Discussion LinkedIn poll | The impact of recent interest rate increases on treasury

Welcome to the second edition of this newsletter where we discuss the latest treasuryXL poll on current issues in corporate treasury. We will take you through what treasurers think about a current topic by their votes, and a couple of treasury experts will explain their views on the subject. In this edition, we discuss what treasurers should do first to control against sharp increases in interest rates.

We have invited Niki van ZantenJeremy Tumber and Vincenzo Masile ACT ICM ICA ACAMS to share their views on the topic.

25-07-2022 | treasuryXL LinkedIn |

Poll Results

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We clearly notice that the majority of the treasurers are of the opinion that the first thing to do to control sharp interest increases is to reconsider the investment strategy of excess cash. We asked a number of treasury experts to explain why they voted for the other options than for a reconsideration of the investment strategy.

Views of treasuryXL experts

Niki van Zanten

 

“Place excess cash in USD requires a holistic approach, the right time and knowledge, but if applied correctly, will manage your cash like a pro”

 

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Niki voted for the option to move excess cash to USD.

 

Treasurers want to manage certain risks, and often there is a silo approach. Liquidity risk is managed with loans and deposits, Interest risk (and returns) are managed with products such as interest rate swaps and FX is managed with FX spot, forwards and swaps. Once the incoming data (think bank balances, forecasts, markets rates) is structured, the data becomes information and is sufficient to act as treasurer with clear objectives (these are often defined in the above silos).

The next step would be to validate whether the approach meets the objectives. So, far nothing to worry about….until the market exhibits unexpected behavior. For example, a disconnect between FX swap points and underlying interest rate differentials (Jan 2015 USDCHF as a reference), or perhaps a need to optimize interest rates. In this case (and when provided time and knowledge is available), a holistic approach to FX, interest rates and cash can provide the opportunity to place excess cash in a higher-yielding currency without adding FX risk to your portfolio.

In short, it may make sense to place excess cash in USD if it does not shift FX risk or if this shift is managed by FX swaps and the pricing between swaps and deposits is compared. Again, this requires a holistic approach, the right time and knowledge, but if applied correctly, will manage your cash like a pro.

Some considerations may be to look at the efficiency of FX swaps versus deposits, as FX swaps tend to be more efficient, automation of solutions, and tracking and identifying market behavior.

 

Jeremy Tumber

 

 “Analyze how your company is exposed to the economic cycle ”

 

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Jeremy voted for the option to choose something else.

 

First, analyze how your company is exposed to the economic cycle – a study I saw in the early 2000s showed that the best position for airlines was to be 100% floatig, because their business was effectively in lockstep with the business cycle.

In theory, when an entity is part of an industry that is closely aligned with the economic cycle, it has a natural hedge for its interest rate exposure, in that it can afford to pay higher interest rates when the economy is booming, and get some relief from lower interest rates when the economy is slowing. The study I’m referring to involved a major German airline; at the time, the airline’s funding was 80% fixed, and their comments at the time were not very favorable to switching to such a large floating exposure. Fast forward 15 years, or so, and I checked their Financials. They were 85% floating at the time, so they had clearly stepped into the results of the study.

The biggest risk for them would be an extended period of Stagflation, so I hope they do well in the current circumstances!

 

Vincenzo Masile

 

“My view here is that a treasurer should take a conservative approach”

 

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Vincenzo voted for the option to move excess cash to USD.

 

Macro themes continue to drive financial markets. One does not have to look much further than the inverted US yield curve or the collapse in copper to understand that investors continue to re-price global growth prospects lower.

This is possibly because: (a) European activity is more exposed to the Russian energy supply shock and b) the U.S. economy has entered this global tightening cycle with more momentum and a positive output gap.

Inverted yield curves are typically bad news for pro-growth currencies (commodity exporters + Europe & Asia ex-Japan) and typically good news for the dollar, the Japanese yen, and the Swiss franc. This environment looks set to continue over the summer months as the Fed continues its tightening policy.

Recall that the German Bundesbank estimated that the Germany economy could take a 5% GDP hit if gas is rationed. It now appears that we are now not far from such a scenario. The pressure on European growth has caused the Eurostoxx benchmark equity index to fall 22% year-to-date, versus -20% for the S&P 500. The question will be how much more the ECB can tighten before the growth valves come down.

