable turnover of Euribor swaps could reflect market participants' demand for credit-sensitive term rates.

The geographical distribution of turnover shifted

The different approaches to the benchmark rate reform across regions led to a shift in trading locations of FRAs. Jurisdictions without reformed IBORs are strict with the "RFR only" approach (eg the UK and the US), while others allow RFRs and reformed IBORs to coexist (eg the euro area). Consistent with the sizeable drop in USD-denominated FRAs, trading of FRAs by sales desks in the US almost disappeared, with daily turnover dropping by 99% between 2019 and 2022 (Graph 5.A). Similarly, FRA turnover in the UK declined by more than a half over the same period. In contrast, FRA turnover increased by 65% in the euro area13 – mainly in Germany and France – reflecting the expansion of Euribor-based FRAs.

The uneven decline of FRA trading across jurisdictions contributed to changes in the geographical distribution and the currency composition of overall turnover. The share of the UK (the largest trading location for OTC derivatives) in global turnover declined from 51% in 2019 to 46% in 2022 (Graph 5.B). The share of the second largest trading location for OTC derivatives – the US – dropped from 32% in 2019 to 29% in 2022. In contrast, the share of the euro area increased. The respective currencies also saw similar trends, with the shares of the dollar in global turnover shrinking to 44% in 2022 (from 51% in 2019) and the euro expanding to 34% (from 25%) (BIS (2022)).

Notably, the share of the euro area in total EUR contracts bounced back to 27%, interrupting a long-term downward trend since 2004 (Ehlers and Hardy (2019)) (Graph 5.C). Apart from the uneven evolution of FRA turnover across regions, the migration of EUR contracts to the euro area could also reflect the impact of Brexit.14

New basis swaps emerged

The phasing-out of Libor led to a reduction in existing basis risks and a drop in the turnover of associated basis swaps. As Libor in major currencies other than the US dollar ceased as of end-2021, basis swaps referencing Libor in these currencies essentially disappeared thereafter (Graph 6.A, blue bars). In contrast, turnover of basis swaps that referenced legacy USD Libor (but not RFRs) remained sizeable in 2022 at around $500 billion per month (red bars). These swaps were probably used to hedge old basis risks like those stemming from different tenors of Libor, eg three-month and six-month Libor. This type of basis risk does not apply for RFRs as they track daily value of overnight rates continuously (Box B). In addition to Libor-only swaps, basis swaps between RFRs and Libor reached a peak at end-2021 and declined afterwards (yellow bars).

New basis swaps emerged as a tool for hedging basis risks stemming from the new reference rates. Turnover of basis swaps referencing RFRs and rates other than Libor expanded significantly in 2022 (Graph 6.B, purple bars), reaching above $300 billion per month in late 2022. This expansion reflects the hedging of new basis risks stemming from the coexistence of multiple benchmark rates (Box B).

The benchmark rate reform led to structural changes in fixed income markets, especially in the OTC derivatives segment. The direct impact of the reform was a shift from fixed income instruments referencing Libor to those referencing RFRs. The reform also had profound indirect effects due to the fundamental differences between old and new reference rates. On the one hand, the reform reduced fixing risk as the new reference rates are based on the overnight tenor. On the other hand, the reform created new basis risks stemming from the coexistence of different types of reference rate.

As a result of these effects, the Libor transition significantly changed the instrument mix and the geographical distribution of OTC interest rate derivatives. Some instruments such as FRAs became less necessary, and their turnover declined. In contrast, turnover increased for basis swaps used to hedge the plethora of new basis risks.

On the back of regulatory recommendations to promote the adoption of RFRs, OTC interest rate derivatives markets have become strongly anchored in reference rates that are overnight and largely insensitive to bank funding costs. This could potentially lead to a lack of usable benchmarks that capture term liquidity premia and credit risk. Such factors could be important to financial intermediaries active in both borrowing and lending. Fine-tuning the balance between maintaining robust benchmark rates and developing new instruments that "complete the market" is an important next step to ensure the orderly functioning of fixed income markets in the new post-Libor world.

Alternative Reference Rates Committee (ARRC) (2021): "ARRC best practice recommendations related to scope of use of the term rate".

Bank for International Settlements (2022): OTC interest rate derivatives turnover in April 2022, October.

Bartholomew, H (2022): "SOFR swap basis could pose 'systemic risk".

Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (2020): "Statement on LIBOR transition", 20 November.

Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) (2012): "CFTC orders Barclays to pay $200 million penalty for attempted manipulation of and false reporting concerning LIBOR and Euribor benchmark interest rates".

Duffie, D and J Stein (2015): "Reforming LIBOR and other financial market benchmarks", Journal of Economic Perspectives, May, vol 29, no 2, pp 191–212.

European Central Bank (ECB) (2020): Report on preparations for benchmark rate reforms.

European Money Markets Institute (EMMI) (2019): BMR authorisation for administration of Euribor® under hybrid methodology, July.

Ehlers, T and B Hardy (2019): "The evolution of OTC interest rate derivatives markets", BIS Quarterly Review, December, pp 69–82.

Financial Services Authority (FSA) (2012): "Barclays fined £59.5 million for significant failings in relation to LIBOR and EURIBOR".

Financial Stability Board (FSB) (2014): Reforming major interest rate benchmarks, 22 July.

Guggenheim, B and A Schrimpf (2020): "At the crossroads in the transition away from LIBOR: from overnight to term rates", BIS Working Papers, no 891, October.

International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) (2013): Principles for financial benchmarks, July.

