Year-end Financial Instrument Check List

30 June marks the financial year-end for many Australian and New Zealand public and private companies, as well as Councils. With an ever increasing compliance burden, we have put together a practical check list for those entities that have exposure to financial instruments such as FX forwards, FX options and interest rate swaps. Those familiar with the international accounting standards understand the minefield that they are, with pages upon pages of text. We have boiled them down to five simple, practical and fundamental items.

 

Fair value (IFRS 13 / AASB 13)

IFRS 13 clearly states that valuations need to be an independent “exit price” for the transaction. It is hard to argue that a valuation from one of the counterparties to the transaction (i.e. the bank), constitutes an independent valuation, however, there are still many companies that rely on their bank for this information. Such reliance on the bank is understandable when the auditor accepts this approach, although we are seeing a much bigger push by the audit community to challenge companies on the lack of independence of a bank valuation given the bank is counterparty and valuer of the financial instrument. Historically there have been few economic alternatives to bank valuations, that is no longer a valid argument.

 

CVA/DVA (IFRS 13 / AASB 13)

The most recent compliance requirement for companies using financial instruments is the adjustment to fair value for credit. IFRS 13 requires a Credit Value Adjustment (CVA) or Debit Value Adjustment (DVA) to all financial instruments. Financial institutions have been credit adjusting their own positions for years, however, the requirement has filtered down so that all parties to financial instrument transactions must calculate and apply a credit adjustment. There is a strong argument that it is overkill for companies using financial instruments to hedge their foreign exchange cashflows (payments/receipts) or debt using plain vanilla instruments to have to make CVA/DVA adjustments. There is little added-value to the company, there is a cost to calculate the adjustment and the number is often immaterial (still have to calculate the number to determine its immateriality, however). It is different if you are trading financial instruments or are using credit hungry instruments such as cross-currency interest rate swaps but auditors, as prescribed by the accounting standards, are (or should be) forcing all financial instruments to be adjusted by CVA/DVA. There is a multitude of approaches to calculating CVA/DVA from the complex (potential future exposure method) to the simple (current exposure method). For those using plain vanilla instruments such as FX forwards or interest rate swaps then a simple methodology is appropriate. It is worth noting that the movement in both FX rates and interest rates over the last 12 months means valuations have moved significantly over the last 12 months which results in higher, more material CVA/DVA adjustments.

 

Sensitivity analysis (IFRS 7)

As part of the notes to the accounts under IFRS 7 there is a requirement to include a sensitivity analysis for financial instruments. This is a “what if” scenario that requires the re-calculation of fair value if the underlying market data is flexed. Often a +/-10% movement in the spot rate is used for FX instruments and a +/-100bp parallel shift in the yield curve for interest rate instruments. In theory there should be some sense check applied to the probability of the movement occurring i.e. if interest rates are close to zero then there is a low probability of a -100 basis point adjustment in the curve. We see little evidence of this in practice.

 

Hedge effectiveness testing (IAS 39 / IFRS 9 / AASB 9)

One of the biggest headaches at year-end is for those hedge accounting. Hedge accounting was introduced for practical reasons – remove noisy P&L volatility from unrealised gains/losses on financial instruments and put these adjustments on the balance sheet instead. In the early days of hedge accounting the approach was complicated and expensive. As auditors and accountants understanding of hedge accounting has developed over time, the process of hedge accounting has become much less complex. The most important aspect is the documentation. The effectiveness testing aspect of hedge accounting is fairly straightforward, particularly when utilising a treasury management system. The replacement of IAS 39 by IFRS 9 (effective 1 Jan 2018) will make hedge accounting a little easier with the removal of the 80-125% bright line and removal of the requirement to split option valuations between time and intrinsic value.

 

Time versus intrinsic (IAS 39)

Until IFRS 9 is effective (Jan 2018), companies hedge accounting for FX options (whether outright purchased options or in a collar relationship) must split the value of an option into its time and intrinsic components. The intrinsic value of an FX option is the difference between the prevailing market forward rate for the expiry of the FX option versus the strike price. The time value of an FX option is the difference between the overall FX option valuation and the intrinsic value. By definition, time value is a function of the time left to the expiry of the FX option. The longer the time to expiry, the higher the time value as there is a greater probability of the FX option being exercised. The intrinsic value goes to the balance sheet whilst the time value goes to P&L. Splitting time and intrinsic value is not too easy to do on the back of an envelope/spreadsheet, rather it is something that lends itself to be derived from a system.

 

Summary

Many companies try to complete the necessary compliance through using spreadsheets and bank valuations which is not only poor practice (valuations should be independent) but also error prone and time consuming. There are low cost systems available that can streamline, simplify and improve the ever increasing burden of year-end reporting requirements.

This article should not be taken as accounting advice but rather a practical guide and check list.

Digital disruption in the Treasury Management System space

There is a digital revolution going on in the treasury management system space, not that you would necessarily know.  For many there is still a stark choice – over-priced, over-complex and over-engineered treasury systems or good old Excel spreadsheets. But the world is changing and as with all things technology, it is happening at a rapid pace.

