Why Timing is Key for Hedging!

Just like everything else in life – from barbequing, to merging into traffic, to releasing new products during certain economic cycles – timing is absolutely crucial in hedging foreign exchange exposure. The best way to know when to hedge or not is by looking at a chart – yes, it’s that simple!

Take the NZDUSD pair from January 2003 to December 2009:

NZD/USD Spot Rate

In April 2005, the NZDUSD moved to new all-time highs, having broken the previous one set over a year earlier. At this time, it wouldn’t have been wise to hedge against further new highs; but taking on a hedge for a downside risk would have been reasonable. The same can be said about the NZDUSD in January 2009 – it had moved to its lowest exchange rate in over six-years – it might not have been appropriate to hedge against further downside risks, but instead more proper to hedge against upside risks (hindsight being 20/20, this would have been a wise idea).

For example, in January 2008, it would have been a good time for a New Zealand company hedge payments made in U.S. Dollars, because were the NZDUSD to depreciate in value, the more money the firm would have to pay. If in January 2008, the New Zealand company decided not to hedge US$10 million in payments due a year later, it would have seen its cost rise from N$12.5 million (NZDUSD = 0.8000) to N$20 million (NZDUSD = 0.5000). By not hedging, the New Zealand firm would have had to pay out an extra N$7.5 million!

The next blog post will illustrate how market positioning can be used in timing.

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.

The Benefits of Hedging, and Managing FX Risk: Part 2

Managing this FX risk faced by importers and exporters all over the globe today is a three-step process: identify FX risk; develop a strategy; and utilized the proper instruments/strategies to hedge the risk.

Identify FX Risk

As explained in the previous blog post, the most common type of risk faced by firms is transaction risk. For a New Zealand exporting company paid in Australian Dollars, measuring FX risk entails determining how many Australian Dollars it expects to receive over the coming quarter (whatever the period of business may be), versus the money the New Zealand firm will need to make payments in Australian Dollars over the same period. Simply put, this difference is the amount that needs to be hedged.

Developing a Strategy

Developing a hedging strategy necessitates that the following questions be answered: when should FX exposure be hedged; what tools/instruments are available under the current circumstances; and how will the performance of the hedge be measured? Developing a strategy is contingent on where in the process a firm is (see flow chart below).

Blog 5 Image

Using the Proper Hedging Instrument

Implementing the proper hedging strategy involves a review of the company’s policies as well as the intentions of the hedge. Hedges can vary from something simple like purchasing the foreign currency, to more round about ways like purchasing commodities in the country where the company’s products are sold.

We will discuss different types of hedges – what the proper hedging instrument is – in the next post.

The Benefits of Hedging, and Managing FX Risk: Part 1

Many small- and medium-sized firms engaging in import and/or export activity tend not to hedge. The reasons not to hedge come in all shapes and sizes: it’s too complex; it’s too costly; there’s a misconception that it is speculation; or even that that firms don’t know about hedging tools and strategies available to them. And in the case that companies don’t hedge despite being aware of its benefits – the excuse is often that exchange rates might even hold steady! These are costly, misguided beliefs!

Many studies show that hedging is a necessary activity for firms operating in the contemporary globalized economy. Benefits include:

– Increase ability to forecast future cash flows

– Minimize the impact of exchange rate volatility on profits

– Diminish the need to attempt to forecast exchange rates

– Helps ‘buy time’ for a company to adjust its marketing and sales strategies should the domestic currency rise in value, thereby reducing the firm’s competiveness abroad

Needless to say, if a firm has the financial ability to hedge at a reasonable cost, there’s no reason not to! Essentially, hedging is like FX insurance.

The next blog post will cover the steps involved with hedging.

Hedging Basics: Hedging Using Interest Rate Futures Risk Reversals

Exposure to the interest rate markets can be hedged with many financial instruments. One of the more flexible is the risk reversal.  A key benefit of the risk reversal is that it does not exposure the hedger to immediate gains or losses (similar to a swap or futures contract) as it allows the hedger to create a range in which their exposure is un-hedged.

Futures Contracts
A futures contract is an obligation between two parties to purchase or sell a physical or financial product as some date in the future.  Interest rate futures are traded on exchanges such as the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and provide a clearing platform for traders that eliminate credit risk.