My view here is that a treasurer should take a conservative approach and assume that there are no large loans to be repaid to the banks, existing cash in excess should be moved to USD or to CHF or to JPY at least until the end of this year.

Sooner or later, Ukraine and Russia war will come to an end, so the cycle will reverse and EUR will become more attractive for investors and for treasurers.


Would you like to explain your own vote for this poll? Join the discussion in the comments. And above all, don’t forget to give your opinion on our latest question!

The global FX market, do you want to be a part of it?

02-09-2020 | Niki van Zanten

The straightforward answer is ‘No’. Unfortunately, saying ‘No’ does not imply that you don’t play a part in the global casino named: The FX market. It could be a sane procurement, sales or investment decision that brings you a seat at the table. Unless you are a in this market to make commissions or in some rare instances a (successful) prop trader, you will most likely lose more then you gain when willfully playing the game.

The FX market is by far the largest market in the world easily exceeding equity, bonds markets or any other asset class. Estimates in daily turnover are north of 6 Trillion USD. The vast majority of trades have a USD leg and EUR is coming at a good second place making EURUSD the most traded pair. Comparing this to the Global Domestic Product (GDP) of let’s say 140 Trillion USD as a ballpark figure, the FX market monthly turnover exceeds the world’s annual GDP. Taking into account that not all global GDP related transactions in the world have a FX component, this tells us that a large percentage of the FX are not real money flows.

So what are they? For a part these are institutional investors like pension funds. Pension funds can choose to allocate in different currencies, but the more likely explanation is that a large part of the FX transactions are of a more speculative nature. Hedge funds for instance do not have a functional or group currency and therefore can freely take currency decisions when allocating assets.
So in summary, the largest market place in the world is driven by forces which are extremely difficult to predict by any form of scientific research or even looking into economic data like monetary flows. Not to imply that economic indicators and central bank policy don’t have its influence, but in the end, a market is primarily driven by supply and demand and there is vast speculation in buying and selling of currencies.

Switching to the corporate point of view, companies usually don’t want to be a part of the FX market. It’s the same story as you might wish to procure and/or sell in different currencies than your own for a variety of reason. It’s an open door to mention that this can be very beneficial but all cost need to be factored correctly before taking a decision. With Foreign Exchange this can be a difficult task and considering what is mentioned above, the FX market does not actually make things look better.
A basic example of why it’s hard to get a grip on the currency markets is available when looking at CNH (offshore RMB) forward markets in 2015 and 2016. Although there are structural differences between CNH and CNY in both spot and outright forwards, typically the pricing is at comparable levels (for the majority of us, at least the large China interest does not apply this). Yearend brought a liquidity squeeze and the forward markets showed huge spikes in volatility as well as extreme differences between the CNH and CNY yield curves. There are many more stories like this to share and recently even G10 doesn’t seem excluded from Emerging Market (EM) like volatility, particularly when looking at Brexit and the Swiss Franc peg release of January 2015.

So a few basic assumptions can be helpful when participating in the FX market for real money requirements

• Don’t think you can predict or beat the market
• Price in risk
• Risk can go both ways but spreads are by definition a cost
• If you choose to hedge make sure you get your exposure right and hedge to mitigate this exposure (in other words don’t use derivatives which don’t offset the hedged item)
• Be aware there is a difference between advise on a financial product and actually risk mitigation on a more holistic basis
• It’s hard to beat years of market experience, don’t hesitate to reach out to seasoned professionals who will prevent you from making expensive mistakes

Hope this was a good read and for any questions or feedback please share and keep things interactive.

 

Niki van Zanten

FX specialist

 

Financing and FX; The fundamental concepts

10-08-2020| Niki van Zanten

Each field of expertise has some fundamental concepts that the decision makers tie to as general rules of thumb. For example, a purist chef might stick to a maximum of 5 ingredients on each plate, a winemaker might say only grapes and nothing else, and another winemaker might say any trick goes as long as it feels the wine.