Globally, larger organisations are well catered for as far as treasury management systems are concerned, and in fact it is a crowded and mature market. The PwC Global Treasury Survey of 2014 showed that 80% of those companies surveyed were using some type of treasury management system. However, as with big ERP systems, the issue for the providers of large, expensive treasury systems is how to offer a cost-effective alternative to the massive SME market without detrimentally affecting their existing market. The challenge is to offer a slimmed down treasury management system without compromising the huge premium that they currently charge.

So where is the competition for these large, expensive systems coming from? The answer is the cloud app revolution which is sweeping the world. Platforms are being developed that aggregate a whole bunch of cloud apps, both financial and non-financial. The really clever bit is the integration of these different apps and bringing it all together through a variety of widgets and dashboards to give a complete, and often unique, view of a company’s position. It’s like a Fitbit for business.

Not only are these cloud app aggregators bringing leading edge technology to the SME market but they are doing so for small monthly fees. The apps cross the spectrum of business tools such as accounting systems, CRMs, social media tools and now treasury management systems. All of this for a few hundred dollars a month.

In the on-line accounting world, Xero is leading the charge in the digital disruption revolution with its New Zealand developed, $50 per month product. Treasury systems will need to follow suit with a much cheaper solution.

By leveraging cloud technology, treasury systems can be implemented for costs palatable to the underserviced SME market. There is an enormous amount of importers and exporters hedging their foreign cashflows with forward exchange contracts and possibly FX options. These companies probably aren’t hedge accounting, even if they are reporting under IFRS, but the impact of exchange rate movements is vitally important to their bottom line.

SMEs require the ability to record, report and value their transactions but just as importantly they want access to tools to help them make better hedging decisions. This is not too different from larger companies except SMEs are mostly using plain vanilla instruments. For a small monthly fee SMEs can benefit from a treasury management system with basic functionality, which integrates perfectly with other cloud based apps. So as we have seen with cloud based accounting systems, the power that was once reserved for large organisations can be put in the hands of a much larger group for a fraction of the cost.

Whether the current treasury management system providers have a solution for the SME market remains to be seen. It maybe that they do not care for this part of the market, however there are parallels with the large and expensive ERP systems which have successfully moved into the mid-market space and are now looking at the next tier down. The conundrum for treasury management system providers will be that SMEs will desire the core functionality of a larger system but without the price tag. The digital revolution for treasury management systems may only be in its infancy but it is set to have major ramifications regardless of the size of organisation.

First published on Treasury Insider (www.treasuryinsider.com)

Know your position: FX Volatility, friend or foe?

The FX market is no stranger to volatility. Whether it is global economic or political uncertainties, or a country’s interest rate outlook, they all play out in the currency markets. The constant push and pull of both known and unknown information can lead to bouts of extreme volatility. FX traders love volatility. There are plenty of opportunities to enter and exit positions and make money. FX trading is not for the faint hearted however, it is easier to lose money than it is to make it. But how do businesses that are buying or selling goods and services in foreign currencies navigate their way through the challenges of managing FX risk? FX trading is not a core function for most businesses but yet the impact of the FX market can make or break a financial year. I have witnessed businesses being wiped out due to adverse FX movements such as the commodity exporter that saw commodity prices plummet at the same time as the FX rate soar, a catastrophic combination. On the other hand I have seen a business live to trade another year because it was sitting on significant gains from in-the-money FX hedges that were cashed up to offset the losses suffered in the core business.

There is a plethora of risk management approaches to FX risk. To start with there is the philosophical debate about whether to hedge or not. Some would say that it is a zero-sum game in the long run i.e. periods of currency strength will be offset by periods of weakness, therefore, there is no incentive to hedge, just live with the swings and roundabouts of the prevailing spot rate. Of course the question is whether a business can sustain periods of adverse currency movements long enough to stay in business and enjoy the good times. For those that do participate in FX hedging there are questions of how much to hedge, when to hedge, which financial instrument to use?

The NZD/AUD exchange rate in the last few months has demonstrated massive volatility strengthening 10c (>10%) in less than six months. For years the NZD was extremely weak against the high flying AUD. As every other economy was cutting interest rates following the GFC the Aussies were just digging up more of its natural resources and selling it to China. The global recession did not come to Australia. More recently there has been a significant change in the Australian economic outlook. Current account surplus has turned to deficit as its trading partners have slowed, forcing the Reserve Bank to loosen monetary policy. At the same time the better performing NZ economy has been able to sustain a removal of the post-recession super loose monetary policy conditions. As shown below the interest rate differential of NZ and Australia remains a clear influence on the exchange rate.

Aussie int rate diffs

 

The importance of the Australian economy to New Zealand means that there are a lot of NZ companies exporting to Australia that are having to manage the NZD/AUD exchange rate. Everyone has a view – some you pay for (treasury advisors, consultants) some you don’t (bankers, taxi drivers) but they all have one thing in common – nobody knows the future direction of FX rates. That’s not to say taking advice (paid for or otherwise) is not relevant. No advice will be right all of the time but so long as the view is well considered and relevant to your business then it is hard to be critical after the fact with the benefit of hindsight. Hedging buys a business the necessary time to adjust selling prices or supply contracts to the new FX level.