The strategy of a risk reversal for a hedger that is looking to mitigate downside exposure to the interest rate market is to purchase a put on an interest rate futures contract and simultaneously sell a call on an interest rate futures contract.  The strike price of the call and the put are generally a certain percentage away from the current spot price, creating a range above and below the current price where the trader is not hedged.  If the price of the futures contract falls below the put, the trader receives a payout.  If the price of the futures contract rises above the call, the trader needs to make a payment.

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.

Understanding Central Bank Liquidity Swaps

This is part 7 of a 10 part series on currency swaps and interest rate swaps and their role in the global economy. In part 7, we illustrated how companies use swaps in the global market place, but on a company-to-company basis. In part 8, we’ll explain the purpose of swaps on the central bank level and when they’re used.

As established earlier in this series, a currency swap is an agreement to exchange principal interest and fixed interest in one currency (i.e. the U.S. Dollar) for principal interest and fixed interest in another currency (i.e. the Euro). 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.

Banks and companies aren’t the only parties using currency swaps. A special type of currency swap, a central bank liquidity swap, is utilized by central banks (hence the name) to provide their domestic country’s currency (i.e. the Federal Reserve using the U.S. Dollar) to another country’s central bank (i.e. the Bank of Japan).

Central bank liquidity swaps are a new instrument, first deployed in December 2007 in agreements with the European Central Bank and the Swiss National Bank as U.S. Dollar funding markets ‘dried up’ overseas. The Federal Reserve created the currency swap lines to assist foreign central banks with the ability to provide U.S. Dollar funding to financial institutions during times of market stress. For example, if the Federal Reserve were to open up liquidity swaps with the Bank of Japan, the Bank of Japan could provide U.S. Dollar funding to Japanese banks (just as the Bank of England would provide liquidity to British banks, etc).

As the world’s most important central bank (next to the Bank of International Settlements, considered the central bank for central banks) in one of the world’s most globalized financial markets, the Federal Reserve has a responsibility of keeping safe financial institutions under its jurisdiction. Thus, when factors abroad (such as the European sovereign debt crisis) create funding stresses for U.S. financial institutions, the Federal Reserve, since 2007, has opened up temporary swap lines.

Generally speaking, currency liquidity swaps involve two transactions. First, like currency swaps between banks and companies (as illustrated in part 7), when a foreign central bank needs to access U.S. Dollar funding, the foreign central bank sells a specified amount of its currency to the Federal Reserve in exchange for U.S. Dollars at the current spot exchange rate.

In the second transaction, the Federal Reserve and the foreign central bank enter into agreement that says the foreign central bank will buy back its currency at a specified date at the same exchange rate for which it exchanged them for U.S. Dollars. Additionally, the foreign central bank pays the Federal Reserve interest on its holdings.

Unlike regular currency swaps, central bank liquidity swaps are rare and only occur during times of market stress. The first such occurrence, as noted earlier, was in December 2007, as funding markets started to dry up as the U.S. economy entered a recession as the housing market crashed.

More recently, on November 30, 2011, the Federal Reserve announced liquidity swaps with the Bank of Canada, the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan, the European Central Bank, and the Swiss National Bank, after the European sovereign debt crisis roiled markets throughout the fall. These swaps are set to expire in February 2013.

What necessitated the Federal Reserve’s most recent round of central bank liquidity swaps? The ongoing crisis in Greece, which in fact was onset by a series of ill-advised interest rate swaps with U.S. bank Goldman Sachs.

In part 8 of 10 of this series, we’ll discuss the role of interest rate swaps in more recent times: the Euro-zone crisis (as well as answer the question in part 5 about Goldman Sach’s role with Greece’s demise).

Floating-for-Floating and Fixed-for-Fixed Swaps: Domestic and Foreign Currency Transactions

This is part 4 of a 10 part series on currency swaps and interest rate swaps and their role in the global economy. In parts 1 and 2, we discussed the beginnings of swaps as well as the differences between interest rate swaps and currency swaps. In part 3, we discussed fixed-for-floating swaps. In part 4, we’ll discuss floating-for-floating and fixed-for-fixed swaps.

In the first 3 parts of this series on interest rate swaps and their role in the global economy, we’ve covered the broader strokes of interest rate swaps and currency swaps, with our most recent discussion focusing on fixed-for-floating swaps, or plain vanilla swaps. While similar, fixed-for-fixed swaps are slightly different from their plain vanilla counterpart.