The treasury purist might say the fundamental concept that should be applied and/or benchmarked is to get as close to a zero sum game as possible. I personally tend to agree with this concept, taking into account it’s not a pure mathematical equation. A zero sum game in Treasury would mean looking beyond one pillar of treasury (I would even recommend to look beyond the treasury scope once in a while and why not, even look beyond scope of just your company), and thereby combining the outcomes of a solution across multiple pillars and see if they balance out.

Today we will take a stab out doing that for FX and Financing. Below topics give some insights in when to apply and what to look at for:

  • External Financing in Foreign Currency
  • Internal Financing in Foreign Currency
  • FX swaps
  • Conclusion

External Financing in Foreign Currency

Interest rates not only fluctuate but also have different (base) interest rates per currency/country. In general, the all in interest for financing consist of a base rate for a certain tenor and the bank spread based on perception of customers credit. At first glance it might seem interesting to look at financing in a low interest rate currency.

A few years ago many home owners in Poland used EUR mortgages to fund their homes reducing interest cost by a few percent. This of course is not a saving, even though the interest cost were lower, in return they received a FX risk on EURPLN. In case a forward (sell PLN buy EUR) would be used to eliminate the FX risk it would not only wipe out the interest benefit but also bring additional burden in terms of administration, settlements and understanding the complexity of the structure. One of the complexities of the forward is even a credit component, so the point here is, in order to really see the zero sum game picture and its leakage (spreads, out of pocket expenses etc) things can get tricky.

Internal Financing

In most scenarios internal financing is a pass through and in principle it works the same as external with a back to back leg (albeit in a netting scenario). It does open a new array of choices. The more basic choices to put the (internal) FX risk, which tenors to use, accounting classification and perhaps even do everything back to back with a bank or take some risk on the books. In terms of currency and where to put the FX risk, the most straight forward option is to use the currency is which the predominant cash flows occur. You can also choose to centralise all your FX exposure at HQ but this could cause the accounting books to look different then the economics. In any case, with any back to back transaction in general the golden balance sheet rule should apply, ie duration and conditions internal need to match external, unless you choose to have risk on your books.

FX Swaps

FX swaps (buy and sell currency for different value dates) are commonly referred as FX instruments, but in my view they are pure financing instruments. They can be used to hedge the FX on a loan or to adjust timing of cash flow or related hedges which are both financing related issues. When a swap is executed to spot reference on both legs is equal and therefore the pricing is pure interest based. Swaps can be a great way to fine-tune interest rates as forward prices tend to be closer to interbank then to manage through typical cash management products like loans and deposits. The trade-off can come in the form of a little extra work and basic knowledge is needed, but I would argue the same understanding is required when using a bank solution which has swap incorporated such as cross currency pools.

Conclusion

The FX market at first sight provides an excellent way to obtain close to interbank interest rates. Use it wisely and make sure you have a deep understanding of the situation. There are also many good reasons to choose a simple “plug and play” solution when looking at financing elements. As always, if you care about your funding and cash flow the understanding required for keeping it simple is no different than the understanding required for an outsourced (bank provided) solution. So either way, don’t do what you don’t completely understand. A chat with an expert and/or asking the right questions to your banking partners (don’t be shy to ask for the motives of the solution that is offered) will get you on the right path.

I am curious about your thoughts. Please comment…

 

Niki van Zanten

FX specialist

 

Accounting for FX; the Do’s and Don’ts

08-07-2020 | Niki van Zanten

Let’s start by mentioning a phrase that I hear regularly and, to be honest, also use myself: ‘I am not an accountant, but…..’.
The urge to mention this phrase (usually targeted to an accountant while having an ‘I know it better’ attitude), can perhaps be traced back to the following reasons:

  • Discrepancies between accounting and real economics;
  • The fact that some (from my perspective, way too many) companies are run by accountants and numbers;
  • Historically absurd requirements in terms of hedge accounting*.IFRS on paper brought some relief but the old FAS and IAS standards were over the top accounting driven without a mere grasp of the real world.

