Don’t shoot the messenger

We are only a week or so past 30 June (a common balance date for many Hedgebook clients) and already we are fielding questions/comments regarding the big movements in the mark-to-market valuations of our clients’ portfolios. The questions have nothing to do with the accuracy of the valuations but mostly around, “why has this happened?” Many of the big movements relate to our clients that hedge their interest rate risk via interest rate swaps.

It is no surprise given the sharp downward movements we have seen in the New Zealand and Australian yield curves over the last few months (see charts). A 1% move on a 5 year $5 million swap will result in a $250,000 move in the mark-to-market. Depending on the size of your swap portfolio, and the tenor of the swaps, the moves can be material.

NZD swap movements

AUD swap movements

An interest rate swap is a valuable hedging tool which helps companies manage their interest rate risk. Many companies have treasury policies which force them to have a proportion of fixed and floating interest rate risk which helps with certainty of interest cost as well as smoothing sharp interest rate movements, both up and down. However, there is also a requirement to mark-to-market swaps, and for many to post these changes to their profit and loss account. Some companies negate this profit and loss volatility by hedge accounting, but many don’t which often requires some explanation to senior management, directors and investors.

For publicly listed companies the impact, both real and perceived, of large movements in financial instrument valuations is even more critical. The requirement for continuous disclosure means that a large move in these valuations may require the issue of a profit warning, as we have recently seen from Team Talk, the telecommunications company. Team Talk’s shares dropped 6.3% on the back of the hit taken by a revaluation of interest rate swaps. The company noted that the change in the value of the interest rate swap portfolio was due to “wholesale interest rates falling significantly in the period”.

Equally we have a number of private companies and local governments who have been concerned at the change in their valuations and how they are going to be explained further up the tree. Having constant visibility over these changes will at least forearm any difficult conversations, as opposed to relying on the bank’s month end valuations.

Whilst Hedgebook won’t help improve mark-to-market valuations, it does assist with companies keeping abreast of changes in the value of swap portfolios on any given day. This is pretty much a “must have” for publicly listed companies that have the responsibility of continuous disclosure but forewarned is forearmed and many others are also seeing the benefit of having access to mark-to-market valuations at any time.

Why use an interest rate swap and how does it work?

It seems like only yesterday that I started my treasury career at one of NZ’s leading treasury advisory consultants, alas it was closer to 15 years ago. “We advise clients on managing their fx and interest rate exposures”, they said. “We use derivatives such as interest rate swaps to hedge risk”, they said. “Eh?”, I thought!

The financial markets have a lot of jargon but one quickly learns that many of the underlying concepts are quite simple. It is easy to assume people in the finance industry have a more in depth understanding of financial products than they actually do. There are plenty of examples of people who are exposed to interest rate swaps but whose understanding is rudimentary. Examples are young auditors who are coming across financial instruments rarely, or the back office clerk who is settling cashflows. Quite frankly there are also plenty of senior people who one might reasonably expect to have a greater level of understanding of these financial products than they actually do, such as senior auditors and CFOs.

In this article I attempt to explain in simple terms the purpose of an interest rate swap and how it works.

Why use an interest rate swap? When I was first learning about IRSs it was explained to me that they were simply an exchange of cashflows, either fixed for floating or floating for fixed, to hedge interest rate risk. Might as well have been in French for all it meant to me at the time. So I will try and take a step back. To my mind the best way to understand an IRS is by way of an example and the easiest example is that of a borrower who wishes to fix his interest rate exposure. Many of us borrow money from the bank in the form of a mortgage for our home and we choose to lock in the certainty of the interest rate payments by way of fixing the interest rate for a few years. A pretty simple concept. The corporate borrower has a few more options available to them to achieve certainty over interest costs on borrowings. They could borrow on a fixed rate basis very much akin to our residential mortgages. Alternatively, the corporate borrower could borrow from the bank on a floating rate basis and then enter a pay fixed interest rate swap to lock in the interest rate. The outcome is the same, however, the advantage of the IRS is the flexibility it allows the borrower in regards to the term he or she can fix and the flexibility to restructure. In terms of tenor, it is common for a borrower to fix through the IRS market out to ten years or longer. It is much harder, and expensive, to get the bank to fix interest rates long term as the bank needs to be compensated for tying up capital for such an extended period of time. It is also much harder, and expensive, to break debt that has been borrowed on a fixed rate basis, however, restructuring an IRS is a straightforward process and allows the corporate borrower to take advantage of prevailing interest rate market opportunities or “play the yield curve” to use financial market parlance.

