Credit Default Swap Index

Updated on January 5, 2024
Article byKhalid Ahmed
Edited byAlfina
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

What Is Credit Default Swap Index (CDX)?

The Credit Default Swap Index (CDX) is a benchmark representing a diversified collection of credit default swaps (CDSs). It assesses the creditworthiness of a particular market or sector, allowing investors to hedge against default risks through a band of underlying assets.

Credit Default Swap Index

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It facilitates transparent and standardized credit risk trading. Investors use it to take positions on a sector or market worthiness. It also provides a benchmark for evaluating and pricing credit default swaps. Investors also deploy CDXs to be exposed to particular markets or sectors without trading individual credit default swaps. It indicates investor sentiment and credit market cognitions.

Key Takeaways

  • The Credit Default Swap Index (CDX) is a benchmark representing a diverse group of credit default swaps (CDSs). 
  • It evaluates the creditworthiness of a specific market or sector and enables investors to protect themselves against the risk of default by utilizing a range of underlying assets.
  • It offers investment grade, high yield, and emerging markets credit default swaps, exposing investors to diverse sectors and credit risk profiles.
  • Its benefits include diversification, risk management and hedging, liquidity and market efficiency, market insights, and accessibility.

Credit Default Swap Index Explained

Credit Default Swap Index is a credit derivative monitoring a basket of CDSs designed as contracts to protect investors from default risk on debt obligations or specific bonds. Unlike single CDSs, these CDXs get exchange-traded and give greater liquidity, making them a favorite amongst investors. The investment bank Markit Group & Dow Jones Indexes were the pioneers who first introduced the CDX index in 2002.

It works by first making a CDX index from a collection of 125 corporate bonds. These bonds are high-yield or investment grade. After that, the index’s performance gets monitored through observation of prices of CDSs linked to these underlying bonds. As CDS prices rise, it suggests that the corresponding bonds are at higher risk of default, making the price of the CDX index decline. Conversely, if the CDS prices fall, the linked bind has decreased default risk, leading to the price of the CDX index rise.

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It has various implications, such as:

  • Credit risk hedging: It comes as a savior to investors when a default risk arises in their debt obligations or bonds portfolio.
  • Credit quality speculation: It enables investors to speculate on whether the credit quality of bond baskets or specific bonds will deteriorate or improve.
  • Credit risk measurement: Investors can tell the amount of credit risk concerning bond portfolios or specific bonds.

A substantial imprint has been left on the financial world by CDX. CDXs have democratized credit risk hedging. As a result, borrowing costs for governments and corporations have become lower. It has also pumped liquidity into credit markets. Therefore, using it, investors can forecast credit policy readily. Its importance can be gauged from its significant role during the 2008 financial crisis.


Credit Default Swap Index (CDX) is available in various forms suited to various market sectors and credit risk profiles. Below listed are some of them:

  1. CDX Investment Grade: It centers around investment-grade credit default swaps denoting lower credit risk. Investors get exposure to various sectors and industries, offering diversified portfolios of credit default swaps.
  2. CDX High Yield: It brings riskier credits and potentially higher returns into the ambit of investors. It is primarily focused on non-investment-grade or high-yield credit default swaps.
  3. CDX Emerging Markets: It comprises credit default swaps prevalent in emerging or developing nations. Hence, investors can easily access these CDX of developing nations.


Let us use a few examples to understand the topic.

Example #1

Suppose Investor A aims to mitigate default risk in a high-yield bond portfolio featuring securities from Company ABC, a stock exchange-listed firm. To achieve this, investor A acquires a Credit Default Swap Index (CDX), mirroring a diversified range of high-yield bonds. It rather effectively serves as insurance against potential bond defaults. If any bond within his portfolio, like stock XYZ from Company ABC, faces default, the CDX steps in, minimizing his potential losses.

Hence, such a strategic decision ensures that Investor A can safeguard his assets and minimize financial setbacks in case credit events affect his bond holdings.

Example #2

In the United States, the credit default swaps (CDS) world has recently experienced a surge in activity and speculation. These financial instruments act like insurance policies, particularly against the risk of the government being unable to meet its debt obligations. The one-year CDS linked to the US government, which gauges the likelihood of government debt defaulting, spiked significantly in May, hitting an all-time high of 175 basis points.

While it has since slightly decreased to 160 basis points, it still reflects heightened investor apprehension regarding ongoing government debt negotiations. CDS instruments are attractive because they offer the potential for quick profits with relatively low costs. The appeal has been further enhanced because the value of bonds utilized in the event of a default-triggered settlement auction has markedly declined over the past year. As a result, CDS became even more enticing to investors.

However, it is crucial to note that despite these elevated numbers, the actual risk of a government default is lower than it may appear solely from these figures. There is approximately a 3-4% likelihood that the US government may encounter difficulties in meeting its debt obligations, as indicated by CDS spreads. This probability is notably lower than the 6-7% observed during a similar situation in 2011. Individuals purchasing insurance at present rates would anticipate substantial payouts in the event of a default.

Conversely, those who have sold this insurance would incur losses as they initially paid a premium to undertake this responsibility. Hedge funds, which are investment groups, have become the primary purchasers of this insurance, displacing traditional bond trading companies.


CDXs offer many benefits to investors to protect and increase their returns. Some of the benefits are listed below:

  • Diversification: It provides exposure to a diversified collection of CDSs. So, the impact of individual credit events plus risk spread across different issuers and industries gets reduced.
  • Risk Management and Hedging: It is a potent tool for investors to hedge against credit risk, giving protection against imminent defaults. Moreover, it also offers to aid risk management and a standardized way to trade credit risk.
  • Liquidity and Market Efficiency: In financial markets, it becomes a medium of efficient price discovery and liquidity. As a result, investors can easily enter and exit from the trading in the market.
  • Market Insights: Since it is a benchmark of investor’s sentiment and market conditions, it gives deep insights into market expectations and creditworthiness.
  • Accessibility: All types of investors, like individuals, individuals, and institutional investors, have easy access to these instruments. Hence, they can be exposed to credit risk without any trading of individual credit default swaps. Investors closely monitor the U.S. credit default swap index chart, particularly the high-yield credit default swap index. Many seek exposure to these indices through a credit default swap index ETF to manage credit risk and gain insights into market conditions.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What are credit default swap indexes by country?

Credit Default Swap (CDS) indices are essential for evaluating credit risk across different countries. Notable instances include the CDX in the United States, iTraxx in Europe, and JACI in Japan, all uniquely representing the credit markets within their respective regions.

2. Who invented the credit default swap index?

In the early 1990s, the financial industry pioneered the concept of credit default swaps (CDS). Prominent financial institutions, such as J.P. Morgan, played pivotal roles in innovating and popularizing CDS contracts, although attributing their invention to a single individual remains challenging.

3. What are the risks associated with CDS index trading?

CDS index trading carries inherent risks, encompassing counterparty, market, and liquidity risk factors. Furthermore, buyers of CDS contracts may face potential losses in the form of premium payments if a credit event fails to materialize. It is imperative to understand these risks comprehensively before venturing into CDS index trading.

This article has been a guide to what is Credit Default Swap Index. Here, we explain the topic in detail including its examples, types, and benefits. You may also find some useful articles here –

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