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Understanding Foreign Exchange Risk

When you conduct business overseas, you will have to convert currencies involved at some prevailing exchange rate. The price of one country's currency in terms of another country is called the exchange rate. When the currency of one country depreciates (drops in value), there will be a corresponding appreciation of value in another country's currency. Depreciation occurs when it takes more currency to purchase the currency of another country. Appreciation is just the opposite; the currency is able to purchase more units of the other country's currency. Since most currencies are valued according to the marketplace, there are constant changes to exchange rates. This gives rise to exchange rate risk.

There are several ways to reduce exchange rate risk. Two popular approaches are hedging and netting. Hedging is where you buy or sell a forward exchange contract to cover liabilities or receivables that are denominated in a foreign currency. Forward exchange contracts offset the gains or losses associated with foreign receivables or payables.

A very popular form of hedging is the Interest Rate Swap. Interest rate swaps are arrangements whereby two companies located in different countries agree to exchange or swap debt-servicing obligations. This swap helps each company avoid the risks of changes in the foreign currency exchange rates. Due to the popularity of interest rate swaps, most major international banks offer interest rate swaps for organizations concerned about foreign exchange rate risks when making interest payments. The costs charged by banks for interest rate swaps is relatively low.

Another solution to foreign exchange rate risk is the use of netting. Netting is the practice of maintaining an equal level of foreign receivables against foreign payables. The net position is zero and thus exchange rate risk is avoided. If you expect the currency to depreciate in value, than you should hold a net liability position since it will take fewer units of currency to pay the foreign currency debt. If you expect the currency to appreciate in value, then you would want to have a net receivable position to take advantage of the increased purchasing power of the foreign currency.

There are other vehicles for dealing with exchange rate risk, such as option hedges and other types of derivatives. However, the costs and risks associated with these types of arrangements can be much higher than a simple approach such as the interest rate swap.

If you have exchange rate exposure, then take a look at simple hedges and netting as ways of avoiding foreign exchange rate risk.

matt evans photo Written by: Matt H. Evans, CPA, CMA, CFM | Email: matt@exinfm.com | Phone: 1-877-807-8756

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