Using Hedgebook to make smart fx hedging decisions

Has anyone told you lately that they know where the currency is going? Lots of people think they know if it is going up or down but the reality is that no one knows where it is going in the next 5 minutes, 5 days or 5 years. We might all be able to have an educated guess but that is all it is – a guess.

As a former risk manager I know how hard it is to advise corporates on the risks around fx management. I can remember going to a potential client and explaining to the owner of the business the importance of having a treasury policy and why you should follow it. We could add value in helping with the strategic decisions and the instruments to use but by the way we can’t pick the currency because no one really knows where it is going and we don’t try to. After listening to all this sage advice the owner turned to us and asked what use were we to him if we didn’t know where the currency was going? End of meeting.

It is true no one can pick where the currency is heading. What is important is:

  • Understanding the impact on your business when foreign exchange rates move.
  • Knowing the impact on budget rates or costing rates when foreign exchange rates move.
  • Knowing whether the business can afford to not cover i.e. if exchange rates go any further against you are you losing too much margin or indeed are you out of business.

Having the ability to compare the amount of foreign exchange hedging in place with the impact of exchange rate movements on the uncovered portion is vital information in making rational decisions in an irrational market.

Whilst we can’t pick currencies at Hedgebook (we are still working on that one) we can tell you the impact on your business if rates go up or down. We can tell you in dollars and cents what the impact will be  on unhedged foreign cashflows, what the exchange rate needs to be to achieve the budget or costing rate and what the value of existing hedges are.

Today’s fx risk management isn’t about picking exchange rates but about giving businesses greater visibility over its foreign exchange position. This allows for smarter foreign exchange hedging decisions using all available information. Sometimes the information isn’t what you want to hear but at least you don’t need to hope that things go your way. You can avoid the knee jerk decision – and chuck out the crystal ball.

Infoscan – economical access to financial market data

At Hedgebook we are committed to providing economical solutions to assist the treasury function. Our low cost software, HedgebookPro, provides a treasury management system (“TMS”) entry point for companies that have historically relied on spreadsheets to manage their foreign exchange and interest rate exposures. HedgebookPro is also an alternative for companies that already use a TMS to capture their vanilla derivatives and feel they do not use the full functionality offered by these larger and more expensive systems.

We take a similar approach to financial market data through our company Infoscan. Hedgebook purchased the Infoscan business 12 or so months ago as it is a natural fit for Hedgebook. Many New Zealand market participants of a certain age will remember the Infoscan pagers – they carried a certain cachet at the time! Data is delivered to smartphones these days.

Many companies with exposure to foreign exchange and interest rate markets cannot justify the cost of a Bloomberg or Thomson Reuters product. Websites are OK for accessing spot fx rates on a rough and ready basis but are unsatisfactory for providing the required comfort when entering into larger derivative transactions. Infoscan gives users the visibility over real-time market spot fx rates but, more critically, the fx forward market too. As mentioned, free websites can give an indication of spot rates but accessing accurate forward point information is harder to ascertain.

Whether transacting a new FEC, or adjusting an existing one through pre-deliveries and extensions, it is important for decision makers to have good information at hand regarding the prevailing forward market. Transparency of the forward points provides greater confidence that a competitive market rate is achieved.

Infoscan can deliver data in a number of ways either through a website login or, alternatively, directly into spreadsheets. Like HedgebookPro the market data functionality is delivered in a no fuss, low cost manner and helps enhance fx conversion rates.

Calculating fx forward points

A common misunderstanding we often encounter relates to the calculation of foreign exchange forward points. Foreign exchange forward points are the time value adjustment made to the spot rate to reflect a future date. The forward foreign exchange market is very deep and liquid and is used by an array of participants for trading and hedging purposes. In the corporate world many importers and exporters hedge future foreign currency commitments or forecasts using forward exchange contracts (FECs).