How does an IRS work? Explaining how an IRS works requires us to understand the concept of exchanging cashflows. The diagram below represents the cashflows associated with a borrower using an IRS to fix interest costs:

IRS cashflow

 

1) The company borrows money from the bank, say $1 million for our example, on a floating rate basis. There are floating rate benchmarks for different currencies i.e. BKBM in NZ, BBSW in Australia, EURIBOR in Europe, etc. and this floating rate changes/sets every day. The bank will charge a margin on the money it lends, say 2.00%. The effect for the company is it borrows money at floating rate + 2.00%.

2) The company wishes to fix his interest cost and to achieve this enters a pay fixed / receive floating IRS with a bank (maybe the same bank as it has borrowed from, but not necessarily). We will assume the company wishes to fix the entire $1 million i.e. the swap is entered for $1 million. It could just as easily decide to fix only half i.e. $500,000. Herein lies some of the flexibility an IRS allows the company when considering its interest rate risk management profile. Under the terms of the pay fixed swap the borrower will pay the bank a fixed interest rate and receive floating interest from the bank i.e. exchange of cashflows. Note, there is no exchange of principal, only interest.

The floating rate received through the swap offsets the floating rate paid to the bank for the debt. The net impact to the borrower is paying a fixed rate (through the swap) plus the margin the bank charges for borrowing the money (2.00%).

There are some important factors to consider when entering an IRS to ensure the hedge is at its most optimal. The roll-dates of the IRS should match that of the debt i.e. if the floating rate on the debt sets every three months then so should the floating rate on the IRS, and on the same day. The underlying reference rate on the debt and the swap should also match i.e. BKBM, BBSW, EURIBOR, etc. Both of these things ensure there is no “basis risk” within the hedge as well as ensuring it passes muster from a hedge accounting perspective if it is designated into a hedge relationship.

The example above is designed to provide a basic understanding of the concept of an interest rate swap. We have used the floating rate borrower as an example. However, IRSs are used by an array of market participants for a multitude of uses including investors wishing to structure their income profiles or borrowers who have borrowed on a fixed term but wish to have exposure to floating interest rates. However, the underlying concepts are fairly straightforward.

 

End of year derivative valuations improve for borrowers

The increase in interest rates over 2013 means that the 31 December 2013 valuations of borrower derivatives such as interest rate swaps will look much healthier compared to a year ago. The global economy certainly appears to have turned a corner through 2013 and this is being reflected in financial markets expectations for future interest rates i.e. yield curves are higher. As interest rates collapsed after the onset of the GFC many borrowers took advantage of what were, at the time, historically low levels. Base interest rates i.e. ignoring credit, were compelling and borrowers increased their fixed rate hedging percentages locking in swap rates for terms out to ten years. Unfortunately, as the global economy sank further into recession, interest rates fell further than most market participants expected. Consequently, derivatives such as interest rate swaps moved further out-of-the-money creating large negative mark-to-market positions.

The unprecedented steps taken by central banks in an effort to shore up business and consumer confidence, protect/create jobs and jump start lack lustre economies pushed interest rates lower for much longer. Through 2013 the aggressive monetary policy easing undertaken since 2008 (by the US in particular) has started to show signs that the worst of the Great Recession is behind us. The Quantitative Easing experiment from the US Federal Reserve’s Chairman Ben Bernanke appears to be a success (only time will confirm this). The labour market has strengthened, as well as GDP, in 2013 allowing a gradual reduction in Quantitative Easing to begin. Although the US Central Bank has been at pains to point out that the scaling back of QE does not equate to monetary policy tightening, merely marginally “less loose”,           the financial markets were very quick to reverse the ultra low yields that had prevailed since 2008.   The US 10-year treasury yield is the benchmark that drives long end yields across every other country so when bond markets in the US started to aggressively sell bond positions, prices dropped and yields increased globally. As the charts below show all the major economies of the world now have a higher/steeper yield curve than they did a year ago reflecting expectations for the outlook for interest rates. For existing borrower derivative positions the negative mark-to-markets that have prevailed for so long are either much less out-of-the-money, or are moving into positive mark-to-market territory.

