If you think currency and exchange rates are something only bankers have to be concerned with, think again. Many business are exposed to currency risk, whether they realise it or not. With the recent wild swings in global currencies, exchange-rate risk is back on the agenda for companies with customers, suppliers or production in other countries.
With the spread of coronavirus, March and April brought dramatic fluctuations in currency rates. Strict regulations to contain the outbreak put the brakes on the global economy, triggering a matching fall in oil prices and stock markets. The market is seeking safe havens, moving towards Japanese Yen, US Dollar and Swiss Franc. Smaller currencies and commodity currencies have suffered, including NOK, SEK, AUD, NZD and emerging market currencies, though some of the fall in value has reversed since April.
The key learning is that if you run a business that earns revenues abroad or has costs in other countries, you most likely have exposure to currency risk. Events outside of your control could eat away at your revenues and increase your costs.
So how big is the problem managing currency risks?
In a survey of 200 chief financial officers and nearly 300 treasurers conducted by HSBC and FT Remark, 70% of CFOs said that their company suffered reduced earnings in the prior two years due to avoidable, unhedged FX risk; 58% of CFOs in larger businesses said that FX risk management is one of the two risks that currently occupy the largest proportion of their time; and 51% said that FX is the risk that their organisation is least well-equipped to deal with.
On the flip side, managing your currency risks can bring your business benefits:
- Protection for your cash flow and profit margins
- Improved financial forecasting & budgeting
- Better understanding of how fluctuations in currencies affect your balance sheet
- Increased borrowing capacity
When currency exchange rates fluctuate, businesses rush to prevent potential losses. What currency risks should they hedge and how?
5 steps to manage your business’s currency risk
Understanding where and how currency fluctuations affect a company’s cash flow is not straightforward. Many different factors, from macroeconomic trends to competitive behaviour within market segments, determine how currency rates affect cash flows in a given business.
Review your operating cycle
Review your business operating cycle to learn where FX risk exists. This will help you determine your profit margin’s sensitivity to currency fluctuations.
Measure and manage your exposure to currency risk
This should include the risk exposure before a deal, purchase or transaction is agreed upon and the actual risk that exists after a completed transaction. When you have a sense of pre- and post-transaction risk, you will be able to decide on your needed level of hedging.
Transaction risks are the simplest currency risk to measure and manage. These occur because of timing differences between a contractual commitment and actual cash flows. For example, if a business manufactures a product in China and sells it in Denmark for a price set in Danish krona and the payment terms allow the buyer to pay days or weeks later, the business’s cash flow will be exposed to currency fluctuations while it waits for settlement. Transaction risks can be hedged with financial instruments, including currency futures, swaps, or options.
Hedge your currency risk
Hedging means that you use financial instruments, such as currency or FX forwards, to lock in the currency rate so that it remains the same over a specified period of time.
Create an FX policy and stick to it
An effective FX policy begins with a clear corporate strategy and clarity on corporate objectives. The policy should identify key metrics – be it cash flow, EBITDA, asset values, debt- and interest-coverage ratios. In addition, the policy should include some form of measurement of your company’s risk tolerance. That risk tolerance could be expressed as a target default probability, cash flow at risk, or simply a target coverage ratio or credit rating.
Accept that you have unique currency flows
Every business is unique and that is reflected in your currency flows, but also in the structure of your assets and liabilities. It is key to understand that currency fluctuations may have an impact and the decision to hedge or not is not as simple as a roll of the dice. For a business that relies on foreign manufactures or suppliers, Nordea Markets has developed a specific service: Learn more about Exchange at home.
Doing business in China?
If you’re dealing with China, read this article where Nordea’s chief Asia analyst, Amy Yuan Zhuang, shares her view on the opportunities and not least challenges of doing business in China.
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