* WHAT TO DO NOW: Learn how to hedge currencies. In this course you have learned how to diversify long term. Now learn how to hedge your long diversifications in the short term. See page two.
* EZ CURRENCY SAFETY: Learn how hedging can really protect your wealth. The case study page three gives a real life example.
* EZ PROFIT: Increase earnings through currency blocs. Investing in the right currencies for safety can be tricky. The job however can be made easier by understanding currency blocs. Look on page six for details.
The sun sinks, a salmon orb silent in its majesty. It drops in ancient rite below the sea. In infinite shades, the horizon fades under prism colored skies. We watch this spectacle in hushed awe. Frozen by multicolored splendor, time stands still and accepts another dusk in peace. Time for quiet. Time for change. Time for calm.
Naples, Florida, on the beach, at dusk. Sitting at home watching the sunset I am reminded of the importance for calm. I think about the fact that sometimes we as investors need calm when turmoil exists in currency markets. At such times we need to know how to hedge.
Synthetic Currency Positions
In the first twelve lessons of this course we looked at many ways to diversify currencies on a continual and long term basis (through money market funds, short and long term bond funds, equity funds and managed currency funds).
However, at times on a short term basis, there will be situations where we do not want investments in European, Asian or other markets for reasons other than the currency (such as lousy markets, low yields or low interest rates).
There may also be times when we wish to invest more in one particular market region or country, but we don’t want to invest in the currency!
For example after the crash of the 1994 Mexican peso and Mexican stock market, many investors wanted to buy bargains in the Mexican stock and bond markets. They, however, also wanted to avoid holding Mexican pesos for fear the peso would fall further (which it did).
Not long after that (in the fall of 1995) European equities offered excellent growth prospects but the U.S. dollar was rising versus the European currencies.
Both of the above situations call for synthetic currency positions. There may be times when you want to have a portfolio that speculates for or against the dollar or the yen or the mark. One way to do this is through synthetic currency positions.
Two Currency Systems
Synthetic currency positions are investments in a currency that are counterset by opposite obligations in the same currency. There are two easy ways to create synthetic currency positions, with currency derivatives (contracts, futures and options) or through currency borrowing.
Synthetic currency positions let you invest in markets you choose without currency risk. Your synthetic position balances your investment so you have no currency risk. The main cost of the synthetic position is that you give up any or part of your foreign exchange profit potential.
There may also be another cost for creating synthetic currency positions. This cost of creating a synthetic currency position is approximately the difference between the interest rates of the two currencies for the time period that the synthetic position is to run.
If the interest rate of the currency that you borrow is higher than the currency in which you invest, then there will be a cost to create the synthetic currency position. This cost is called the negative carry.
If, on the other hand, the interest rate of the currency that you borrow is lower than the currency in which you invest, then you will be paid a premium for creating the synthetic currency position. This premium is called positive carry. This positive carry can offer some very interesting profit potential, which we cover later in this lesson.
Borrowing To Hedge
Let’s look at an example, because there are times when you can actually make additional income and profit from foreign currency loans!
Imagine you want to invest short term in yen equities but believe that the U.S. dollar is going to rise versus the yen. In such a scenario, you might create a six month synthetic dollar position (borrow yen for 6 months). Assume the interest rate of the Euro yen is 3.25% and the U.S. dollar rate for 6 months is 5.75%. In this example, you make 2.5% for taking out the loan! You are actually paid to take a synthetic dollar position in yen investments. When this happens you are said to be making a positive carry.
This is not always the case. In some instances, there can be a cost for the synthetic position. We see this in the case study next page. In another example, let’s assume that the three month rate for the Euro mark is 5.25% and the Euro dollar 4.5%. Our cost to borrow marks and invest in dollars would be three quarters of a percent (5.25%-4.5%= 0.75%).
Thus one way to create a synthetic currency position is to borrow the currency in which you are going to invest. There are many private investment banks who are happy to make such loans for investment and I cover this in more detail in a later lesson.
Let’s look at an example of a real borrowed synthetic position in the case study that follows.
I am a consultant to Anglo-Irish Bank in Vienna, Austria on the management of a global investment portfolio. In the autumn of 1995 this portfolio had about a million dollars to invest and I was asked to give my thoughts on how to invest these funds.
