What’S The Difference Between A Credit Default Swap And A Mortgage-Backed Security?


A credit default swap (CDS) and a mortgage-backed security (MBS) are both financial instruments used in the realm of investments, but they serve distinct purposes in the market. A CDS is essentially a contract between two parties where one party agrees to compensate the other if a particular credit instrument (such as a bond or loan) goes into default. On the other hand, an MBS is a type of security that is backed by a pool of mortgages, providing investors with a claim to the cash flows from the underlying mortgages.

Differences in Risk Exposure

One key disparity between a CDS and an MBS lies in the type of risk exposure they offer to investors. With a CDS, investors are primarily exposed to credit risk, specifically the risk that a borrower will default on their loan obligations. This means that the value of the CDS is closely tied to the creditworthiness of the underlying borrower. On the contrary, MBS investments expose investors to prepayment risk and interest rate risk. Prepayment risk arises from the possibility that homeowners will pay off their mortgages early, impacting the investment returns. Interest rate risk, on the other hand, stems from fluctuations in interest rates affecting the performance of the underlying mortgages, thereby impacting the cash flows to MBS investors.

Structural Variances

Another differentiating factor is the underlying structure of these financial products. A CDS is a form of derivative instrument where the value is derived from the creditworthiness of the referenced entity. It allows investors to hedge against the risk of default without owning the underlying credit instrument. In contrast, an MBS represents a more complex structure, as it involves the securitization of a pool of individual mortgages into a tradable security. The cash flows from the underlying mortgages are pooled and redistributed to investors holding different tranches of the MBS, each with its own risk and return profile.

Legal and Regulatory Framework

Furthermore, the legal and regulatory framework surrounding CDS and MBS differ significantly. CDS contracts are typically bilateral agreements between two parties, often traded over-the-counter, with varying degrees of standardization. The lack of standardized contracts in the CDS market can lead to discrepancies in the terms and conditions between different agreements. Conversely, MBS are subject to stringent regulatory requirements, especially following the global financial crisis of 2008. The crisis exposed weaknesses in the mortgage market and led to increased oversight and transparency in the securitization process. Government-sponsored entities such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac play key roles in the MBS market, providing a level of implicit guarantee against default.

Market Liquidity and Pricing

Market liquidity and pricing mechanisms also distinguish CDS from MBS. CDS contracts can be more liquid and offer greater flexibility in terms of trading and hedging strategies. The ability to trade CDS contracts on an over-the-counter basis allows investors to customize their exposure to credit risk and manage their portfolios more dynamically. On the other hand, MBS may exhibit lower liquidity due to the complexity of the underlying mortgage pools and the impact of market conditions on mortgage prepayments and defaults. Pricing MBS can be challenging due to the intricacies of valuing the underlying mortgages and assessing the risks associated with different tranches of the security.

Franck Saebring

A family man and writer, Franck is passionate about anything tech and science-related.