Floating-for-floating rate swaps can be used to limit risk associated with two indexes fluctuating in value. For example, if company A has a floating rate loan at JPY 1M LIBOR and it has a floating rate investment that yields JPY 1M TIBOR + 60-basis points and currently the JPY 1M TIBOR is equal to JPY 1M LIBOR + 20-basis points. Given these metrics, company A has a current profit of +80-basis points. If company A thinks that JPY 1M TIBOR will decrease relative to the LIBOR rate or that JPY 1M LIBOR is going to increase relative to the TIBOR rate, it would initiate a floating-for-floating swap to hedge against downside risk.

Company A finds company B in a similar situation, each finding a comparable advantage to a floating-for-floating swap. Company A can swap JPY TIBOR + 60-basis points and receive JPY LIBOR + 70-basis points. By doing so, company A has effectively locked in profit of 70-basis points instead of holding +80-basis points unprotected to volatility in the base indexes.

A fixed-for-fixed swap is fairly straight forward. Let’s say an American firm, company C, is able to take out a fixed rate loan in the U.S. at 8%, but needs a loan in Australian Dollars to finance a construction project in Australia. However, the interest rate for company C is 12% in Australia. Simultaneously, an Australian company, company D, can take out a fixed rate loan of 9%, but needs a loan in U.S. dollars to finance a construction project in the U.S., where the interest rate is 13%.

This is where a fixed-for-fixed currency swap comes into play: company C (in the U.S.) can borrow funds at 8% and lend the funds to the Australian company for 8%, while company D (in Australia) can borrow funds at 9% and lend the funds to the U.S. company for 9%. The comparable advantage is equal for both company C and company D: both save 4% they would have otherwise had to have spent without fixed-for-fixed currency swaps.

In part 5 of 10 of this series, we’ve fielded some basic questions on interest rate swaps and will provide some clear, succinct answers to make this complex financial instrument a little more ‘plain vanilla.’

Interest Rate Swap Tutorial, Part 3 of 5, Floating Legs

Interest Rate Swap Example

For our example swap we will be using the following inputs:

  • Notional: $1,000,000 USD
  • Coupon Frequency: Semi-Annual
  • Fixed Coupon Amount: 1.24%
  • Floating Coupon Index: 6 month USD LIBOR
  • Business Day Convention: Modified Following
  • Fixed Coupon Daycount: 30/360
  • Floating Coupon Daycount: Actual/360
  • Effective Date: Nov 14, 2011
  • Termination Date: Nov 14, 2016
  • We will be valuing our swap as of November 10, 2011.
In the previous article we generated our schedule of coupon dates and calculated our fixed coupon amounts.

Calculating Forward Rates

To calculate the amount for each floating coupon we do the following calculation:

Floating Coupon = Forward Rate x Time x Swap Notional Amount


Forward Rate = The floating rate determined from our zero curve (swap curve)
Time = Year portion that is calculated by the floating coupons daycount method.
Swap Notional = The notional amount set in the swap confirmation.

In the next couple articles we will go through the process of building our zero curve that will be used for the swap pricing. In the meantime we will use the following curve to calculate our forward rates and discount our cashflows.

swap zero curve

The numbers at each date reflect the time value of money principle and reflect what $1 in the future is worth today for each given date.

Let’s look at our first coupon period from Nov 14, 2011 to May 14, 2012. To calculate the forward rate which is expressed as a simple interest rate we use the following formula:
simple interest formula

forward rate discount factor

Solving for R
forward rate formula

In our example we divide the discount factor for May 14, 2012 by the discount factor for Nov 14, 2011 to calculate DF.

0.9966889 / 0.9999843 = 0.9967046

T is calculated using Actual/360. The number of days in our coupon period is 182. 182/360 = 0.505556

R = (1 – 0.9967046) / (0.9967046 x 0.505556) = 0.654%

Our first coupon amount therefore is:

Floating Coupon = Forward Rate x Time x Swap Notional Amount

$ 3,306.33 = 0.654% x 0.505556 x $1,000,000

Below is a table with our forward rate calculations & floating coupon amounts for the rest of our coupons.

swap forward rates

The final step to calculate a fair value for our complete swap is to present value each floating coupon amount and fixed coupon amount using the discount factor for the coupon date.

Present Value of Net Coupon is
(Floating Coupon Amount – Fixed Coupon Amount) x Discount Factor

interest rate swap

Our net fair value of this swap is $ 0.00 as of November 10, 2011.

So far in this tutorial we have gone through basic swap terminology, fixed leg coupon calculations, calculating forward rates for floating leg coupon calculations and discounted our cashflows to value a swap.

Thanks to our sister company Resolution for providing us with this series of posts.

Next Article: Present value of money & bootstrapping a swap curve