My research showed me that six stock markets offered the best value at that time: Germany, Belgium, Norway, France, the Netherlands and Spain. Thus I wanted to recommend that the portfolio spread the million equally into these six markets, by investing $166,000 into each of these markets.
However, my research also indicated to me that the U.S. dollar had current strength and that there was great short term potential for it to rise versus all six of the currencies of these countries.
If my research was right, the dilemma I faced was that if the portfolio invested in those markets it would make money on the rise in the markets but lose all or even more of these profits in U.S. dollar terms if the dollar rose in value versus the other currencies.
In short, I wanted to invest in those markets, but not in their currencies. One way to do this would be to have the bank put the one million dollars on a short term three month deposit in U.S. dollars and to borrow the currencies in which the portfolio would invest.
I checked the interest rates of each of these currencies.
The US dollar CD rate for $1,000,000 was 5.375%.
The annual loan rate for:
German marks: 6.25% Belgian francs: 7.00% Norwegian kroner: 7.75% Spanish pesetas: 12.00% Dutch guilders: 6.50% French francs: 8.00%
Thus the cost of borrowing the equivalent of $166,000 worth of each of these six currencies for three months would be:
German marks: $2,593 Belgian francs: $2,905 Norwegian kroner: $3,216 Spanish pesetas: $4,980 Dutch guilder: $2,697 French francs: $3,320 Total: $19,711
The way I attained these costs is to multiply $166,000 by the annual interest rate to attain the annual interest cost and then divide this cost by four (as the money would be borrowed for only three months). The cost of hedging this investment in the portfolio for one quarter was 1.97%. Since there appeared to be room for a larger rise in the dollar versus these currencies than 2%, I recommended the loans.
However, there is an alternate way to hedge this position called an indirect hedge. At the same time that I reviewed the loan rates for the currencies above, I also noted that the Swiss franc loan rate was only five percent. Since the Swiss franc is related to the European currencies and likely to move with these currencies, one could gain some hedge by borrowing the Swiss franc instead of the other six European currencies.
If I had chosen this indirect approach, then the portfolio would enjoy a positive carry on the loan. Positive carry means that you are paid to take the loan. In this case, the U.S. dollar CD paid 5.375% and the loan cost 5.00%. The positive carry was 0.375%. The overall savings by taking this approach was 2.345% (the 1.97% that the direct hedge would cost, versus the 0.375 positive carry from the indirect hedge).
However, in the long run the indirect hedge might not give as much performance because the Swiss franc might not fall as much versus the dollar as the other currencies. The Swiss franc could even rise. In this case, the indirect hedge did have some risk (but no cost). The direct hedge on the other hand had no forex risk (but had a cost of 1.97% for a quarter).
In the case study above an investor had three choices.
First, an investment could have been made into six stock markets. If an investor viewed these investments as their diversification out of the U.S. dollar, then they could have chosen no hedge at all. In this scenario, if the U.S. dollar rose versus the overseas currencies then the profitability of the investments would be reduced by the fall of the European currencies.
Second, an investment could have been made into the six stock markets, by borrowing the exact amount in each of the six currencies. The currency factor in this scenario would have been totally eliminated at a cost of 1.97% for a quarter. In this scenario if the U.S. dollar rose versus the overseas currencies then the profitability in U.S. dollar terms of the investments would not be affected at all.
However if the European currencies rose, all profit potential would have been sacrificed in the hedge as well. There would be no forex gain.
Third, an investment could have been made in the six stock markets by an indirect hedge of borrowing a currency that was in the same currency bloc (we look at currency blocs in more detail later in this lesson). In this case the indirect hedge would be made by borrowing the Swiss franc. The cost of the hedge is removed but there is a risk that the Swiss franc will rise versus the six currencies in which the portfolio is invested.
Another way to create a synthetic currency position is through a derivative such as an option or currency future contract. This is a little more complicated than borrowing because you must match your derivative exactly to the amount you invest for perfect currency protection. This is not always easy.
Most stock brokerage firms will have at least one broker who specializes in currency futures and derivatives. If your broker does not, you can also call a local commodity broker who most certainly will.
