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The Colour of Money - II - Outside View by Vikram Murarka

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The Colour of Money - II
May 15, 2012

Speaking to a number of exporters, importers, CFOs over the last several years, we have felt that most people find forex to be a tough beast to tame and view it with fear. Granted, managing forex risk is not easy, but it is not impossible either. To start with, there is a need to throw light on some fundamental concepts of forex risk management. In this series of articles, we will deal with questions such as:

  • What is your actual risk?
  • How much should you hedge?
  • What is Early Delivery?
  • Is the Forward Rate a forecast?
  • How to choose a Benchmark?
Never 0, never 100, and not in one go!

One of the most agonizing difficulties commonly faced by the risk manager is not knowing where the market is likely to go. This makes it nearly impossible for him to decide whether to hedge or not to hedge.

To put an end to his indecision, and not knowing what to do, he often leaves the exposure unhedged. His line of thought is, "Who knows whether taking a hedge will be right or wrong? It is better not to do anything. Who will take the blame if things go wrong?" Very often, the CFO/ CEO/ MD also agree with the risk manager, coming up with a number of justifications for the decision.

The strategy of inaction works well enough if the market is either stable or is moving in favour of the exposure. Unfortunately, the happy state of affairs does not last forever and the risk manager often ends up hedging in a state of panic when the market starts to go against him.

Underlying the above practice are two misconceptions:

  • The risk manager has a responsibility to hedge at the highest rates (for exports) and lowest rates for imports.
  • When he hedges, the risk manager should hedge 100% of the exposure.
However, the seasoned risk manager knows that it is not possible to get in at the tops and bottoms of the market on a consistent basis. So, he does not acceptable average rate for the hedge. The simple trick he employs is to hedge the exposure in parts instead of as a whole. He might break up the exposure into 3 parts, or 4 parts or even 10-12 parts, and then proceed to hedge each part at different rates and at different times in the market.

Since the hedges are undertaken at regular intervals, when the risk manager follows this strategy consistently over a sufficiently long period, he gets several benefits, as enumerated below:

  • Is able to achieve a decent average rate.
  • Does not have to worry about trying to achieve the highest or lowest rates. Or in other words, he does not have to try and "time" the market.
  • Even if a couple of forecasts, on which the hedges are based, go wrong, it is not a major worry because
    • the wrong forecast does not impact the entire hedge and
    • there are good chances that subsequent forecasts will go right.
  • Dramatically reduces the arbitrariness and ad-hocism in the hedging process and greatly enhances the systematic aspect of hedging.
  • All of the above, together, make the whole hedging process much more robust than if each exposure were to be hedged in one go.
Further, it has been our experience that in the hands of a skilled risk manager, this strategy can go so far as to help the company achieve an average realization rate that is better than the average market rate.

So, remember, do not leave your exposure totally unhedged, do not cover it fully at one go. Try and hedge in steps. This article has been authored by Vikram Murarka. He is the Founder of and Chief Currency Strategist at Kshitij Consultancy Services, India's first forex website, started back in 1998. Vikram has been forecasting and trading currencies since 1991.

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