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:

AUDUSD_unemployment

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.

RBA CPI

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.


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.

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.

An Introduction to Currency Risk for Importers and Exporters

Import and export companies face the daunting task of dealing with foreign exchange risk that can easily alter revenues from overseas; with smaller cash reserves, exchange rate fluctuations can be the difference between profits and losses. Although FX volatility has been trending towards multiyear lows for the past few months, the last few years since the financial crisis have seen exceptionally high rates of FX volatility that make it difficult for firms, both large and small alike, to accurately price products sold overseas where a non-domestic currency is used.

NZD-USD Graph

 

For companies in New Zealand, for example, overseas sales are rarely calculated in New Zealand Dollars, considering it is a generally accepted practice that export sales are invoiced in the foreign buyer’s currency. With the New Zealand Dollar’s exchange rate seeing large, rapid swings frequently against major currencies such as the Australian Dollar, the Euro, the Japanese Yen, and the U.S. Dollar, it has often been more difficult for companies dealing with business overseas to accurately forecast revenue streams. This risk to the bottom line – the likelihood that a change in foreign exchange rates will negatively impact revenues – is known as foreign exchange risk, or currency risk.

For exporters, currency risk materializes when exchange rate volatility results in the company repatriating fewer revenues abroad, when the domestic currency strengthens relative to the foreign currency. For importers, this risk is the exact opposite: currency risk materializes when the domestic currency weakens relative to the foreign currency. This is true because of purchasing power parity, the relative equilibrium of exchange rates between two currencies so that an identical good in country A costs the same in country B.

Therefore, if exchange rate fluctuations cause the currency of country A to appreciate relative to the currency of country B, goods produced by country B will become cheaper to consumers in country A. If consumers in country A find that they can get the same product in country B but at a cheaper price due to the exchange rate fluctuation, they will purchase it. But for consumers in country B, whose currency has weakened, they will not consume the identical product from country A, as it would cost more.

Exporters and importers face these same risks. Importers in country A see weakened demand and smaller revenues as a result of the stronger currency; while exporters in country B see strengthened demand and greater revenues as a result of the weaker currency. When a company’s cash flow is negatively impacted by currency risk, it is known as transaction exposure.

In the next blog post, we will discuss the four different types of transaction exposure, and when and why it is appropriate to hedge against currency risk.

“Hedge Accounting and Beyond: Currency Volatility and Movements Aren’t Just Treasury’s Problem”

I came across this nice little article today from Jason Busch of Enterprise Irregulars on the need, during such volatile economic times, for a wider understanding of Hedge Accounting and its role in managing an organization’s currency exposure.

As Busch says, management right across businesses with currency exposure (whether through global sourcing or international sales) need to have a much better understanding of the tools at their disposal, and need to stop relying on their treasury team (if they are lucky enough to have one) to manage these “stormy waters”. It takes a collaborative effort between Treasury and “the business” to make sure that a business is qualifying for hedge accounting, and therefore minimising the impact of currency shifts on their profitability.

As Richard Eaddy commented in his latest article, for most businesses hedge accounting need not be the onerous process that it is perceived as and is a vital tool in helping to ensure that the market volatility doesn’t have to flow through to your company’s income statement. But to Jason Busch’s point, it needs to be a team effort.

When to use zero-premium FX collar options as the method of hedging

For importers and exporters managing trade-related transactional FX exposures, the choice of hedging instrument is just as important to overall performance as tactical/strategic risk management decisions to position at the minimum or maximum of hedging policy limits. Increased volatility in many currency pairs over recent years has naturally increased option premium costs, however it is not wise to always hedge via zero-premium collar options and never consider paying premium to buy outright call and put currency options. The choice between these option instruments and straight forward exchange contracts normally comes down to the following considerations:

  • If the home currency spot rate is at an historical low point against the export receipt currency (say based on long-term average rates) and the lead-indicators point to a greater probability of appreciation of the home currency than further depreciation, the choice of hedge instrument is going to be heavily weighted to straight forwards.
  • If the home currency spot rate is at an historical high point against the export receipt currency (based on long-term average rates) and the lead-indicators point to a greater probability of depreciation of the home currency than further appreciation, the choice of hedge instrument is more likely to be buying outright call options on the home currency.
  • When the currency pairs are trading closer to long-term average levels and there is no clear indication on future direction either way, collar options fulfill the objective of being hedged at an acceptable rate (the cap), however leaving some opportunity to participate in favorable market rate movements at least down to the collar floor level.

In some respect, hedging with collars is akin to having permanent orders in the market to deal at more favourable exchange rate levels with protection on the other side along the way. Whilst zero-premium may appear attractive, FX risk managers should always examine the trade-off’s of paying some premium to widen the gap between the floor and cap strike rates to provide greater opportunity of participation in favourable rate movements. In a similar vein, opportunities should be taken to restructure collars over the course of their term by buying back the sold cap or floor, or alternatively converting the collar to a straight forward if original target hedged rates are achievable. An active mixture of hedging instruments within policy limits should provide greater opportunity to beat benchmark and budget exchange rates.

Roger Kerr is widely regarded as one of New Zealand’s leading professional advisers and commentators on local/international financial markets, the New Zealand economy and corporate treasury risk management. Roger has over 30 years merchant and investment banking industry experience, and has been closely associated with the changes and development of New Zealand’s financial markets since 1981. Roger advises many Australian and New Zealand companies in the specialist areas of foreign exchange risk, interest rate and funding risk and treasury management policy/governance matters.

Roger has provided daily market and economic commentary on the 6.40am slot at radio station NewstalkZB since 1994.