Yield to Worst (YTW): Definition, Intuition, and Excel Calculation Examples

The “Yield to Worst” (YTW) of a bond is the worst-case possible annualized return an investor could earn if they buy the bond at today’s market price and hold it until either maturity or until the company “calls” it by repaying it early; it’s the minimum of the Yield to Call on each possible call date and the Yield to Maturity.

Yield to Worst Definition: The “Yield to Worst” (YTW) of a bond is the worst-case possible annualized return an investor could earn if they buy the bond at today’s market price and hold it until either maturity or until the company “calls” it by repaying it early; it’s the minimum of the Yield to Call on each possible call date and the Yield to Maturity.

The true “worst-case scenario” is that the company will default on its debt and not be able to pay interest or repay the debt principal on time; the YTW is the “worst-case scenario assuming interest and principal repayments still happen.

When a bond trades at or below par value, the Yield to Worst equals the Yield to Maturity.

In other words, the worst-case outcome for investors in this case is to hold the bond until it matures. If the company “calls it” by repaying the bond early, the investors will earn a higher annualized return.

When a bond trades at a premium to par value, the Yield to Worst is less than the Yield to Maturity.

In other words, if the investors pay a premium for a bond, they earn more if the company waits until the official maturity date to repay the bond rather than repaying it early.

This is because when investors pay a premium, that extra amount is “distributed” over a shorter time frame if the company repays the bond early, which hurts the average annualized returns.

The YTW helps investors evaluate the worst-case scenarios and target specific return ranges.

In real life, the Yield to Worst is a common method of pricing and comparing bonds.

Metrics such as the Yield to Call do not work as well for comparing different bonds because each bond has different call dates and penalty fees for early repayment on those dates.

But the YTW is a single metric that factors in every possible YTC and the YTM and, therefore, lets you easily compare many different bonds.

Files & Resources:

Bond Yields – Formulas and Examples (XL)

Yield to Call and Yield to Worst – Excel Examples (XL)

Yield to Worst (YTW): Simple Calculation and Excel Example

Suppose that a bond’s maturity date is June 15th, 2031, and it currently trades at a 5% discount to par value (market price of $950 vs. par value of $1000). It has a coupon rate of 5%.

The call premiums or penalty fees for early repayment range from 5.3% in the current year (2024) down to 0% in the final two years (2030 and 2031).

Additionally, the bond is callable – meaning the company can repay it early – on June 15th and December 15th of each year.

To calculate the Yield to Worst for this bond, you’d start by calculating the Yield to Call on each possible call date:

Yield to Call Calculations

The Yield to Call is based on the current market price of the bond, the “settlement date” (the purchase date), the coupon rate, the repayment date, and the percentage of the original principal that gets repaid, which reflects the penalty fee.

Once you have all these, you can calculate the Yield to Maturity using the same Excel function, but with a different repayment date and no penalty fee (i.e., the “Redemption Value” should be 100):

Yield to Maturity

Then, you can take the minimum of all the YTCs and the YTM to calculate the Yield to Worst.

Here’s the Excel output for this scenario:

Yield to Worst Calculation

The Relationship Between the Yield to Worst (YTW) and Bond Discounts and Premiums

Since this is a discount bond, the YTW equals the YTM. In other words, investors get the worst deal if the company waits until the official maturity to repay the bond.

For a premium bond, the YTW is less than the YTM because in this case, it’s worse for the investors if the company repays the bond early.

Here’s an example of the same scenario, but with a bond that trades at a 5% premium (market price of $1,050 vs. a par value of $1,000):

Yield to Worst for a Premium Bond

The YTW can never exceed the YTM; it’s always less than or equal to the YTM, depending on the bond’s price:

Discount Bond: YTW = YTM

Par Value Bond: YTW = YTM

Premium Bond: YTW < YTM

Why Does the Yield to Worst Matter in Real Life?

In investment banking groups such as Leveraged Finance and Debt Capital Markets, you often use the Yield to Worst as part of the Debt comps (i.e., an analysis of comparable Debt issuances from similar companies) when advising clients on possible refinancings.

For example, the YTW might give a client an approximate idea of what they might pay on a new bond issuance if they want to raise capital.

This YTW might represent the coupon rate on a new bond, but it could also represent the “overall yield” on the bond, which might include a possible original issue discount (OID) and call premium as well.

For example, even if the YTW is 8%, it doesn’t necessarily mean the company has to issue a new bond with an 8% coupon rate.

Instead, the company might be able to issue bonds at a 7.0% or 7.5% coupon rate and then offer investors a discount on the purchase that results in a yield closer to 8%.

The YTW is almost always included as a key field in these “Comparable Debt Issuances,” as shown below in a case study based on Netflix and its peer media/streaming companies, taken from our Advanced Financial Modeling course:

Yield to Worst in Debt Comparables

Yield to Worst Summary for Netflix Debt Comps

Current Yield vs. Yield to Maturity vs. Yield to Call vs. Yield to Worst

These yield metrics all measure the returns an investor can expect to receive on a bond, but they do it in different ways.

Current Yield: This tells you the percentage investors would earn on a bond if they bought it today and held it for a year, factoring in the market price and the coupon rate on the bond.

Yield to Maturity: This gives the annualized return investors earn if they buy a bond at its current market price and hold it until maturity, assuming the company makes all the required payments and the investor reinvests the interest payments at the same rate as the overall return.

Yield to Call: This is similar to the YTM, but investors hold the bond only until an earlier call date, not the maturity date, and also receive some type of penalty fee paid by the company in exchange for this early repayment.

Yield to Worst: This is the lowest annualized return an investor might receive from buying and holding a bond until either early repayment or maturity, i.e., it is the minimum of all the YTCs and the YTM.