The first point could already result into great discussions. As companies are expected to adhere to certain accounting standards, these standards represent the objective part of these discussions. This results in real economics claiming an underdog position.
If companies have to choose between compliance on one hand and doing what works best economically on the other hand, the way to find the right balance is by training accountants about real economics. Many individuals working in treasury have an accounting background, which could be beneficial if that individual takes the economic approach and uses accounting knowledge convince business partners.

Let’s jump into some basic examples where accounting doesn’t reflect economic reality:

  1. IC (inter company) bookings where the transaction is not reported in the same currency at both ends

Entity A (EUR Functional) has a receivable of 1 Mio EUR and entity B (USD Functional) has a payable of 1.1 Mio USD. The Historic rate was 1.10 and cash flow occurred in USD. Entity A decided to book in EUR to avoid any FX reporting. The consequence is that there is indeed no FX exposure visible. However upon settlements all FX results suddenly appear.What a nasty surprise!

  1. Re-measurements not done at correct rates

The best indication for FX effects in your books is obtained when the applied rates are close to the market rates. As you know there are many different sources for markets rates.  The awareness of this fact is not visible in accounting.

  1. Forward points not segregated

If you do not segregate forward points in PL, you can have FX results when the currency in question does not move. That just sounds very strange to me and this also touches upon a bigger issue, namely the allocation of result on PL. In the case your FX does not land in a segregated PL line, or worse non-FX related results end in your FX PL,
this usually does not change the total PL. However this makes it extremely difficult to control FX results, as you need good exposure information as well solid controls in terms of realized results. Segregation of realized and unrealized FX is also a very helpful tool for the Risk manager.

Are companies run by accountants?

That question should be discussed over a beer or glass of wine. Right now, I will limit myself to some pointers on how to identify whether a case could be identified as an accounting issue or economics issue. It is actually very simple and should be done by treasurers and financial controllers, before any discussion occurs on what the actual problem is.

By comparing the accounting steps for each of the proposed solutions with the trades, you can identify where market risk arises and where accounting risk. The one can see that thes are not always the same. Furthermore, it might also be a good time to call for a specialist, if the right level of comfort is not met. This way of working also fits well with the absurd requirements of hedge accounting.

Regarding this topic, ask yourself whether you really need to apply hedge accounting. From my experiences, in most cases hedge accounting is applied only for one reason; to reduce the PL volatility in between hedging and the moment of cash flow for forecasted transactions. (especially true for listed companies).Taking an economic perspective, there is no benefit in hedge accounting at such a significant cost in terms of audits and administration . Hence, determine how high the cliff is, before you dive down into hedge accounting procedures.

Conclusion

In a perfect world with only blue skies and where work consists of having margaritas on the beach, there are no accounting requirements (and probably also no FX to manage). In our world, the same feeling can be obtained by making sure that the accounting for FX reflects economic reality as much as possible. Thisby applying the accounting standards as a framework. Furthermore  take into account what level of known discrepancies between the economic and accounting reality you are comfortable with.

*Please note hedge accounting and accounting for FX are not the same. By accounting for FX I mean the accounting entries done by non-local or group currency items. These can be invoices in different currencies or intercompany bookings. Hedge accounting is only linked to deferring derivative MTM on the balance sheet as opposed to PL immediately.

I am curious about your thoughts. Please comment…

 

Niki van Zanten

FX specialist

 

What does experience in Treasury get you?

10-06-2020 | Niki van Zanten

In the wonderful world of Treasury there is an easy and digestible answer for most things, but to cover the full context requires general elaboration. In other words, there are always main points but fine-tuning is equally important and the devil is in the details.

Keeping this in mind, let’s get right into attempting to answer the headline question of this blog and unravel what experience can mean for you in financial risk management with the following points

  • The answer before the analysis
  • The right analysis and additional validation
  • Speed when needed and a reserved approach 
  • An actual opinion
  • Leadership in crisis
  • Holistic approach to Finance and ability to see what’s really going on

The answer before the analysis

At school you have the smart kids who have the answer for tough questions (lets say for conversation sake a math equation which looks like this 3(1-2x)=-9, where question is what x is*) and get there by taking the necessary steps** to come to the correct answer. This is what you are taught and it leads to the desired result. Then, there is a second group who shout out the right answer immediately but skipped all the steps involved. The teacher will disapprove of this behavior as it’s not how you are taught to handle a mathematical problem. Also not all kids can be taught to handle problems this way. If experience were to be molded into these group of kids, it would perhaps be one who can answer the question immediately and then explain this steps in retrospect. In financial markets this combination is very valuable as going for the process can be cumbersome and hard to explain, unless you see what will happen at the beginning.

