Duration-Neutral Spread Basis Trading Strategies

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Written By
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Written By
Dan Buckley
Dan Buckley is an US-based trader, consultant, and part-time writer with a background in macroeconomics and mathematical finance. He trades and writes about a variety of asset classes, including equities, fixed income, commodities, currencies, and interest rates. As a writer, his goal is to explain trading and finance concepts in levels of detail that could appeal to a range of audiences, from novice traders to those with more experienced backgrounds.

Duration-neutral spread basis (DNSB) refers to a trading strategy or approach that tries to construct a portfolio or set of positions that are uncorrelated or neutral to the broader market movements, specifically to changes in interest rates or duration risk.

The goal is to systematically eliminate or minimize exposure to the overall market risk while capturing idiosyncratic or relative value opportunities between different securities or instruments.

Fundamentally, the portfolio should return favorably no matter the direction of interest or direction of broader asset class movements.


Key Takeaways – Duration-Neutral Spread Basis

  • Duration-Neutral
    • Duration – Measures a bond or asset’s sensitivity to interest rate changes. A longer duration means the asset’s price will fluctuate more significantly with interest rate movements.
    • Neutral – “Neutral” means the portfolio’s overall sensitivity to interest rates is minimized. The goal is to have asset with opposite duration characteristics (long/short trade structure) that offset each other.
  • Spread Basis
    • Spread – Refers to the difference in yield or returns between two similar securities.
    • Basis – Difference between the yield of a bond and a benchmark interest rate, or the difference in yield between two specific bonds.
  • A duration-neutral spread basis strategy tries to achieve two key goals:
    • Minimize Interest Rate Risk – By carefully selecting bonds or positions with opposing durations, the portfolio’s overall sensitivity to interest rate changes is reduced. This is the “duration-neutral” part.
    • Profit from Spreads – The strategy focuses on exploiting differences in yields or directional moves between trades. For example:
      • Buying bonds with higher yields compared to similar bonds or a benchmark.
      • Shorting bonds with lower yields compared to similar bonds or a benchmark.
  • Systematically tries to guarantee no correlations to the broader market.
  • Restructures the balancing of portfolio positions to produce greater diversification.


Duration-Neutral Spread Basis

Here’s how it typically works:


The portfolio is constructed to have an overall duration close to zero, meaning it’s insensitive to parallel shifts in the yield curve or changes in interest rates.

This is achieved by taking offsetting long/short positions in various securities with different durations – effectively canceling out the interest rate risk.

Spread basis

The strategy focuses on exploiting pricing inefficiencies or relative value opportunities between different securities or sectors within the same asset class, such as corporate bonds, mortgage-backed securities, or interest rate swaps.

These relative value trades are based on the perceived mispricing of the “spread” or yield differential between the securities.

No correlation to broader market

By neutralizing the duration exposure and focusing on relative value trades, the portfolio’s performance should ideally have little to no correlation with the broader market movements.

This is achieved by carefully balancing the long and short positions to isolate the idiosyncratic risks and opportunities.

Greater diversification

The strategy aims to restructure and balance the portfolio positions in a way that diversifies the sources of risk and return.

Instead of being exposed to systematic market risk, the portfolio’s returns are driven by the specific relative value opportunities identified across different securities or sectors.

Who Uses Duration-Neutral Spread Basis Strategies?

The duration-neutral spread basis approach is typically employed by fixed-income hedge funds, proprietary trading desks, global macro hedge funds, market-neutral funds, or other sophisticated traders/investors seeking to generate returns that are uncorrelated with traditional market factors.

It involves actively managing and adjusting the portfolio positions to maintain the desired risk profile and capture relative value opportunities while minimizing broader market exposures.


The Strategic Importance of DNSB


By avoiding correlation with the broader market through duration-neutral positioning, the DNSB approach contributes to a portfolio’s diversification.

It allows the portfolio to tap into return streams that are independent of general market movements, thereby spreading risk more effectively.

Risk Management

DNSB is fundamentally a risk management strategy. It systematically addresses two of the most significant risks in fixed income investing:

  • interest rate risk and
  • credit risk

By neutralizing the impact of interest rate movements and carefully managing spread components, it tries to stabilize portfolio returns across different environments (e.g., no matter how growth or inflation perform relative to expectation).


Example Portfolio Allocation: Duration-Neutral Spread Basis under a Risk Parity Framework

In a risk parity framework that uses a duration-neutral spread basis (DNSB) strategy, the goal is to allocate risk equally across different asset classes while specifically managing duration to neutralize interest rate risk and actively adjusting for credit spread opportunities.

This strategy typically involves both long and short positions in various fixed income securities to achieve the desired risk balance and yield enhancement.

The portfolio is constructed to be neutral to overall market duration movements while seeking to exploit differences in credit spreads between issuers, maturities, or sectors.

