Equity-Linked Notes (ELNs)

An Equity-Linked Note (ELN) is a debt instrument, usually a bond, where the payout is based on the underlying entity. The underlying equity of the ELN can be a collection of stocks, a single stock or an equity index. A typical ELN is usually principal-protected meaning that the investor is guaranteed the return of the initial investment, but as ELNs have become more exotic in nature, fewer ELNs are principal protected.

Generally, the final payment is the amount invested times the gain in the underlying stock or index times a note specific participation rate. For example, if the underlying equity gains 150% during the investment period and the participation rate is 50%, the investor would receive $2.25 for every dollar invested. If the equity remains unchanged or declines, the investor receives the full investment back. However, if the underlying equity defaults, the investor will receive only what is available after bankruptcy.

Investors should understand everything they can about the underlying equity because what may seem like a safe investment may fail. For example, in 2008 equity-linked notes tied to equity in Lehman Brothers failed. Many investors sued the broker-dealers for promising 100% principal protection and still losing money.