Of the seven currencies that are included in the charts below, all display increases in the mid to long end of the curve i.e. three years and beyond, to varying degrees. Japan continues to struggle having been in an economic stalemate for 15-years so the upward movement in interest rates has been muted. The other interesting point is the Australian yield curve which shows that yields at the short end are actually lower at the end of the year than they were at the start of the year. Australia managed to avoid recession after the GFC, a beneficiary of the massive stimulus undertaken by China and the ensuing demand for Australia’s hard commodities. However, as China’s economy subsequently slowed and commodity prices fell, the recession finally caught up with Australia and the Official Cash Rate (OCR) has been slashed in 2013, hence short-term rates are lower than where they started the year.

As 31 December 2013 Financial Statements are completed there will be many CFOs relieved to see the turning of the tide in regards to the revaluation of borrower derivatives.

2012 to 2013 yield curve movements

Mis-selling of swaps case dismissed

Further to our article posted last week, there has been more evidence to confirm that borrowers crying about “mis-selling” of swaps is not going to garner sympathy in the courts. A sophisticated borrower, or an entity with access to expert advice, cannot lay blame at the door of the banks for their own misjudgments for what have been in hindsight poor hedging decisions. http://bit.ly/1at7pk0

It’s risk management stupid

The bankrupted City of Detroit is locked in a legal battle over the purchase of interest rate swaps as are many other municipalities/local governments around the world. Detroit’s case is particularly high profile given the tragic demise of a once great city, and as with most bankruptcies not everyone appears to be treated equally or indeed fairly.

The numbers that relate to the interest rate swaps are enormous, which is no doubt why Detroit feels so aggrieved. These numbers are also, not surprisingly, losses, and indeed realised losses as the bankruptcy will result in the closing out of these swaps. But whose fault is it really, the banks for selling these swaps or the municipality for purchasing them?

Everyone likes to bash the banks and indeed they may not be blameless in this case. If the banks are withholding information or forcing the entity into purchasing the swaps as part of the underlying transaction then this doesn’t seem right. However, whether you are a large municipality in the US or a dairy farmer in New Zealand the onus is on the buyer of these products to understand the risks associated with them before they transact. It is difficult to believe that a finance team that is sophisticated enough to issue millions of dollars of bonds does not understand the mechanics of an interest rate swap.

Interest rate swaps are risk management tools. They can be used to give certainty of interest cashflows for entities that are perhaps highly geared and therefore cannot afford to pay any higher interest rates or can also be used as a proactive way of managing interest rates. Portfolio management dictates that a proportion of debt should be fixed either through fixed rate borrowing or interest rate swaps but the financial markets are not a one way bet, otherwise we would all be millionaires. There are risks attached to entering these transactions. As is often the case we hear of the cases where rates have gone against the swap owner but not so much when it has gone the other way.

Interest rate swaps are not toxic or necessarily dangerous. They should though be used by those who understand them. The various scenarios that can play out depending on movements in the financial markets should be modelled. Interest rate swaps also have the flexibility of being able to be closed out as part of the overall risk management strategy if necessary.

As with any purchase the buyer needs to know what they are buying. With swaps they need to form part of the overall risk management approach. We would all like the opportunity to try and renegotiate the whys and wherefores of entering into a financial instrument when the markets move against us. Swaps can be complicated but are also useful risk management tools that have a place in any borrowers or investors risk management strategy. Lack of understanding should not be a defense against decisions which in hindsight may not have been made.

Credit Value Adjustment

Credit Value Adjustment or CVA has been around for a long time, however, with the introduction of the accounting standard IFRS13, this year there is a requirement to understand it a bit better. The new standard requires the CVA component to be separately reported from the fair value of a financial instrument.

CVA is the difference between the risk-free portfolio value and the true portfolio value that takes into account the possibility of a counterparty’s default. In other words, CVA is the market value of counterparty credit risk.