Below we focus on fixed-income and interest rates because these asset classes are most applicable to traditional duration-neutral strategies

Asset Selection and Strategy Implementation:

Government Bonds (Long Position)

  • Objective – To provide a stable, low-risk base with predictable returns, serving as the portfolio’s backbone. These are selected for their high credit quality and lower interest rate risk.
  • Allocation – 25% of risk capital allocated to long positions in 1- to 5-year US Treasury Bonds. Can be nominal or inflation-linked bonds or both.
  • Duration Management – Selected to closely match the portfolio’s target duration. Provides a foundation for duration neutrality.

Corporate Bonds (Long and Short Positions)

  • Objective – To exploit credit spread differentials between sectors and credit ratings.
  • Long Position Allocation – 20% of risk capital allocated to high-yield corporate bonds in sectors expected to outperform.
  • Short Position Allocation – 15% of risk capital shorting corporate bonds in sectors with expected underperformance or higher credit risk.
  • Duration Matching – Making sure the combined duration of long and short positions is aligned with the overall portfolio’s duration target.

Credit Derivatives (CDX – Credit Default Swaps Index) (Long and Short Positions)

  • Objective – To hedge credit risk and exploit perceived mispricings in credit markets without significantly altering the portfolio’s duration profile.
  • Long Position Allocation – 10% of risk capital in buying CDX indices that cover sectors or companies with strengthening credit fundamentals.
  • Short Position Allocation – 10% of risk capital in selling CDX indices covering sectors or companies with weakening credit fundamentals.
  • Risk Management – Positions sized according to the volatility and risk of the underlying credit assets.

Interest Rate Derivatives (Swaps and Futures) (Long and Short Positions)

  • Objective – To fine-tune the portfolio’s duration exposure and maintain neutrality in the face of interest rate movements.
  • Allocation – Using swaps and futures to dynamically adjust the portfolio’s duration. The allocation is variable and adjusted periodically based on the current interest rate outlook and portfolio duration needs.
  • Risk Control – Positions are calibrated to ensure the portfolio’s overall duration remains neutral relative to the interest rate movements.

Mortgage-Backed Securities (MBS) (Long Position)

  • Objective – To diversify sources of yield and spread risk (benefiting from the securitization premium).
  • Allocation – 20% of risk capital allocated to agency MBS with a focus on securities with stable prepayment speeds and favorable yield characteristics.
  • Duration Consideration – Selected based on their contribution to the portfolio’s target duration and their yield enhancement potential relative to similar duration Treasuries.


This example portfolio shows how a diversified mix of long and short positions across different fixed-income securities and derivatives can be used to manage duration, exploit credit spread differentials, and maintain a balanced risk profile.

The strategy’s success hinges on sophisticated risk management practices, including continuous monitoring of interest rate movements, credit conditions, and the economic environment to adjust the portfolio’s composition as necessary.


Equity-Based Trades

Pairs Trading with Industry Focus

Take a sector like technology. 

You might identify two similar tech companies with slightly diverging valuations.

Go long on the undervalued company relative to its industry peer.

Simultaneously short the overvalued company relative to its peer.

The bet is that the spread between the company valuations will narrow over time, regardless of overall sector movement.

Quality vs. Leverage

One trade that some spread traders like to leave on is “quality” vs. “leverage.”

The belief is that during less favorable markets, the quality companies will outperform the highly leveraged companies in relative terms.

This can provide a negative correlation to the traditional “risk on” parts of their portfolio – e.g., being long stocks, corporate credit, private equity, venture, etc.

Defensive vs. Cyclical

To bring more stability to a portfolio or have another return stream that’s negatively correlated to risk assets, a strategy might want to go long defensive sectors (e.g., utilities, consumer staples) and short cyclical sectors like consumer discretionary.

Index Basket vs. Futures

Analyze the components of an index (like the S&P 500).

If the index futures contract is trading at a premium to the fair value of the underlying basket of stocks, short the index futures and buy the corresponding basket of stocks.

The expectation is the spread between the index future and the underlying stocks will converge.


Foreign Exchange (FX) Trades

Interest Rate Parity Deviations

Covered interest rate parity establishes a theoretical relationship between spot FX, forward FX, and interest rates between countries.

If you find temporary mispricings violating that relationship, you could construct a trade with multiple instruments (spot, forwards, bonds) to lock in an arbitrage profit if the markets realign.


Here’s an example of an interest rate parity deviation trade:

  • Suppose the 1-year interest rate is 2% in the U.S. and 4% in the UK.
  • According to covered interest rate parity, the 1-year forward exchange rate between USD and GBP should be:

Forward Rate = Spot Rate * (1 + Foreign Interest Rate) / (1 + Domestic Interest Rate)

Let’s say the spot USD/GBP rate is 1.30 and the 1-year forward rate is quoted at 1.33.