If this fails, I get my information from one of the largest stock brokerage firms in the United States, Smith Barney Shearson from Vice President, Larry Grossman. Telephone: 800-237-5232, 813-791-7092. Fax: 813-791-7092. Listed below are details about currency future contracts which can be used as hedging devices to create synthetic positions. As you will see, the futures shown are for fairly large amounts. As a perfect hedge they would only apply to larger investors.
CONTRACT SPECIFICATIONS YEN – MARK
Japanese Yen German Mark TRADING MONTHS March/June/Sep/Dec March/June/Sep/Dec CONTRACT SIZE Yen 12,500,000 Marks 125,000 PRICES QUOTED Cents/Yen Dollars/Marks VALUE FOR POINT $12.50 $12.50
To create a synthetic currency position with a currency future, you sell a future contract short. For example, if you wished to create a synthetic dollar position for yen, for every $125,000 you invest in the Japanese Stock Market, you could sell one yen futures contract short. If you wanted to create a synthetic position for a year in June, sell June of the next year contract short. This contract means that next June you promise to pay 12,500,000 yen. If the value of the yen drops between now and then, you can buy the cheaper yen to fill the contract and make a profit. The profit will be equal to the currency loss on the value of the yen equities you hold.
In this way, you can use currency future contracts as a hedge. This is very different from using them to speculate for/or against a currency. The hedge eliminates risk as the currency position is always covered. Whatever happens your currency position on the investment breaks even. All you pay is the cost of the contract.
Next lesson we will look at using the same tactics, except to speculate rather than hedge.
More Currency Fundamentals
We have learned in earlier lessons that it is a financial error to think of returns on investment only in terms of a local currency. Currency allocation between foreign currencies is absolutely essential when thinking of long-term preservation of wealth (in terms of maintaining purchasing power and lifestyle).
For the past 25 years, currency allocation has been one of the most important parts of investing. This trend is growing enormously and will affect your investing more and more as we head for the year 2000.
One reason this trend is growing is because of the global nature of multinational businesses. They now often make more profit or loss from their foreign exchange activities (forex) than from their business activities.
Items are rare today that are manufactured entirely in one country.
Take some huge U.S. companies as an example. IBM, Apple, Texas Instrument, Dell, Compaq, Magnavox, and other computer system and computer component manufacturers have plants overseas or contracts from foreign vendors. The same is true of the big three car manufacturers, of the telephone companies, of furniture manufacturers, of food processors and distributors, etc. Goods produced by foreign companies — Japanese cars, French wines, Swiss watches, etc. — clearly become more expensive as the dollar falls in value. But even American-owned companies go overseas for production.
Multinational Companies and the Dollar
Many large multinational companies do as much (or more) business overseas than they do in the country where they originate.
The trend in business all over the world is for companies to no longer have loyalty to the nation where they began.
This means that multicurrency investing will grow in importance for all investors in the years ahead.
The following list shows, by percentage, the amount of overseas business of just a few multinational firms.
Company % of Business out of the U.S. Exxon 80% Unilever 80% Mobil 78% IBM 65% Philip Morris 40% Ford 33% General Motors 32%
As a rule, the world’s financial and industrial structure is so interrelated today that it is difficult to determine the true origin of many manufactured goods. For this reason, perhaps the most direct approach is to place funds in one or more of the three main economic blocs or currency zones now forming in the world. These blocs are North America, Europe and the Asian/Pacific Rim. The dominant currency in each of these is, respectively, the U.S. dollar, the German mark, and the Japanese yen.
European currencies are not always directly tied to the mark, nor are Asian currencies directly tied to the yen. But the dollar, mark and yen are so dominant in their respective blocs that putting funds into each of them will safeguard an investor from the most widespread currency fluctuations.
For example, 70% of the Netherlands’ total foreign trade is with Germany. Other European countries have somewhat similar foreign trade. These currencies are linked with (not tied to, but strongly influenced by) the German mark.
