Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Limited Arbitrage and Liquidity in the Market for Credit Risk

(Amrut Nashikkar and Marti Subrahmanyam of New York University, and Sriketan Mahanti of State Street Global Markets) Recent research has shown that default risk accounts for only a part of the total yield spread on risky corporate bonds relative to their risk-less benchmarks. One candidate for the unexplained portion of the spread is a premium for liquidity. We investigate this possibility by relating the liquidity of corporate bonds to the basis between the credit default swap (CDS) price of the issuer and the parequivalent corporate bond yield spread.

The liquidity of a bond is measured using a recently developed measure called latent liquidity, which is defined as the weighted average turnover of funds holding the bond, where the weights are their fractional holdings of the bond. We find that bonds with higher latent liquidity are more expensive relative to their CDS contracts, after controlling for other realized measures of liquidity. However highly illiquid bonds with high default risk are also expensive, consistent with limits to arbitrage between CDS and bond markets, due to the higher costs of "shorting" illiquid bonds.

Additionally, we document the positive effects of liquidity in the CDS market on the CDS-bond basis. We also find that several firm-level variables related to credit risk affect the basis, indicating that the CDS price does not fully capture the credit risk of the bond.

Download paper (451K PDF) 49 pages

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