Plugging in the numbers:

Forward Rate = 1.30 * (1 + 0.04) / (1 + 0.02) = 1.325

However, the quoted 1-year forward rate of 1.33 violates covered interest rate parity.

To exploit this mispricing, a trader could:

  1. Borrow $1 million at 2% for 1 year
  2. Convert the $1 million to £769,231 at the spot rate of 1.30
  3. Invest the £769,231 at 4% for 1 year in the U.K., earning £800,000
  4. Enter into a 1-year forward contract to sell £800,000 at the overpriced 1.33 forward rate for $1,064,000 (£800,000 * 1.33)
  5. At maturity, repay the $1,020,000 loan principal and interest

The arbitrage profit is:

$1,064,000 received – $1,020,000 repayment = $44,000 riskless profit

This multi-step trade using spot FX, forwards, and bonds in two countries locks in a profit by exploiting the temporary deviation from the covered interest rate parity relationship.

Cross-Currency Basis Swaps

Basis swaps let you exchange floating interest payments in different currencies.

If you find a mispricing in those swaps, you might initiate a trade where the interest rate risk of the two currencies offsets.

This leaves you to profit from the spread component as it corrects.


Here’s a simple example trade involving cross-currency basis swaps:

Suppose a trader notices a mispricing in the 5-year USD/EUR cross-currency basis swap market.


  • The 5-year USD swap rate is 3%
  • The 5-year EUR swap rate is 2%
  • However, the 5-year USD/EUR basis swap is quoted at -25 bps (i.e., instead of the -100 bps fair value given the swap rate difference)

To exploit this, the trader could enter into the following transactions:

  1. Receive USD floating rate (3% – 25bps = 2.75%)
  2. Pay EUR floating rate (2%)
  3. Simultaneously, pay fixed USD (3%)
  4. Receive fixed EUR (2%)

Essentially, the trader is receiving the 5-year USD swap rate of 3% by paying the 5-year EUR swap rate of 2%, while also paying the mispriced 25 bps cross-currency basis.

If the -25 bps basis reverts to fair value of -100 bps, the trader will profit from the 75 bps spread over the 5-year period while having minimal interest rate risk (since the fixed/floating rates offset).

So the trader is isolating and benefiting from the expected correction in just the cross-currency basis mispricing component, without taking significant directional interest rate risk in either currency.


Portfolio Risk Management

Regular Rebalancing

The portfolio undergoes periodic rebalancing to make sure that risk levels across different assets remain consistent with the risk parity objective and that duration neutrality is maintained.

Leverage & Hedging

Appropriate leverage may be employed (judiciously) to enhance returns on low-risk positions (i.e., make them capital with higher-risk positions), while derivatives are used for hedging duration and credit risks.


Besides focusing on duration and spread, the portfolio diversifies across issuers, sectors, currencies, and geographies to further spread risk and enhance return potential.




Implementing and managing a portfolio like this requires a high level of fixed-income expertise (and perhaps other forms of expertise depending on what you’re doing) and sophisticated risk modeling.

Potential for Mispricing

Credit spread opportunities can be fleeting and difficult to identify consistently.

It’s important to have a process for analyzing relative values in the credit market.


Some of the assets mentioned, especially specific credit derivatives or less liquid corporate bonds, can carry liquidity risk.

This makes it harder to adjust positions quickly if needed.

Transaction Costs

Frequent rebalancing and the use of derivatives can increase trading costs, which need to be factored into the overall strategy performance.


Overall Goal

The objective of a duration-neutral spread basis strategy is to generate returns based on the specific yield spreads between bonds, while minimizing the impact of broader interest rate movements on the portfolio’s value.


Additional Points

  • This strategy requires a high level of understanding of fixed-income instruments and the ability to analyze complex relationships between bonds.
  • It’s not a guaranteed way to make money, and other market risks can still impact the portfolio.
  • This strategy is typically employed by professional money managers for institutional investors.



  • Potentially reduces risk from interest rate fluctuations.
  • Can generate returns, ideally, irrespective of broader market movements – e.g., the direction of stocks or bonds, the direction of interest rates.



  • Requires specific expertise and ongoing management.
  • May not outperform the market in all conditions.
  • Can be complex to implement and monitor.



Duration-neutral spread basis (DNSB) is a strategy primarily used with fixed-income investments (though it can refer and apply to a broader portfolio).

It’s designed to achieve a balance or neutrality in the portfolio’s duration while actively managing the spread component, which represents the difference in yield/returns between two financial instruments (or two different parts of a portfolio).

By focusing on the spread basis while maintaining duration neutrality, this approach tries to guarantee no correlations to the broader market.

This is achieved through a restructuring of financial market positions to enhance diversification to reduce specific risks associated with market-wide fluctuations.