Putting funds into all three central currency blocs gives diversifica- tion into currencies that are not linked to each other. If you are a U.S. citizen, for example, you need to safeguard your purchasing power from the decline of the dollar. Putting some money into Canadian dollars, or Mexican pesos, will not accomplish the diversification you need, because these currencies tend to rise and fall with the U.S. dollar. The peso and the Canadian dollar are in the dollar currency bloc.
By the same reasoning, a German investor will not receive maximum benefit by placing funds in Dutch or Swiss investments, since these currencies tend to rise and fall with the German mark. The German mark and the Japanese yen, however, tend to move independently from the U.S. dollar — and from each other. Placing funds in each of the three large central economic blocs gives maximum diversification, which means maximum chance for preservation of purchasing power.
Listed Below are the current currency blocs:
North American – United States (central currency). Hong Kong – Canada – Mexico – Peru – Argentina – Columbia – Brazil.
European – German mark (central currency). Great Britain (but also somewhat allied with US$ because of tremendous investment in the U.S.) – Ireland – France – Spain – Italy – Switzerland Austria – Belgium – Holland – Portugal – Denmark – Finland – Greece – Norway – Sweden.
Asian/Pacific Rim – Japan (central currency). South Vietnam* – India* – Malaysia* – Sri Lanka* – Singapore*- Taiwan* – Thailand* – Indonesia* – Philippines* – South Korea* – China*.
*These Asian countries are still pegged to the U.S. dollar and very much under the influence of the U.S. dollar because they export so many goods to the U.S. Were these countries to allow the value of their currencies to rise versus the dollar then the cost of the goods they ship to the U.S. would rise enormously.
This has put great pressure on some of these currencies in countries where they have currency fundamentals that are sounder than the dollar, (such as Hong Kong and Singapore). There is an enormous pressure for these currencies to rise in value versus the dollar and to become more allied with the Japanese yen. Because of this one often sees very strange rules or regulations or characteristics in these currencies.
For example, as this lesson is written the interest rate available on the Singapore dollar is below 1%. This is to discourage investors and speculators from investing in Singapore dollars and thus add upwards pressure to the Singapore dollar’s value.
Recently in Hong Kong a special tax was levied on Hong Kong dollar deposits to discourage speculation in the Hong Kong dollar.
Also because of this surge in strength, these countries are gradually doing a greater and greater percentage of their business regionally and with Japan rather then the U.S. They are working to reduce their dependence on a dollar link. Over a period of time, if U.S. fiscal policies and currency fundamentals remain weaker than in Asian countries, we can expect these currencies to move more strongly into a yen bloc.
In addition, some currencies are pegged to another currency and rise and fall in direct relationship:
Currencies Pegged to the U.S. Dollar Angola Antigua and Barbuda Argentina The Bahamas Barbados Belize Dijbouti Grenada Iraq Liberia Marshall Islands Micronesia Oman Panama St. Kitts and Nevis St. Lucia St. Vincent and the Grenadines Surinam Syrian Arab Republic Yemen
Currencies Pegged to the French Franc Benin Burkina faso Chad Congo Equitorial Guinea Mali Niger Senegal Togo
Currencies Pegged to Other Currencies Azerbaijan (Russian ruble) Bhutan (Indian rupee) Estonia (German mark) Swaziland (South African rand)
Every currency has a name — and an abbreviation, or code, used in foreign exchange. These are listed below.
CURRENCY CODE OTHER CODES (SOMETIMES USED) United States US$ German Mark DEM DM (for Deutschemark) Swiss Franc SFR CHF (Confederation of Helvetia franc) British Pound GBP Pound Sterling French Franc FFR FF Netherlands Guilder NLG DFL (Dutch Florin) Austrian Schilling ATS Swedish Kroner SKR SEK Spanish Peseta PTAS ESB (Espanol) Portuguese Escudo PTE ESC Norwegian Krone NOK Danish Kroner DKR DKK Finnish Mark FIM FMK Belgian Franc BFR Italian Lira ITL LIRE Japanese Yen JPY YEN Hong Kong Dollar HKD HK$ Canadian Dollar CAD C$ Australian Dollar AUD A$ New Zealand Dollar NZD NZ$
One of the strongest Currency Blocs that is developing is the EMU (Economic Currency Union) of the EU (European Union – Formerly the Common Market or EEC – European Economic Union).