The table below shows a selection of the forward points and outright rates for a number of currency pairs:

Forward points

Table 1: Forward points and outright rates

For example the NZD/USD 1-year forward points are currently -270, while the NZD/USD spot rate is 0.8325. Therefore, at today’s rates a forward rate of 0.8325 – 0.0270 = 0.8055 can be secured for a commitment or forecast in one year’s time. But how did the NZD/USD 1-year forward points come to be -270? The common misunderstanding is that they are traded like the spot rate i.e. based on currency traders’ views for the outlook of a currency’s fundamentals. This is incorrect. FX points are mathematically derived by the prevailing interest rate markets. Using our example of the NZD/USD 1-year forward points the -270 is a result of the 1-year US and NZ interest rate outlook. The NZD/USD is a good example because of the significant interest rate differentials between the two currencies. The aggressive monetary easing policies in the US have resulted in an extremely low interest rate environment. This contrasts with NZ which although has interest rates at historically low levels, they remain well above those of the US. The chart below shows the NZ interest rate yield curve versus the US and the corresponding fx forward points.

NZ and US int rates and fx points

Chart 1: NZ and US interest rates and the NZD/USD forward points

The interest rate market is telling us that the US 1-year swap rate is 0.25% while in NZ it is 3.45%. So how does this equate to -270 fx points?


USD1,000,000 at a spot rate of 0.8325 = NZD1,201,201

If USD1,000,000 is invested for one year at a US interest rate of 0.25% per annum, at the end of one year USD1,000,000 is USD1,002,500.

If NZD1,201,201 is invested for one year at a NZ interest rate of 3.45% per annum, at the end of one year NZD1,201,201 is NZD1,242,643.

The equivalent exchange rate is NZD1,242,643 divided by USD1,002,500 = 0.8067.

0.8067 – 0.8325 = -0.0258 (or -258 fx points in the parlance of the fx markets).

The bid/ask spread of the fx and interest rate markets accounts for the 12 fx point balance. The example serves to provide a “back of the envelope” guide to calculating fx forward points and outright rates.

Even though the calculation of the forward points is mathematically derived from the interest rate market, interest rates themselves are the market’s expectation of the outlook for an economy’s fundamentals i.e. subjective. Therefore the fx forward points are derived from traders positioning on interest rate differentials.

Exporters from countries with higher interest rate environments such as New Zealand and Australia benefit from the negative forward points, while it is a cost to importers. An exporter wants a weak base currency so large negative forward points are an economic advantage. With an upward sloping interest rate yield curve (or more correctly positive interest rate differential) forward points will be more negative the longer the time horizon.

An importer wants a strong currency therefore negative forward points are detrimental to the hedged conversion rate. The impact of negative forward points is a reason that exporters often have longer term hedging horizons compared to importers because the impact of forward points are not penal.

Forward exchange contracts are therefore a flexible, and relatively easy to understand, hedging tool that is commonly used to bring certainty to those grappling with foreign exchange exposures and the volatility of the financial markets.

Scope for Recovery by Australian Dollar Limited as Labor Suffers

The Reserve Bank of Australia cut its key benchmark interest rate to a record low 2.50% earlier this year, highlighting the central bank’s concerns over the sensitivity of the Australian economy to turmoil in emerging markets.

When discussing Australia at the turn of the year, we suggested that: “Now, with rates at all-time lows, it’s a good moment to reflect on why we’re in the current predicament. After all, dovish monetary policy is only implemented when worries of an economic slowdown persist.”

These concerns were well-informed, as the Australian labor market has only deteriorated over the course of the year, forcing the Reserve Bank of Australia to cut its main interest rate to a record low of 2.50% at its August policy meeting. This is a significant step lower from the 4.75% rate employed as recently as November 2011; an aggressive rate cut cycle the RBA has employed, indeed.

Nevertheless, it’s evident that concerns surrounding Australia will continue. The country’s most important sector, mining, continues to show signs of slowdown, and government advisors have reluctantly admitted that the global commodity supercycle – driven by rapidly growing emerging markets – may be finished.

