What are they?
The exchange of debt from one currency to another
2 companies agree to exchange payments on different terms (eg different currency)
Low transaction costs
Spread debt across different currencies
How to use them
Currency swaps are better for managing risk over a longer term (than currency futures or currency options)
A currency swap is an interest rate swap (between 2 companies) where the loans are in different currencies.
It begins with an exchange of principal, although this may be a notional exchange rather than a physical exchange.
During the life of the swap agreement, the companies pay each others’ foreign currency interest payments. At the end of the swap, the initial exchange of principal is reversed.
Consider a US company X with a subsidiary Y in France which owns vineyards. Assume a spot rate of $1 = €0.7062. Suppose the parent company X wishes to raise a loan of €1.6 million for the purpose of buying another French wine company.
At the same time, the French subsidiary Y wishes to raise $1 million to pay for new up-to-date capital equipment imported from the US.
The US parent company X could borrow the $1 million and the French subsidiary Y could borrow the € 1.6 million, each effectively borrowing on the other's behalf. They would then swap currencies.