One of the goals of the EU is to create a common currency for all the countries in the Union. If this happens then there will no longer be a German mark, Dutch guilder, British pound, etc. There will be a new currency in all the member states. The plan originally was to start this process in 1994 but the countries were unable to coordinate their fiscal policies enough to turn the concept of EMU into reality.
The current time table is for EMU to come into being between 1997 and 1999. Many economists feel this is very unrealistic, but whether or not it is, the fact that the EU will try to introduce EMU will have a significant impact on currencies.
Listed below is a history and future plans of the EU to help you understand better what has happened to date.
May 1972: The “snake in the tunnel comes into effect”. This was the first official linkage of European currencies.
April 1979: EMU (European Monetary System (EMS) begins. France, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland, and Germany linked their currencies through an Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) in which each country agreed to support one another’s currency parity if they fluctuated more than an agreed amount which ranged between two and six percent. Britain and Greece, which were also part of the EEC at that time, remained outside the ERM then.
June 1989: Spain joins the ERM.
April 1990: Portugal joins the ERM.
October 1990: Britain joins the ERM.
December 1991: The member states of the EEC agree at a summit in Maastricht, the Netherlands to a timetable of unifying their currencies by 1994. This unrealistic schedule caused enormous speculation by currency speculators. During the time that the governments tried to link their currencies, speculators invested heavily into high yielding weak currencies, such as the Lira, Peseta and Escudo confident that these currency values would be helped in place by the ERM. This put such enormous pressure on the system that it lasted less than a year and eventually self destructed and caused the ERM to end up weaker than it had been before Maastricht. The destruction began in September 1992.
September 1992: Britain & Italy suspend their currencies from the ERM.
August 1993: The ERM fluctuation range is increased from two and six percent to 15% (except the German mark and Dutch guilder which remain in the two percent range).
January 1995: Austria, Sweden and Finland join the EMS.
January 1995: Austria joins the ERM. June 1996: Planned EU conference to determine EU’s institutional future.
January 1997: First possible planned date for EMU to start.
January 1999: Last possible planned date for EMU to start.
However, the plans of the EU at this point are probably as impractical as they were in 1994. Entry into EMU requires that each country has its currency fundamentals in line with the criteria below:
INFLATION: Inflation must be no more than 1.5% above the average of the three lowest inflation rates in Europe.
LONG TERM INTEREST RATES: These rates must be no more then 2% higher than the average of the three lowest rates.
EXCHANGE RATE PARITY: The value of a currency must have stayed within a six percent band for a minimum of two years.
BUDGET DEFICIT. The annual budget deficit must not exceed 3% of Gross Domestic Product.
PUBLIC DEBT. Accumulated public debt must not exceed 60% of GDP.
The chart (reproduced from The Economist, August 5th-11th, 1995 issue) of government debts as a percentage of Gross Domestic Debt shows that as this course is written eleven of the fifteen nations could not meet the EMU requirements. Eight of the nations (Belgium, Italy, Greece, Ireland, Sweden, Holland, Portugal and Denmark) have little hope of being ready based upon the unrealistic debt requirement.
Many of these nations do not meet the other requirements either. As we approach EMU (in 1997 to 1999) if the political system tries to enforce unrealistic rules (as it did after the Maastricht Treaty) that enormous volatility will develop in the European currency markets.
Before the fiasco of the Maastricht Treaty caused the destruction of the revision of EMU, European currencies appeared to be very stable. For a brief time fundamentally weak European currencies (Spain, Italy, Portugal) maintained their parity with fundamentally strong currencies (German, Dutch, French).
Many investors made excellent returns, holding their investments in the weak currencies which paid much higher interest rates. But this profitable position was artificial and the currency markets eventually took advantage of this. When the system exploded, the weak currencies were severely devalued and investors who still held them lost as much as 20% in some of the devaluations.
Thus beware of European currencies and expect currency volatility between 1997 and 1999! Watch the fundamentals of currencies very closely, especially those that are offering to pay higher rates of interest than other European currencies.
Where can you get currency data? Listed below are names and addresses of publications that offer information about currencies.