We continue to believe that the changing economic climate of Australia will play a negative influence on the Australian Dollar. The labor market remains a primary concern, and has proven to be a major negative influence on the Australian Dollar in recent months:


Over the past two-plus years, after the AUDUSD peak near $1.1100 in the summer of 2011, the RBA’s aggressive easing cycle, in part to help soothe fears over the labor distress, has driven the AUDUSD down to its lowest exchange rate since September 2010, below $0.9000 in August.

Further pressure on the Australian labor market, and thus the Australian Dollar, seems likely. Whereas the AUDUSD was quite stable near $1.0500 for several months while labor markets deteriorated, it’s clear that reality has set in. Despite several rate cuts since November 2011, Australia’s unemployment rate has increased from 4.9% in April 2011 to 5.8% in August 2013, the highest rate since August 2009.

Scope for recovery in the labor market is limited at best as long as the commodity cycle slowdown persists. Data compiled by the RBA in August showed that base metals prices, perhaps most indicative of economic strength in the mining sector, sunk to their lowest level since late-2009 by midyear, an ominous sign considering the time before prices had reached that level it was on the way lower by another 30% amid the global financial crisis of 2008.


Base metals prices continue to be the guiding light for Australia – and should they remain subdued going forward, we suspect that dovish guidance will remain in place at the RBA, serving as a consistent, bearish influence on the Aussie for the remainder of 2013.

Steel, iron ore and coking coal

Chinese Growth Slows, Hurting Regional Trade Partners

Our last update on the Chinese economy expressed concerns over the future path of growth. The transition to the free market from a centrally-planned state has proven to be difficult as the government fights financial and political corruption, a growing middle class, and international pressure to liberalize its currency, the Yuan.

Chinese growth is slowing, but there’s nothing that the once frequently interventionist government is going to do about it. In part, growth slowed alongside lending activity, as the People’s Bank of China has maintained tighter monetary conditions for two main reasons: as it attempts to weed out illegal and corrupt banking practices that take place off companies’ balance sheets, “shadow banking.”

If only to consider the scope of this problem, on June, the interbank lending rate, overnight SHIBOR (local equivalent to LIBOR), rose by an astounding 578-basis points to 13.4%. In comparison, the 1-week SHIBOR rate rose by 292-bps to 11.0%; this inversion of the SHIBOR curve is a strong indication of extremely tight credit conditions. Typically, yield curves invert when liquidity is a problem; the fall of 2008 was plagued by this issue in the United States in particular.

In our last post regarding Chinese growth, we said, in a ‘tongue-in-cheek’ manner, that “There’s one major caveat to Chinese data that is truly inapplicable to any other global economic force: you just don’t know if you can trust it. Chinese data seemingly comes out of a black box, where Chinese government readings of the economy tend to outpace private sector readings, or even eclipse foreign government estimates of economic activity.”

Were those views ever vindicated: in June, the Chinese government said that so-called arbitrage transactions distorted trade figures in a manner favorable to stronger growth. From Bloomberg: “The transactions “resulted in abnormal growth in mainland-Hong Kong trade for a few months” since the fourth quarter, Shen Danyang, a Commerce Ministry spokesman, said at a monthly briefing today in Beijing. “Even if these arbitrage trades are not necessarily illegal, they are not fully compliant with regulations. That’s why the government has been concerned about this.”

As the government faces these issues and more on the way to opening up the Chinese economy even further, it’s evident that any new policies will be geared towards a more regulated, transparent economy. Accordingly, to prevent fueling a housing bubble (which is a concern now), the government is unlikely to implement further fiscal stimulus in the near-term. This has and will leave the economy weak in 2013:

China GDP

As long as Chinese growth remains in a rut, global trade will remain dampened and hopes for broader global recovery will be teeter. An ongoing concern for Australian policymakers, signs of slowing Chinese growth continue to weigh on the economy, where the Reserve Bank of Australia cut the main rate to a record low 2.50% in August.

