What Is Commercial Paper?

What Is Commercial Paper?

By Charles Joseph | Editor, Financial Affairs
Reviewed by Corey Michael | Senior Financial Analyst

Commercial paper is a short-term, unsecured debt instrument issued by corporations to cover immediate financial needs. Essentially, commercial paper is a promissory note backed by the financial health of the issuing company. It is generally issued at a discount, reflecting current market interest rates.

Commercial paper is not backed by any form of collateral, which makes it a form of unsecured debt. Its term typically ranges from a few days up to 270 days, the maximum allowed by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Because of its short-term nature, it offers lower returns compared to long-term debt.

Corporations typically use the funds from commercial paper for the operations of the business, such as inventory and payroll. Due to the risks associated with commercial paper, only firms with high-quality debt ratings issue this type of instrument.

Related Questions

1. What are the advantages of commercial paper?

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Commercial paper offers several benefits including lower borrowing costs for the company, off-balance-sheet financing, and no need for collateral. It also provides investors with a way to diversify their portfolios and earn returns on short-term investments.

2. What are the risks of investing in commercial paper?

The main risks involve the creditworthiness of the issuing company. If the company faces financial trouble, the investor stands the risk of losing their investment. Additionally, commercial paper is sensitive to changes in interest rates.

3. How is commercial paper different from a bond?

While both are forms of debt instruments, commercial paper is a short-term investment typically less than 270 days while bonds are long-term with maturities extending several years or even decades. Also, commercial paper offer lower returns compared to bonds.

4. Can individuals invest in commercial paper?

Yes, individuals can invest in commercial paper, although it’s more commonly held by money market funds and other institutional investors due to the typically large denominations in which it is issued.

5. What happens if commercial paper cannot be paid by the issuing company?

If a company is unable to repay commercial paper at maturity, it may result in a default. This could harm the company’s reputation in the credit market, making it harder to obtain financing in the future, and investors may lose a portion or all of their investment.