Financial Times, 14 East 60th Street, New York, NY 10022. Tel: 1-800-628-8088. 1-800-628-0007 (Canada). Fax: 1-212-308- 2397. Contact: Richard Varey.
One of Britain’s oldest newspapers and is now published in Germany, the U.S. and Japan as well. This is the broadest coverage of international finances in the world with a currency section daily that provides information on 39 currencies. Data that is covered includes the value of all currencies versus the Pound and U.S. dollar, Euro Currency interest rates, money rates, future currency rates and a section on the EMS (European Monetary System). Annual Subscription: $450 but if you explain that you have taken this course there is a 50% discount and you save $225.
The Economist, PO Box 58510, Boulder, Colorado 80321. Tel: 1-212-541-5730. Fax: 1-212-541-9378.
The Economist is a British based weekly economic magazine that gives excellent global coverage. Each week the magazine contains a section of economic indicators (at the end of the magazine) that includes GDP forecasts, inflation results and forecasts, interest rates, currency parities, money supply, trade balances, current account and foreign reserves. Cover price is $3.50 per copy, but special subscriptions of $58.00 for 30 issues is normally offered.
International Monetary Fund Publications Services, Washington D.C. 20431. Tel: 1-202-623-7430. Fax: 1-202-623-7201.
The IMF offers a variety of publications. Their World Economic Outlook publication costs $189.
World Bank Publications, PO Box 7247-8619, Philadelphia, PA. 19170. Tel: 1-202-473-1155. Fax: 1-202-676-0581.
The world bank publishes hundreds of books and subscriptions. They offer an 128 page index of these books, many of which provide fundamental data about currencies of most countries. Prices for their books and subscriptions range from $1.95 to $7,000.
International Economic Trends, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, PO Box 442, St. Louis, MO 63166. A free publication with loads of excellent currency charts.
There are times when we can use the synthetic currency position tactic not to hedge but to speculate. Special currency events are taking place as this course is being written so we can have a special perspective on how to speculate using this technique. We’ll finish this lesson with a reminder on how this speculative technique works, then continue in the next lesson.
The special currency event taking place as I write this lesson is the dramatic correction between the U.S. dollar and Japanese yen. The last time an event of this magnitude took place was in 1971. Then for many years (as has been the case from 1990 to 1995) the U.S. dollar fell and fell. By 1979, a time occurred that is very similar to the U.S. dollar recovery now.
Then, like now, the U.S. dollar had fallen hard. During that time, the Swiss franc rose 100% versus the dollar. (In the first five years of 1990 the yen rose over 70% versus the dollar.) During the 70s, the weak dollar and high inflation in the United States pushed U.S. interest rates to unheard of highs. The dollar was so weakened that major banks were paying as much as 18% on U.S. dollar certificates of deposit. The Swiss franc had grown so strong that Swiss banks were charging a negative interest on large franc deposits!
As is usually the case in most long bear trends, the dollar fell too far. The Swiss franc became too strong. A fortune was waiting in the dollar correction of 1979. At that time, Swiss francs could be borrowed at interest rates as low as 3%. Bankers would convert those Swiss francs to U.S. dollars and place them on deposit at 18%. Investors made 15% extra return!
Some investment banks will lend up to 300% of the value of investments held at their bank. If an investor then had US$10,000 on deposit, he could have borrowed up to US$30,000 worth of Swiss francs for redeposit into U.S. dollars. These loans increased profits to 60%!
If an investor had US$10,000 on deposit at a European investment bank in 1979, the US$10,000 could have become collateral to borrow US$30,000 worth of Swiss francs at 3%.
The Swiss francs converted to dollars and placed into CDs earned 18%. Here is how that loan increased income to 60%, plus offered forex gains as well!
Yield Earned Loan Cost Net Borrowed 30k U.S. dollar CD 18.00% $5,400 $1,200 $4,200 Original 10K U.S. dollar CD 18.00% $1,800 - $1,800
Total profit on the $10,000 invested was $6,000 or 60%.
But there still were more profits!
There were more profits because beginning 1980, the dollar rebounded almost 50% versus the Swiss franc! Total income and profits exceeded 158%! Next lesson I explain how the same events took place in the first five years of 1995.