The reasons behind the Reserve Bank of Australia’s rate cut are critically important, and are why we believe that, thanks to China, the Australian Dollar could remain under pressure in the interim.

Rate Differentials and Expected Policy Action by the RBNZ Keep the Kiwi Looking Up

Reserve Bank of New Zealand Governor Graeme Wheeler currently faces a problem. On one hand, exporters are losing their competitive edge as the New Zealand Dollar has strengthened. Industrialists have called for the RBNZ to try to keep rates pointed lower in order to weaken the currency. Certainly, ever since the Federal Reserve suggested that it might begin to normalize policy, New Zealand government bond yields have increased.

Given the implications of the Fed removing liquidity from global markets, bond markets have been under pressure. Considering that investors had piled into those assets with any yield over the past few years, these same assets – including New Zealand government bonds – have seen their yields spike higher faster than their policymakers can deal with (as seen in emerging markets).

Bond spread_NZDUSD

Over the past several months, the results of the Fed’s taper speculation have provoked the NZ-US 10Y yield to widen to their largest differentials all year. This will be important for future Kiwi strength: widening interest rate differentials are supportive of a stronger currency. The recent divergence could be due to the broader repricing of risk assets to compensate for a slower easing Fed. But domestic New Zealand data is pushing rates up higher naturally.

Rate increases_NZDUSD

Over the past three months, RBNZ Governor Wheeler has used his press conferences not to make a concerted attempt to weaken his currency but rather to highlight the optimistic points on the economy. In fact, currency swaps traders are near their most bullish on the New Zealand Dollar all year, with respect to the number of basis points priced in. If this pricing mechanism exceeds 90-bps, it will be closing in on its most bullish reading since the New Zealand Dollar peaked in the summer of 2011.

Why is this information useful for hedging? If the swaps market is pricing in future rate hikes by a central bank, it might be an appropriate time to hedge against further upside risk in the currency.

Emerging Markets Meltdown: Is Another Asian Crisis Brewing?

Concerns over a 1997-redux are brewing. The parallels are staggering. Asia is facing growth pressure. Emerging markets are going belly up. Currencies are rapidly deteriorating as the Federal Reserve considers monetary tightening. Japan is on the verge of fiscal tightening. These are all the same ingredients that led to the 1997 Asian crisis. Are we looking over the edge, or is there hope to avoid another financial crisis?

First, a look at emerging market currencies: they’ve been hammered in 2013 far too similar to the pain seen in 2008. The Indian Rupee hit its lowest exchange rate ever against the U.S. Dollar in the 3Q’13; the Indonesian Rupiah is halfway back to its lows; the Brazilian Real is a few percent away from its lows; and the Turkish Lira, burdened further by recent political discord, it at its lowest levels ever.

Emerging market currencies

So much for the “carry trade,” of which all of these currencies are considered.  Why? They have higher yields. They are expressed in the form of the sovereign bonds. It is important to distinguish the difference between “higher yields” and “higher yields.” Stick with us – there’s a clear distinction.

Higher yields are used to refer to two, opposite situations: one in which a country, with more obvious inherent risk (politically, economically, socially), offers a “higher yield” but is considered a worthwhile investment given the optimistic projected path of the economy – economic liberalization, a stable political environment, reduced risk for violence. The aforementioned emerging market economies share these characteristics: optimism for a brighter future.

10 yr gov bond yields

The other type of “higher yield” is when there is panic. There is no optimism for a higher future; higher yields result from investors selling the bonds (bond prices and yields are inversely correlated). This can result from a number of influences – war, higher inflation, political instability – as well as the threat of reduced liquidity. The higher yields we’ve seen in these emerging market economies over the course of 2013 represents the wrong type of higher yield, predicated on exogenous circumstances – the Federal Reserve winding down its stimulus program .