The right analysis and the right questions

Imagine you walk into a wine shop and ask for a bottle of wine to combine with a mouth watering turbot with lobster Bearnaise sauce. The wine shop owner recommends a Montrachet**, asking no further question. You ask him, why this wine? He answers the following; because it is a thick buttery wine thus perfectly combining with the richness of Bearnaise. Also this happens to be an excellent year from an equally exceptional producer. You end up buying the bottle to return home and taste a thirteen in a dozen overpriced bottle of wine which does reasonable well with the food but has no element of surprise or the fascination one might expect.

A few question from the wine shop owner like, what kind of wine do you appreciate a lot and what do you like about it or how much is your budget would help you on the way. The best question from your side is potential, did you ever try it? If it turns out he didn’t try it and is still trying to sell it to you he has a close resemblance to a very typical sales person in the financial sector. In other words, experience enables people to ask the right question as well as create a value and advice instead of value add for the selling party only.

Speed when needed or a reserved approach

Typically, it is assumed that decision making in financial markets and Risk management requires speed. In most cases, this is correct, providing you understand of the exposure for which your are hedging as well as the derivative you are using. Put in a simple example, when hedging a 5 year INR loan, experience will tell you to do some extra due diligence on the accuracy of the underlying exposure for the simple reason that the consequences can be significant if things go wrong. Immediately, you will also realize a 5 year tenor on INR is either not liquid or the credit component is priced in at a hefty charge replacing your FX risk with an interest risk on the roll over. If you do not execute with speed, you could be exposed to the spot risk; if you execute to fast, you might hedge something not required or with a derivative which doesn’t do the job as intended. A seasoned advisor will be the best of both worlds.

An actual opinion

Experience creates a backbone as well as a level of comfort to believe what you are saying. Consequently, this boils down to the question; Why is someone trying to sell something to me? Because you need it or because they need you to make their PL? This goes into the discussion on whether an advisor has an intrinsic or extrinsic motivation. In my view, experience is not a guarantee on where motivation comes from, but it had a lot more time to positively develop. You will hear what you are better of hearing than what you want to hear. On top of that, the advise will be more holistic as it takes a while to get all the bits and pieces of treasury together, let alone how it fits across departments in a company.

Leadership in crisis 

Argentina 2018. Hefty devaluation on the currency as well as very steep and volatile interest rates combined with liquidity issues, not to forget the social and economic disaster hitting many citizens. Situations like this, attract senior management attention like Winnie the Pooh spotting a jar of honey. One might be inclined to leave the ”when to hedge or not” decision to senior management or have endless meetings discussing business mitigation. Each crisis has different triggers as well as solutions. A seasoned crisis manager does add direct value in not only identifying root cause of what’s going on, whether financial instruments actually provide relief or are a black hole of money and in putting together the right and moreover realistic guidance for the business. I am aware of the fact that people do not like hearing bad news, but not listening to it usually brings problems back on steroids. 

Holistic approach

This is a tough one. Most people will agree, the big picture is the best one to follow, but its very common across corporates to religiously hedge PL exposures. Even in cases where there are conflicts, like the cash flow at company level being different sign than the PL FX exposure, often a bogus hedge is implemented. A holistic approach and good target setting, helps you pick the strategy with the overall best results and experience.

Conclusion

These are just a few considerations on why experience can provide added value in (FX) risk management beyond the well know assumption that it provides a way to do more in less time and is a great way to also transfer knowledge down to the younger workforce.

Hope this gives some food for thought and many fruitful discussions.

 

* multiply by 3 giving 3-6X=—9 and then deducting 3 on each side reducing equation to -6X=-12 revealing the answer.

** Montrachet is one of the words most sought after white wines. Also happy to discuss wine but that’s a different beast and business proposition.

 

Niki van Zanten

FX specialist