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Tag Archives: exchange rates
As discussed in previous blog posts, exporters face risks with fixed or floating exchange rates. In fact, even if you denominate all trade in dollars, the exchange rate can still play a major role in determining demand for your product or service. So, the bottom line is that you can mitigate, not eliminate, exchange rate risk. Here are some strategies to consider:
- You should do a sensitivity analysis for all of your major markets when you are doing your business forecasts. First, look at the range of the exchange rate fluctuations over the previous years, and then decide a reasonable plus or minus range around the current exchange rate. Recalculate your bottom line for each market using the high and low calculation. This will give you an indication of your company’s exposure to exchange rate changes in a given market. If there is a major impact on your bottom line, you may want to consider one of the following hedging strategies. For major currencies, the organized currency markets can provide a variety of responses.
- You can purchase currency on the futures market to align with your expected collection date. With this you can be assured of the price, but at a cost.
- You can also purchase an option to buy at a certain price if the exchange rate exceeds a certain level. This is similar to a “put” in the stock market and is less expensive than a forward contract. It does, however, expose you to market fluctuations until you reach the strike price.
- For currencies that are not freely traded, you can request the payment in dollars (or at the local currency equivalent on the spot market on the day the contract closes). This may minimize your risk but it also shifts the risk to your buyer. This could cost you sales if your competitors do have a similar requirement. A dollar denominated sales strategy does lessen risk, but it also limits your opportunities to expand markets.
- If there is a significant market risk, you may also want to keep the pipeline short to minimize your exposure in a particular market. If you have a local operation (warehouse or subsidiary), you can keep inventory to the bare minimum. You can also limit the term of your price quotes (for example, instead of 90 days, you could quote the day of the sale and require pre-payment).
As an exporter, there is an implicit exchange rate risk with every transaction. Most risks are small and you can build in the margin to cover those risks. (If you can’t build in the margin, you might want to reconsider the sale.) The trick is identifying when there are larger risks and taking the appropriate steps to protect your business.
Managed currencies, those where governments set or maintain a currency level, present opportunities and challenges for exporters. Exporters need to understand the type of exchange rate regime that a country has and the risks that a country may not be able to maintain that regime.
Many developing countries have fixed exchange rates. The government (usually the central bank) manages all foreign trade transactions and dictates the exchange rate against a currency (if it is the dollar, you may hear it referred to as “pegged” against the dollar).
The fixed exchange rate regime works in theory if it reflects a level that the clears the market (supply = demand). In reality, that is usually hard to manage and maintain on a long term basis. If there is a current account deficit, the central bank has to draw down on international currency reserves. If there is a surplus (as has happened in China), the extra money enters the domestic money supply, creating inflationary pressures. If there is a parallel currency black market (which there almost always is), there will be a divergence between the official and black market rate. Inevitably, market pressures will force a change in currency peg.
Recognizing these market forces, many central banks adopt tools to gradually manage the exchange rate. There is a tool called a crawling peg in which the central bank changes the exchange rate along a pre-announced path. Another tool is a managed float. The Central Bank announces a desired exchange rate with a band around the rate (for example +/- 2%). If the market results in an exchange rate that is above or below the band, the Central Bank intervenes.
So what does a managed currency mean to an exporter? Remember as I noted in last month’s column, you don’t have to be selling goods or services in the currency for an exchange rate change to affect your competitiveness in the market.
- A fixed rate may give some short term certainty to the exporter. As you look into the future, there is increasing risk that a change (devaluation or revaluation) will occur.
- A float or crawling peg may result in short-term fluctuations in the currency. My experience is that generally the countries can adapt more readily to changing market conditions with a managed float.
- In the event of a major political or economic event, the exchange rate can shift suddenly and radically, with major impacts for the exporter.
One real life example: I was loaned out to Caterpillar Financial Services for one year and I helped them set up operations in Mexico just following the entry into force of the NAFTA. Mexico had a fixed exchange rate regime at the time and the Mexican government swore that it would not devalue, despite a growing current account deficit. Those of you who are familiar with Mexican history know that there is six year boom-bust cycle associated with the presidential elections. In this case, Salinas was leaving office as Zedillo took over. I asked Caterpillar’s advisers on Wall Street who believed that there would be no devaluation. I went to Mexico and asked wealthy businessmen what they were doing with their money. All said they were sending their money to the US until after the devaluation. I told Caterpillar to wait until after the devaluation. The devaluation came after the inauguration but was much larger than expected. As a result, Caterpillar was able to set up a subsidiary for less than half of the amount that was originally planned.
Exchange rates are the determinants for profitability for exporters, yet they are poorly understood because of the complexities and uncertainties of the markets. But it is a crucial consideration, even though exporters have no control over this variable. Have you thought what would happen to your sales if the dollar appreciated against the currency of your export market?
Many small exporters say “I don’t worry about exchange rates because my sales are all in dollars.” That begs the question. The exchange rate determines the price competitiveness of your product versus domestic products and imports. In other words, how are your priced versus your competitors? Let’s take an example:
- The dollar ($) is currently worth 0.75 Euro (€). Let’s say you are exporting California Merlot that is $100/case. That is the equivalent of €75.
- If the dollar appreciates (becomes stronger against the Euro), the price becomes higher in Euro terms. Thus if it reached parity ($1 = €1), the price in Euros would be €100.
- If the dollar depreciates (becomes weaker against the Euro), the price is less in Euros. If the dollar dropped to $2/€1, the price in Euros would be €50.
Thus in the example, nothing has changed from the exporters standpoint – he still is charging $100 per case. There is no exchange rate risk but there is market risk. The price competitiveness of the California Merlot has shifted against French Bordeaux or Argentine Malbec. Under the stronger currency model, US products are less competitive. I always wonder why our politicians are so fond of arguing that the US needs a strong currency.
The Dollar versus Other Reserve Currencies
The world of exchange rates can be loosely divided into reserve currencies (Dollar, Euro, Yen and English Pounds) and all others. The reserve currencies are the currencies that are kept by Central Banks as the backing for other currencies (much as gold used to be) and are the most widely traded. The reserve currencies have no restrictions on trading and are market determined. Others, for example Chilean pesos, have restrictions on trading and the rate is (partially) set by the central government.
In International Economics classes, you will hear the professors (me included) talk about how exchange rates are determined by supply and demand. One component of supply is the current account – is more or less money flowing into/ out of the country due to trade. A component of demand is monetary policy – is the government creating too much money and artificially stimulating demand?
The cold truth is that for the reserve currencies the key determinant is interest rate differentials. Pay less attention to trade deficits or political strains. In the $4 trillion daily foreign exchange market, less than 10% is related to trade. The rest is due to the global virtual floating crap game called foreign exchange markets. Money fund managers shift around money tens of billions each night to take advantage of slight interest rate differentials between London, Tokyo and New York.
Thus for the major currencies the key factor you should keep your eye on is interest rate policies. For example, if Chairman Bernanke announces an end the Quantitative Easing program, the markets will react by assuming that US interest rates will rise and the money managers will put their funds into dollars. That will lead to an appreciation of the dollar and bad news for US exporters to the Eurozone.