Are you overlooking your foreign currency risks?

Nearly all S&P 500 companies discuss foreign currency risk and hedging activities. However, any business that is competing, buying or selling services and/or products internationally, regardless of its size, faces some form of economic risk attributed to currency movements. Even if companies are transacting internationally in U.S. dollars only, they are still subject to foreign exchange risk.

“One of the biggest challenges companies face is the ability to identify and quantify their foreign exchange risk exposures,” says Jim Altman, middle market Pennsylvania Regional Executive at Huntington Bank. “This is particularly true of economic risk — the competitive advantage or disadvantage resulting from exchange rate fluctuations that impact the value of a firm. Even those that can identify their exposures face the issues of optimizing their hedging strategies or forecasting their future exposures.”

Smart Business spoke with Altman about foreign exchange risk and strategies to hedge against it.

What are the first steps to hedging the impact of foreign currency fluctuations?

An effective strategy is to lock into a forward contract or enter into an option contract. These strategies allow companies to lock in exchange rates today to settle contracts in the future and can mitigate currency exposures currently on the books or expected future exposure. Hedge accounting rules may also play into companies’ hedging policies, if applicable.

What are the more common hedging strategies?

Most companies implement a foreign exchange risk hedging program to reduce earnings or cash-flow volatility. Given this objective, it’s wise to create and implement a formal hedging program, which includes establishing a foreign exchange policy.

For example, the program may seek to hedge 100 percent of foreign currency receivables/payables currently listed on the balance sheet. Additionally, the company may also forecast foreign exchange risk exposure out one year. However, if the company does not wish to hedge all exposure, as many do, the plan may include hedging 75 percent of anticipated exposures less than six months out and 50 percent of anticipated exposures six to 12 months out. This is called a tiered hedging approach.

Often companies ask if it is best to hedge all known exposure at one point in time, called a static approach, or if they should layer on hedges — a dynamic approach — throughout a defined time period while blending the varied rates. It is important to consider the level of confidence in forecasted payables and receivables to decide which strategy is best. When considering an approach, it is important to define what percentage of ‘core’ hedges should be locked-in vs. the percentage that should be ‘tactical’ or market driven hedges.

What should companies know and understand before hedging their foreign currency risk?

Throughout the risk management process, the most challenging step can be exposure identification. Foreign income translation can be challenging to hedge, but it may be the cause for unwanted cash-flow fluctuations. Meanwhile, other foreign exchange risk exposures may go completely unnoticed. For example, a company that sells internationally in USD would be extremely vulnerable on a competitive scale if the U.S. dollar rallies broadly. Conversely, if a U.S. company is sourcing overseas in U.S. dollars, it may be over-paying, prompting price concessions.

It is also important for a company to know and understand their tolerance for foreign exchange risk. It is not always advantageous for a company to hedge all of its exposures. Comfort with a specific earnings-at-risk or cash-flow-at-risk will help prevent over-hedging.

Developments in technology and globalization mean the world is increasingly becoming a single market. Often, companies grow faster than their comfort level in managing associated foreign currency risks. Fortunately, the foreign exchange risk market is extremely accessible to businesses of any size, and banks’ foreign exchange risk advisory teams can help tailor risk management solutions that best fit companies’ ever-changing needs.

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