Does this mean that another 1997 Asian crisis is upon us? Possibly, maybe among the BRICS. As the chart to the left shows, international claims to GDP – foreign banks’ lending – is rising at a pace that puts it on par to where the Euro-Zone was three years ago. It also puts the BRICS on par with the Asian financial crisis in 1996/1997. These are concerns that must be monitored considerably in the weeks ahead. Excess volatility will greatly enhance the need to reduce portfolio risk through hedging.

Foreign banks lending

Charts courtesy of the RBA’s August Statement on Monetary Policy.

Weakening Correlations Suggest Time to Diversify

As we know, risk correlations tightened up (became increasingly positively correlated) during the financial crisis, where we saw very many near-perfectly positive correlations (>=+0.80) among the major asset classes: AUDUSD and Gold; NZDUSD and SPX; USD and DJIA; and JPY and US Treasuries among others.

In recent weeks (especially since the 2Q’13), we’ve since seen these correlations break down – perhaps the NZDUSD relationship with U.S. equities and New Zealand equities best serves this example:

NZDUSD correlation breakdown with equities

NZDUSD correlation breakdown with equities


Why does this matter? When correlations tighten up towards being perfectly positively or negatively correlated, there’s little benefit to diversification. IE, there’s no reason to invest in the NZDUSD if I’m long a basket of equities/S&P 500 as it’s essentially the same trade already. However, when risk correlations break down, the benefits of risk diversification increase. IE, there’s reason to trade the AUDUSD if you are long a basket of equities/S&P 500 because it reduces overall portfolio risk (general Markowitz/modern portfolio theory).

Thus, equity traders may find it appropriate now to start looking for ways to diversify, or hedge, risk. For the better part of the past few years, the NZDUSD has had a strong positive correlation with equity markets at home and abroad – the NZX 50 and the S&P 500 recently saw 52-week rolling correlations against the NZDUSD above +0.80 early in the 2Q’13.

As U.S. yields have risen thanks to a less dovish Federal Reserve and overall strengthening economy, the strong NZDUSD-equities correlation has eroded. In fact, for the week ended September 6, the NZDUSD-S&P 500 correlation fell to -0.47 and the NZDUSD-NZX 50 correlation fell to -0.35. This means the New Zealand Dollar may have some value as a speculative investment vehicle going forward – it retains yield despite losing correlation with equity markets. Recall from an earlier post that the New Zealand Dollar has seen increasingly strong yields:

NZD-USD Yield Spread versus NZDUSD fx rate


By reducing your profile’s overall correlation, you actually stand to reduce risk to your overall portfolio and capture greater returns. Now may be the right time to hedge away equity risk – by diversifying into the New Zealand Dollar, the highest yielding major currency alongside the Australian Dollar.




Roots of the Spreading Currency War: Part 2

Quantitative easing (QE) became the preferred non-standard policy tool among central bankers starting in 2007 as more and more large central banks reached the zero interest rate policy bound and were forced to become more creative. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, it goes without saying that without the implementation of QE, the global economy would still be in tatters. 

Over the past several years, the Fed hasn’t been alone in its efforts to weaken its currency to help domestic exporters. For example, the Bank of England has expanded its monetary base by five times since 2008; the Swiss National Bank implemented a currency floor for the Swiss Franc against the Euro to stabilize trade.

In 2013, the most notable offender has been the Bank of Japan, who in an effort to pull the country out of a two decade long deflationary spiral (Japan has been (in)famously mired in a more-than-two decades long deflation spiral) has pulled the rug from under the Yen quite literally. From January 1, 2008 to November 14, 2012, the Yen had rallied by +43.21% against the British Pound; +38.14% against the Euro; and +28.97% against the US Dollar. Since mid-November, when it became clear that Shinzo Abe would rise to power as prime minister, the Yen has been ‘competitively devalued’: it lost -20.42% to the British Pound; -26.69% to the Euro; and -23.52% against the U.S. Dollar.