The big question is whether it will be material enough for most organizations to worry about; given the potential complexity around its calculation, most would hope not.

There is no doubt if you have cross-currency swaps the impact of CVA is likely to be material. However most companies that use these instruments would normally have a sophisticated treasury management system that would do this calculation at the push of a button.

Most other organizations however will probably be relying on spreadsheets to capture and record their treasury transactions and will lack the ability to calculate financial instrument valuations let alone the more complex CVA.

Will you need to worry about CVA is the question? Most do not know there is a requirement, let alone how it will be calculated and this is true of the audit profession as much as the corporate world.

Whether it is material or not may be the question, however, it is likely that even if it is not material there may be a requirement to prove this. At the end of the day the audit profession will decide whether organizations will need to calculate CVA or not. In the meantime we are keeping a watching brief on both the banks’ ability to provide the CVA component and the audit firms as to whether they will force organizations to calculate it.

Watch this space.

Hedging, and a deeper look into the types of Financial Hedges

One of the popular misnomers about hedging is that it is a costly, time-consuming, complicated process. This is not true!

At the end of the day, there are two different types of hedges: natural hedging and financial hedging. It is not uncommon for companies to use one or both methods to implement their hedging strategies in order to protect their bottom line from currency risk.

Natural hedging involves reducing the difference between receipts and payments in the foreign currency. For example, a New Zealand firm exports to Australia and forecasts that it will receive A$10 million over the next year. Over this period, it expects to make several payments totaling A$3 million; the New Zealand firm’s expected exposure to the Australian Dollar is A$7 million. By implementing natural hedging techniques, the New Zealand firm borrows A$3 million, while subsequently increasing acquisition of materials from Australian suppliers by A$3 million. Now, the New Zealand firm’s exposure is only A$1 million. If the New Zealand firm wanted to eliminate nearly all transaction costs, it could open up production in Australia entirely.

Financial hedging involves buying and selling foreign exchange instruments that are dealt by banks and foreign exchange brokers. There are three common types of instruments used: forward contracts, currency options, and currency swaps.

Forward contracts allow firms to set the exchange rate at which it will buy or sell a specified amount of foreign currency in the future. For example, if a New Zealand firm expects to receive A$1 million in excess of what it forecasts to spend every quarter, it can enter a forward contract to sell these Australian Dollars, at a predetermined rate, every three-months. By offsetting the A$1 million with forward contracts every month, nearly all transaction costs are eliminated.

Currency options tend to be favorable for those firms without solidified plans, i.e., a company that is bidding on a contract. Currency options give a company the right, but not the obligation, to buy or sell currency in the future at a specified exchange rate and date. Upfront costs are common with currency options, which can deter small- and medium-sized firms, but the costs are for good reason: currency options allow firms to benefit from favorable exchange rate movement. Like interest rate swaps, whose lives can range from 2-years to beyond 10-years, currency swaps are a long-term hedging technique against interest rate risk, but unlike interest rate swaps, currency swaps also manage risk borne from exchange rate fluctuations.

Exchange rate volatility can affect a company’s hedging strategy – the next post will cover why timing is key.

Hedging Basics: Swaptions

Interest rate options are excellent tools to use to mitigate interest rate exposure.  One robust structure that is used to reduce exposure to monthly periods of interest rate volatility is the interest rate swaption.  This instrument combines the protection of a swap, with the flexibility of a European style option.

Interest Rate Swap
An interest rate swap is a fixed for floating swap which allows an investor or corporate treasurer to reduce their exposure to interest rates by selling or buying a swap.  A pay fixed swap reduces exposure to climbing interest rates while a pay float swap reduces exposure to declining interest rates.

European Option
A European style option is an option in which the purchaser of the option can only exercise the option on the expiration date.  The option is the right but not the obligation to purchase a financial instrument as a specific date in the future.  The strike price is the price at which the buyer and seller of the option agree to buy/sell the financial product.

Interest Rate Swaption
An interest rate Swaption is the right but not the obligation to purchase an interest rate swap on a specific date.  On the expiration date, the owner of the swaption has the right to purchase the swap at the strike price.  A swaption payout profile is similar to a European option.

