Global Investing

Currency hedging — should we bother?

Currency hedging — should we bother?

Maybe not as much as you think, if we are talking purely from a equity return point of view — according to the new research that analysed 112 years of the financial assets history released by Credit Suisse and London Business School this week.

Exchange rates are volatile and can significantly impact portfolios — but one can never predict if currency moves erode or enhance returns. Moreover, hedging costs (think about FX overlay managers, transaction costs, etcetc).

For example, the average annualised return for investors in 19 countries between 1972 (post-Bretton Woods) to 2011 is 5.5%, hedged or unhedged. For a U.S. investor, the figures were 6.1% unhedged or 4.7% hedged (this may be largely because only two currencies — Swiss franc and Dutch guilder/euro — were stronger than the U.S. dollar since 1900).

“The impact of hedging on returns (as opposed to risk) is a zero sum game. The profit a German investor makes on Swiss assets if the franc appreciates is offset by the loss the Swiss investor incurs on German assets… Averaged over all reference currencies and countries, the mean return advantage to hedging both equities and bonds was zero, both over 1900-2011 and 1972-2011.

LBS’ Elroy Dimson and Paul Marsh, who presented the report at a briefing this week, were keen to emphasise hedging has its use. Mainly, it does reduce volatility, hence risk.

Buy more yen… to increase reserve returns

Japan has not been a sexy destination for investment. In an environment of rising sovereign risk, Japan’s huge debt burden (+200% and rising) and lack of triple-A rating (Japan is rated AA-, Aa3 and AA by the main rating agencies) are not something that would attract the world’s investors, including the powerful central bank reserve managers.

However, the yen is a different story. Enjoying a safe-haven status, the Japanese currency is staying just below its all-time high around 75.90 per dollar, while it also rose to an 11-year peak against the euro in January.

JP Morgan,whose asset management arm manages $70 billion for 65 official sector clients including central banks and sovereign wealth funds, says reserve managers have been diversifying into non-G4 currencies but the strategy has not performed well.

from MacroScope:

When the euro shorts take off

Currency speculators boosted bets against the euro to a record high in the latest week of data (to end December 27) and built up the biggest long dollar position since mid-2010, according to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Here -- courtesy of Reuters' graphics whiz Scott Barber, is what happens to the euro when shorts build up:



Funding stress in the FX swap market

Signs of the wholesale funding stress are cropping up in the FX swaps market, with the premium for swapping euro LIBOR into dollar LIBOR over 3 months (so-called cross currency swap) rising to 141.5 basis points, which is the post-Lehman Brothers high.

The premium has skyrocketed in the past six months (back in May it was only 16.5bps) because European banks needing funds are forced to turn to the FX swap market, and other banks are reluctant to lend to European companies in the United States.

And it looks like the situation is going to get worse from here, because of weak dollar bond issuance by euro zone companies.

Euro exit-ology

Whether or not it’s likely or even a good idea, talk of Greece leaving the euro is no longer taboo in either financial or political circles.  What is more, anxiety over the future of the  single currency has reached such a pitch since the infection of the giant Italian bond market that there are many investors talking openly of an unraveling of the entire bloc. But against such an amplified “tail risk”,  it’s remarkable how stable world financial markets have been over the past few turbulent weeks — at least outside the ailing sovereign debt markets in question.

Yet, focussing on the possible consequences for Greece of bankruptcy and euro exit has now become an inevitable part of investment reseach and analysis. In a note to clients on Tuesday entitled “Breaking Up is Hard to Do“, Bank of New York Mellon strategist Simon Derrick sketched some of the issues.

One issue he pointed out,  and one raised in the September Spiegel online report, was the chance of invoking Article 143 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which permits certain countries to “take protective measures” and which could be used to allow restrictions on the movement of capital in order to prevent a flight of capital abroad.

from Jeremy Gaunt:

When things stagnate

Goldman Sachs researchers have been hitting the history books again, trying to divine what happens to currencies when economies stagnate. Answer:  Not as much as you might think

Looking at exchange rates for years before and during "stagnation", Goldman found that year-to-year FX volatility in such periods is lower than in normal periods. But a lot of it depends on the type of stagnation.

First, an average stagnation -- a period of sub-par economic growth lasting for at least six years:

from Jeremy Gaunt:

#ThingsStrongerThanTheKenyaShilling

Twitter does have some very strange Trends. These are the things that appear on the right-hand side of the page that show what people are talking about. They more they talk, the more likely it is that something will get listed.  More often than not they are about celebrities such as Justin Bieber.