A fundamental aspect of FX hedging decisions is to quantify and understand the impact of FX movements on the business. By regularly making and updating foreign cashflow forecasts, capturing existing hedging in place and understanding the impact of FX movements on the unhedged component of foreign cashflows, a company is in a much better position to make informed hedging decisions. Whether it is a budget rate or a costing rate to protect knowing your position is essential for making better FX hedging decisions. One thing is certain – FX markets will always be volatile – the question is whether a company has enough visibility on its current position to make sound decisions about the future. Hedgebook is a tool that can help give a company the visibility it needs to make informed FX hedging decisions.

 

FX management and a good night’s sleep

How hard is it really to manage your foreign exchange positions? Often we over think it and probably over-complicate things at the same time. Sure if you are a large corporate with many and varied risks it isn’t easy but for most it can be pretty straightforward. You are either an importer or an exporter. Maybe you can offset some receipts or payments or maybe you can’t but generally you should be looking at managing your net position. That would be a good start to simplifying things.

Next, no matter how big you are you should have a treasury policy that tells you what instruments you can use, who you can deal with and any parameters you need to keep within e.g. Minimum and maximum hedging levels. Generally you should be able to deal with fx forwards and vanilla options. Of course many corporates will only do options if they don’t have to write a cheque, so probably it’s only fx forwards and zero-cost collars.

Ideally you would have two banks to deal with to keep some competitive tension and online dealing platforms are more common now so you don’t even need to ring up the bank to do the deal. You might want to for some advice or to remind the dealer that you are available for the rugby next week. What’s important with currencies though is the medium term trend, not what is going to happen in the next 24 hours.

You should have some parameters to keep within that reflect your business risks and competitive situation. Despite what some may tell you no-one knows where the currencies are going so it makes sense to carry minimum amounts of cover just in case you, your advisor or bank is wrong. Budget rates and costing rates are important to keep front of mind. No one will thank you for protecting the budget rate but everyone will point the finger if you don’t.

We live in an age of information overload so don’t get bogged down on too much detail. Everyone will have a different story on where the currency is going and why. Form your own view on the basis of your own business. If you are unprofitable at a certain level then make sure you have as much cover as possible if it gets close to those key rates. If you know your competitor is covering everything on a short term basis you might need to reflect this in your own policy.

It is also really important to keep an accurate record of your positions and hedges. Not just for yourself to make the right decisions but also to easily report where you are to senior management. For whatever reason everyone seems to have a view on where the currency is going and happy to tell you when you get it wrong. Having good controls and recording mechanisms in this area will give others in the organisation confidence in the way you are managing a sensitive part of the business. They might just ask a few less questions too!

I am not saying currency hedging is easy, far from it, but it shouldn’t keep you up at night either if you follow some basic guidelines and principles.

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.

The Federal Reserve, the U.S. Economy, and the U.S. Dollar: Part 2

This post will discuss the broad ramifications of the Federal Reserve’s exit from the markets on the U.S. Dollar, and the process by which it will be accomplished.

While the S&P 500 climbed by +42.15% over the past three years (since the beginning of February 2010), the U.S. Dollar has been quite flat, yet volatility has been quite high. When QE2 took place from November 2010 through June 2011, the Fed’s total balance sheet size surged by $600B. It’s of no coincidence that during the lead up time to the initiation of the program to its culmination that the ICE Dollar Index, a weighted average of the ‘true’ value of the U.S. Dollar relative to a basket of currencies, fell by -16.38%.

More recently, the U.S. Dollar has exhibited signs of strength during periods at which the Federal Reserve stops injecting liquidity or withdraws from the system, but against a backdrop of significant uncertainty around the world, from growth in the United States and Asia, to political in Europe, and violent conflict across the Middle East. There is a case to suggest that the U.S. Dollar would have gained regardless of whether the Federal Reserve was easing at such a torrid pace, but we think it would be even stronger.

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If the Federal Reserve begins to wind-down its QE3 program, it will likely be in a few steps: first, publicly discuss exit plans (happening now); second, slow the pace of asset purchases from its current rate at $85B/month to $0/month over the course of several months (4Q’13); third, keep the balance sheet steady with interest rates near zero percent (ZIRP) (through 1H’14); and fourth, begin to sterilize (sell the assets) the balance sheet (2H’14 through 2H’16). As this process occurs, because market participants usually front-run policy and act on rhetoric rather than actual policy more recently, the U.S. Dollar is expected to continue its upturn despite the continued expansion of the Fed’s total balance sheet, as it’s clear the stronger U.S. consumer is beginning to support a stronger economic recovery.

There’s a big “if” to this whole equation: the U.S. budget sequester. Yes, the pesky, self-induced dose of austerity that U.S. politicians agreed was the best way to fix the nation’s apparent deficit and debt problems. Could the feckless Congress derail the recovery?

This series of eight posts will focus on the major themes affecting currency markets. The fourth post in this series will discuss why political impasse in the United States could be the straw that breaks the economy’s and the U.S. Dollar’s back.

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).

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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.