McCauley, R (2001): "Benchmark tipping in the money and bond markets," BIS Quarterly Review, March, pp 39–45.

Michaud, F-L and C Upper (2008)): "What drives interbank rates? Evidence from the Libor panel", BIS Quarterly Review, March, pp 47–58.

Schrimpf, A and V Sushko (2019): "Beyond Libor: a primer on the new benchmark rates", BIS Quarterly Review, March, pp 29–52.

Ameribor = American interbank offered rate; BSBY = Bloomberg short-term bank yield index; CME term SOFR = Chicago mercantile exchange term secured overnight financing rate; CP = commercial paper; EFFR = effective funds rate; EONIA = euro overnight index average; ESTR = euro short-term rate; Euribor = euro interbank offered rate; FRA = forward rate agreement; IRS = interest rate swap; Libor = London interbank offered rate; OIS = overnight indexed swap; OTC = over-the-counter; RFR = risk-free rate; SOFR = secured overnight financing rate; SARON = Swiss average rate overnight; SONIA = sterling overnight index average; Tibor = Tokyo interbank offered rate; TONA = Tokyo overnight average rate.

Graph 1.A: Syndicated loans.

Graph 3.A: Notional amounts, daily averages in April. Adjusted for local and cross-border inter-dealer double-counting, ie "net-net" basis. Overnight indexed swaps are included in total swap turnover. Data available only from 2019.

Graph 3.B: Notional amounts, daily averages in April. Adjusted for local and cross-border inter-dealer double-counting, ie "net-net" basis.

Graph 4.A: Notional amounts, daily averages in April. Adjusted for local and cross-border inter-dealer double-counting, ie "net-net" basis.

Graph 4.B: Based on DTCC data on fixed float and OIS interest rate swaps.

Graph 4.C: Based on DTCC data on fixed float and OIS interest rate swaps.

Graph 5.A: Notional amounts, daily averages in April. Adjusted for local inter-dealer double-counting, ie "net-gross" basis. Euro area defined as total "net-gross" for euro area reporting countries.

Graph 5.B: Notional amounts, daily averages in April. Adjusted for local inter-dealer double-counting, ie "net-gross" basis.

Graph 5.C: Notional amounts, daily averages in April. Adjusted for local inter-dealer double-counting, ie "net-gross" basis. Euro area defined as total "net-gross" for euro area reporting countries. EUR contracts.

Graph 6.A: Monthly turnover of basis swaps, by reference rate.

Graph 6.B: Monthly turnover of basis swaps, by reference rate.

1 The authors thank Sirio Aramonte, Chris Barnes, Luis Bengoechea, Claudio Borio, Stijn Claessens, Branimir Gruić, Bryan Hardy, Simonetta Iannotti, Patrick McGuire, Elena Nemykina, Andreas Schrimpf, Hyun Song Shin, Vladyslav Sushko, Nikola Tarashev, Toby Williams and Philip Woodridge for helpful comments and discussion, as well as Anamaria Illes, Alessandro Barbera, Ann Neale and Nicolas Lemercier for excellent research assistance. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Bank for International Settlements.

2 Other factors may also play a role. For example, Brexit and the attendant regulatory restrictions on trading venues probably also contributed to the shift away from the United Kingdom.

3 New issuance of loans could be tranches from a pre-existing deal. As it is hard to modify loans' contractual terms, their switch to RFRs has been slower than for bonds.

4 RFR-based futures for EUR and JPY were not developed as of September 2022.

5 Libor has seven different maturities from overnight to one year. However, the overnight Libor was very thinly traded in derivatives markets. By contrast, the three-month tenor was deemed attractive to bank treasurers for asset-liability risk management (McCauley (2001)).

6 Unsecured overnight rates are not entirely free from credit risk, despite the short tenor. That said, historical data reveal that these rates are almost insensitive to credit risk even in times of stress. For example, EFFR (one of the main traded USD unsecured overnight rates) did not spike during the Great Financial Crisis, in contrast to term Libor.

7 Another averaging method is based on compounding daily values of past overnight rates. The corresponding rate is called "compounded RFR in advance" and is known at the start of the coupon period. In interest rate derivatives, such rates are used less often than compounded RFRs in arrears.

8 To speculate on future interest rate movements in the new RFR world, investors can use a one-period OIS that takes effect on a future date (ie a forward-starting OIS) as a replacement for an FRA. Alternatively, investors could resort to exchange-traded futures but only to the extent that the standardised maturity dates fit their purpose.

9 Swaps referencing term RFRs or other credit-sensitive term rates can also give rise to fixing risk, similar to Libor. However, these instruments are thinly traded, probably due to regulation. For example, inter-dealer trading of term SOFR is currently prohibited in the United States to promote adoption of SOFR in derivatives (ARRC (2021), Bartholomew (2022)).

10 The share of GBP RFR contracts includes both the reformed and the old SONIA. This explains the high share back in 2019.

11  These trends reflect the part of the benchmark rate reform that concerned the development of robust overnight RFRs. See detailed discussions in Schrimpf and Sushko (2019).

12 Supervisory guidance in the United States encouraged "... banks to cease entering into new contracts that use USD LIBOR as a reference rate as soon as practicable and in any event by December 31, 2021" (Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System et al (2020)).

13 This comprises all euro area countries that reported to the BIS Triennial Surveys.

14 The attendant regulatory changes after Brexit prohibited trading of some contracts on UK trading venues. See Article 28 of the EU Markets in Financial Instruments Regulation (MiFIR)