Article 6

Clearly there is a distortive effect by ultra-easing policies on FX markets. The effects are not limited, however, as investors’ risk tolerance is completely altered. Consider the performance of the U.S. equity market the S&P 500 (yellow) compared to the size of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet ($M) (white). The rally in U.S. equities – the benchmark for high-grade risky assets – can be wholly attributed to the rising Fed’s balance sheet, as the chart above implies.

Now that the BoJ has engaged in QE, the Nikkei 225 stock index is soaring, up +32% in 2013 thus far. With the BoJ’s QE plans in place for at least the next two years, investors will continue to jettison Yen-denominated assets in search of yield. But this brings us back to the earlier point about trade: the weaker Yen means that major trading partners, such as the United States, the Euro-zone, and Australia and New Zealand, will have to enact counter measures to prevent their domestic exporters from bearing the pain.

On several occasions early in the year RBNZ Governor Wheeler commented that the elevated New Zealand Dollar exchange rate was hurting the nation’s manufacturers, while noting his desire to “smooth the peaks” in the high yielding currency. These efforts have been minor thus far, and yet the New Zealand Dollar is barely dislodged. There’s little reason to think the RBNZ is going to be able to turn the tides anytime soon.

If there is one thing we can expect with a fair degree of certitude, it’s that competitive devaluations are here to stay for the next several years. The Fed is doing it, the BoJ is doing it, and as time passes, more and more central banks will be forced to engage in ultra-easy monetary policy.

Roots of the Spreading Currency War: Part 1

The global economy has seen fits of growth and contraction the past few years, with the developed Western economies struggling to regain solid footing. In the post-global financial crisis world, emerging markets, specifically the Asian-Pacific region, has been a driver for global growth. But if we step back from the trees and look at the forest, it’s clear that without central bank interventions, the global economy would be in much worse shape.

Since late-2011, if you turned on the TV, you probably heard pundits describe monetary policies being implemented around the world as stoking a “currency war” between developing economies. Mention the phrases “QE” and “currency war” in the same sentence and you’ll likely hear one of two answers: the Federal Reserve fired the first shots; while others, especially more recently, have pointed to the Bank of Japan as the most egregious offender.

Regardless if it was the Fed or the BoJ, the fact remains that most major central banks are currently engaged in or are moving closer to policies that result in the devaluation of their currency. Accordingly, it’s best to get acclimated with the idea of a “currency war” because it’s going to be showing up in newspapers and on financial television shows for the next several years. For good reason: the budding currency war impacts short-term speculators, bonafide hedgers, and long-term investors alike.

Recently, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand entered the fray, with Governor Graeme Wheeler acknowledging that the central bank had intervened in the market on various occasions since February. Reports have circulated that the RBNZ sold between N$30M and N$200M during its intervention efforts, which we can say retrospectively had short-term bearish implications for the Kiwi. Governor Wheeler has an incentive to try and weaken the New Zealand Dollar: its elevated exchange rate across the G7 currencies makes New Zealand products less competitive.

Macroeconomic theory states that a weaker domestic currency makes domestic goods more appealing to foreign consumers, who then consume more of the domestic good rather than their own country’s goods. The increased exports from the domestic country to the foreign country lead to a trade balance surplus, leading to higher growth in the domestic economy and weaker growth in the foreign economy. Thus, any form of an intentional devaluation to a currency – a competitive devaluation – is a shot fired in the currency war.

Article 5

While the RBNZ’s participation in the currency war will likely be a futile effort, the steps taken by the BoJ are far from immaterial. The combined efforts of the Fed and the BoJ alone the past few months have sent the aggregate global stimulus pool from $13,700B to near $14,000B between early-March and early-May. These policies are likely to continue into the near-future, with the Fed printing $85B/month to absorb agency MBS and U.S. Treasuries, while the BoJ has pledged to inject approximately ¥140T (¥7T/month).

What does this mean for the New Zealand Dollar? For one, it means that the RBNZ is a small fish in a pond with much bigger fish.

The next article takes a look at how QE distorts investor decision making, and how the BoJ’s interpretation of aggressive easing will impact the Asian-Pacific currencies.