Hedging Basics: Currency Swaps

A currency swap locks in a price of a currency pair and is another tool that can be used to manage an organisation’s cash flow. The currency swap pays the fixed-price buyer of a currency pair a payout equal to the difference between the current price and the settlement price of the swap.

Fixed for Float Swap
A (fixed for floating) swap is a financial product which acts as a hedge against an adverse downside movement for an investor or corporate hedger.  The components of a swap are as follows:

  • Reference Index:  A pricing index such as a currency pair future or OTC currency pair
  • Fixed Price is a negotiated price which will be compared to the floating (index) price to determine if the swap is in our out of the money.
  • Floating Price is created from the reference index by averaging the reference prices over the period of the agreed swap.
  • Floating Payment is calculated by multiplying the floating price by the volume of the notional used for the currency pair.

Swap Calculation: The average floating price over the swap period is compared to the fixed price, to determine which way cash will flow.

Swap Pricing Periods: The periods of time that are agreed upon which incorporate the swap.  When the swap period is complete the floating price is examined, and payments are exchanged. Generally monthly periods are used to compute swaps.

Where do Swaps Fit into Your Company’s Portfolio?

This is part 10 of a 10 part series on currency swaps and interest rate swaps and their role in the global economy. In part 9, we discussed regulation affecting swaps. In part 10, we’ll review the effectiveness of swaps and whether or not they should be used part of a hedging strategy.

Over the course of the series on interest rate swaps, we’ve reviewed the beginning s of swaps, different types of swaps, some examples of how swaps are used, special types of swaps used by central banks, and how swaps have impacted trends in regulation. In sum, it is an obvious conclusion that swaps are an integral part of financial markets, with estimates suggesting the depth of the market could be as little as $300 trillion to as great as $700 trillion  (the Bank of International Settlements pegs the dept at $415.2 trillion, as of 2006).

Although recent regulation (as discussed in part 9) could hurt the swaps market by removing some of the anonymous pricing mechanisms the OTC market provides, as well as thin out already thin exotic markets, it is unlikely that regulation clamps down on derivatives further unless there is a major financial crash involving swaps again, much like the U.S. housing crash in 2007/2008. Considering the vast amount of liquidity added to financial markets since the 2007/2008 crash (totaling several trillions of dollars), it is unlikely that such an event happens over the coming years.

We’ve also discussed the comparative advantage that comes with hedging via swaps: risks to profits can be reduced through the two main types of swaps, currency swaps and interest rate swaps. In part 6, we showed how Coca-Cola could access cheaper borrowing costs when looking abroad, and how through currency swaps, it was able to hedge away its foreign exchange rate volatility risk. Similarly, through interest rate swaps and forwards, JPMorgan was able to reduce risk transferred to it from Coca-Cola. Just like these theoretical companies, any company can use swaps to limit risk taking.

It should be noted that there are potential caveats to swaps. If a fixed rate is swapped for a floating rate, a rise in interest rates over the contract life could result in higher debt servicing costs. If interest rates are volatile from year to year (they tend not to be anymore among developed economies like Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States), this could result in high profits one year or low profits in another.

If a floating rate is swapped for a fixed rate, the reverse can be said: while the party with the fixed rate is protected from interest rate volatility, it misses out on the opportunity to profit from the shifting rate environment. Through proper risk management using a tool like myHedgebook, these problems can easily be avoided:

Instant fair value (mark-to-market) calculations for your transactions and sensitivity reporting remove the manual elements of complying with accounting standards such as IFRS7 and IAS39, and remove the reliance on your bank for fair values.

Sensitivity reporting also plays a valuable role in management of a portfolio by clearly demonstrating the effect that shifts in interest rates would have on the P&L.

Capturing a swap in Hedgebook is a simple process, with the entry of all of the key parameters of in a single deal input screen. Here the face value, maturity date, reset frequency accrual basis and coupon rate and coupon margins are entered and the swap is saved.

Hedgebook supports multiple variations of accrual basis, reference rate, business day conventions and swap curves to match the exact parameters of your particular swap.

Once saved, the interest rate swap can be valued at any time based on Hedgbook’s daily rate feeds.

Try Hedgebook free for 30 days. Click here to start your trial today!