Because the oil price rose rapidly and the wider commodities market followed suit, inflation rose to its highest level for many years. Following a protracted boom, property prices have been savaged. Only interest rates have remained comparatively benign.
Protecting or insulating yourself or your company against financial risks is known as “hedging.” Most businesses use a transaction-driven approach. The generic name often used by bankers for these hedging instruments is “treasury products.”
Bankers can provide a derivative-based hedge to reduce or neutralize an interest rate, inflation, or commodity price risk. A derivative is a financial instrument whose value changes in relation to an underlying variable such as interest rates, commodity prices, or house prices.
Price increases and currency fluctuations, as well as interest rate movements, can be hedged. The most common source of long-term capital, fixed by nature, is retained profits. A mismatch between, say, fixed-rate assets and variable-rate liabilities may cause you to want to hedge or renegotiate more fixed-rate liabilities to produce a better match and more overall certainty, with, by definition, lower overall risk.
We are living in some of the most volatile times in the history of the global financial markets. One of the reasons is exactly because they have become truly global. As banks seek to restore profitability, they may increase their offering of “treasury products” to customers. This article argues that these should be considered only in the context of a total balance sheet approach rather than transaction by transaction.
Managing Increased Financial Risk
We have seen a period in which the oil price rose to $147 a barrel and then fell back dramatically. The wider commodities market followed suit. Inflation rose to its highest level for many years before easing back. Property prices have been savaged, following a protracted boom. Only interest rates have remained relatively benign compared to the extremes of the past.
Volatility has been traded as a market index for many years, but in 2008 alone it hit several spikes. It has become a fact of life. Markets are now driven mainly by fear—fear of being caught out when prices fall or fear of not being in the market as prices rise. Add to that the power of short sellers and you have a scary scenario for borrowers and investors, whether individuals or corporate.
Protecting or insulating yourself or your company against financial risks is known as “hedging.” The principle of hedging is easily understood—it’s like an insurance premium. In practice, the instruments generally used are known as “derivatives.” These are poorly understood and, given the recent financial mess, probably viewed with fear or trepidation.
This article attempts two things: first, to put forward a more objective approach for companies wishing to improve their financial efficiency at a managed level of risk; and second, to demystify financial risk, making it a more approachable topic for the average manager or director.
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