But today's Worldwide  Trends was particularly unusual.

#ThingsStrongerThanTheKenyaShilling was right up there near the top.

As the graph here shows, the shilling has taken a heavy beating since the Lehman Brother collapse. This is one reason for the Twitter outburst.  "Kenyans are getting fed up," said @oreo_junkie, whose Twitter feed states it is from Nairobi.

And judging by some of the other "answers" to the trendline, it is not a matter for levity in Kenya. "Government's resolve to fight Corruption" was one;  "Stupidity of Kenyans to  reelect the same MPs" was another.

from MacroScope:

APEC’s robots stealing the show

robot

A guide at the "Japanese Experience" exhibition talks to Miim, the Karaoke pal robot, on the sidelines of the APEC meetings in Yokohama, Japan on Nov. 10. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

    Miim is one of the more popular delegates at the APEC meetings in Yokohama Japan. She sings. She dances. She tosses her shoulder length hair. She may not be able to spout an alphabet soup of APEC acronyms like the other Asia-Pacific delegates. But she's still pretty lively. For a robot.

    This week's meetings of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum have been earnest and most comprehensive . Foreign and trade ministers issued a 20-page statement about all the things they talked about -- a giant free trade zone, protectionism, the Doha round, easing restrictions on businesses, simplifying customs procedures, promoting green industries, cooperating on health and security, you name it. They also have been, and pardon my French here, excruciatingly dull. So far, the meetings and their stupefying statements have been a testimonial to Japan's skill at stating the ambiguous. Call it the opaque meetings. Journalists from around the Pacific rim have been desperately trying to find news as the 21 APEC leaders gather for their annual pow-wow this weekend.

from MacroScope:

Giant FX market now $4 trillion gorilla

Global foreign exchange has always been one of the biggest markets in the world but its exponential growth keeps accelerating. The triennial survey by the Bank for International Settlements shows global foreign exchange market turnover leapt 20 percent to $4 trillion, compared with $3.3 trillion three years ago.

FXBIS

The increase in turnover was driven by growth in spot transactions, which represent 37 percent of FX market turnover.  Turnover was driven by trading activity by "other financial institutions" -- a category that includes hedge funds, pension funds and central banks, extending a trend seen in the past several years where buyside firms are increasingly trading currencies themselves, via prime brokerage, rather than turning to interbank dealers.

Also notably, emerging market currencies are gradually increasing their share in the marketplace. Turnover of the Russian rouble has increased its share in total turnover to 0.9 percent of 200 percent (FX is double counted as transaction involves two currencies), up from 0.7 percent three years ago, while the Brazilian real rose to 0.7 percent from 0.4 percent. The Indian rupee's share rose to 0.9 percent from 0.7 percent. The dollar keeps its dominance, although off its 2001 peak, with its share standing at 84.9 percent.

Pity Poor Pound

Britain’s pound has long been the whipping boy of notoriously fickle currency markets, but there are worrying signs that it’s not just hedge funds and speculators who have lost faith in sterling. Reuters FX columnist Neal Kimberley neatly illustrated yesterday just how poor sentiment toward sterling in the dealing rooms has become and the graphic below (on the sharp buildup of speculative ‘short’ positsions seen in U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data) shows how deeply that negative view has become entrenched.              

 While the pound’s inexorable grind down to parity with the euro captures the popular headlines, the Bank of England’s index of sterling against a trade-weighted basket of world currencies shows that weakness is pervasive. The index has lost more than a quarter of its value in little over two years — by far the worst of the G4 (dollar, euro, sterling and yen) currencies over the financial crisis. The dollar’s equivalent index has shed only about a third of the pound’s losses since mid-2007, while the euro’s has jumped about 10% and the yen’s approximately 20% over that period.

There’s no shortage of negatives — Britain’s deep recession, recent housing bust, near zero interest rates and money printing, soaring government budget deficit (forecast at more than 12% pf GDP next year, it’s the highest of the G20) and looming general election in early 2010. In the relative world of currency traders, not all of these are necessarily bad for the pound — the country is emerging tentatively from recession, the dominant financial services sector is recovering rapidly and  short-term interest rates (3-month Libor at least) do offer better returns than the dollar, yen, Swiss franc or Canadian dollar.