A yield curve, also known as term structure of interest rates, represents the relationship between market remuneration (interest) rates and the remaining time to maturity of debt securities. The information content of a yield curve reflects the asset pricing process on financial markets. When buying and selling bonds, investors include their expectations of future inflation, real interest rates and their assessment of risks. An investor calculates the price of a bond by discounting the expected future cash flows (coupon payments and/or redemption). ECB estimates zero-coupon yield curves for the euro area and also derives forward and par yield curves. A zero coupon bond is a bond that pays no cupon and is sold at a discount from its face value. The zero coupon curve represents the yield to maturity of hypothetical zero coupon bonds, since they are not directly observable in the market for a wide range of maturities. They must therfore be estimatedfrom existing zero coupon bonds and fixed coupon bond prices or yields. The forward curve shows the short-term (instantaneous) interest rate for future periods implied in the yield curve. The par yield reflects hypothetical yields, namely the interest rates the bonds would have yielded had they been priced at par (i.e. at 100).
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