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What Is a Z-Spread?

By Carrieanne Larmore
Updated May 16, 2024
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A z-spread, or zero-volatility spread, is the spread where the security’s discounted cash flows equal its present value on a spot yield curve. Its primary purpose for investors or traders is to measure the spread that can be captured over the yield curve if the security is held until maturity. It is a useful tool for analyzing a non-treasury security, as it measures its credit, liquidity and option risks. Z-spreads can also be used as an economic indicator, where a negative z-spread often indicates a recession is on its way. Calculating the z-spread requires trial and error to find the correct spread, using basis points so that the present value of cash flows and the bond’s price are the same.

Calculating the z-spread begins with adding basis points to each rate on the spot curve. For example, if the two-year rate on the spot curve is 4% with 50 basis points to be added, the rate would be 4.50%. An analyst can use this rate to calculate the present value of each cash flow and then add all of the cash flows together. The grand total of the cash flows should equal the security's price. If these two numbers do not match, recalculations will need to be made using different spreads, or basis points, until the present value of the cash flows is the same as the bond’s price.

Advantages of a z-spread include its ability to be independent of other points on the yield curve. Unlike the nominal spread, the z-spread is not dependent on only one point of the yield curve, which allows it to be trusted by investors or traders. While z-spreads are most commonly used by investors and traders, it is sometimes used as an indicator of the health of the economy. For example, a negative z-spread can point to a looming recession.

Measuring the z-spread is not limited to any one spot rate curve, so calculations should clearly indicate which spot rate curve was used. For instance, a z-spread can use the security issuer’s benchmark spot rate curve to measure liquidity and option risk of this particular instrument. Short-term and high-rated debt will have little or no difference between the z-spread and its asset-swap spread. If there is a difference between these two spreads for this type of debt, then it can be safe to assume that the market has not priced this security accurately and adjustments will be seen shortly.

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Discussion Comments
By anon353978 — On Nov 04, 2013

Where can we find numerical examples of calculation of z-spread? How do you calculates the z-spread of a bond?

By anon271439 — On May 26, 2012

Just for your information: no trial and error needed.

1) Price the bond using the yield curve without a spread.

2) Calculate the implied YTM for the price calculated in number one.

3) Calculate the YTM that gives the market price.

4) The difference between the two YTMs is the Z spread

Credit must be given to my Professor Nabil Tahani.

By John57 — On Dec 06, 2011

My uncle is a trader and when he talks about what he does at work, many things are way over my head.

Are there software programs that help them figure out the yield curves, percentages and basis points? I think trying to manually trying to figure all of that out would take a long time and be extremely confusing.

Trading is usually a pretty fast paced world, and I think there would be all kinds of chart programs to help them with this information.

If a negative z-spread is the sign of a struggling economy, I would be curious to know whether we currently have a positive or negative z-spread.

With the economy being hit so hard lately, I can't imagine that there would be much of a positive z-spread right now.

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