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Commercial Paper



 

Commercial paper is a money-market security issued by large banks and corporations. It is generally not used to finance long-term investments but rather to purchase inventory or to manage working capital. It is commonly bought by money funds (the issuing amounts are often too high for individual investors), and is generally regarded as a very safe investment. As a relatively low-risk investment, commercial paper returns are not large. There are four basic kinds of commercial paper: promissory notes, drafts, checks, and certificates of deposit.

Because commercial paper maturities do not exceed 270 days and proceeds typically are used only for current transactions, the notes are exempt from registration as securities with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission.

Commercial paper is defined in Canada as having a maturity of not more than one year and is exempt from dealer registration and prospectus requirements.[1]

Commercial paper essentially can be compared as an alternative to lines of credit with a bank. Once a business becomes large enough, and maintains a high enough credit rating, then using commercial paper is always cheaper than using a bank line of credit. Nevertheless, many companies still maintain bank lines of credit to act as a "backup" to the commercial paper. In this situation, banks often charge fees for the amount of the line of the credit that does not have a balance. While these fees may seem like pure profit for banks, if the company ever actually needs to use the line of credit it would likely be in serious trouble and have difficulty repaying its liabilities.

Currently, more than 1,700 companies in the United States issue commercial paper. Financial companies comprise the largest group of commercial paper issuers, accounting for nearly 75 percent of the commercial paper outstanding at mid-year 1990. Financial-company paper is issued by firms in commercial, savings and mortgage banking; sales, personal and mortgage financing; factoring; finance leasing and other business lending; insurance underwriting; and other investment activities. The remaining commercial paper outstanding at mid-year 1990 -- over 25 percent -- was issued by nonfinancial firms such as manufacturers, public utilities, industrial concerns and service industries.

Commercial paper was invented by Percy "Max" Hall, Vice President of Manufacturers Hanover Trust Bank, in the 1920's.

Issuing commercial paper

There are two methods of issuing paper. The issuer can market the securities directly to a buy and hold investor such as most money funds. Alternatively, it can sell the paper to a dealer, who then sells the paper in the market. The dealer market for commercial paper involves large securities firms and subsidiaries of bank holding companies. Most of these firms also are dealers in US Treasury securities. Direct issuers of commercial paper usually are financial companies that have frequent and sizable borrowing needs and find it more economical to sell paper without the use of an intermediary. In the United States, direct issuers save a dealer fee of approximately 5 basis points, or 0.05% annualized, which translates to $50,000 on every $100 million outstanding. This saving compensates for the cost of maintaining a permanent sales staff to market the paper. Dealer fees tend to be lower outside the United States.

Notes and References

  1. Ontario Securities Commission National Instrument 45-106 (Section 2.35) Accessed 2007-01-30

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