A concise introduction to financial risk management strategies,policies, and techniquesThis ideal guide for business professionals focuses on strategicand management issues associated with financial risk. Essentials ofFinancial Risk Management identifies risk-mitigation policies andstrategies; suggestions for determining an organization's risktolerance; and sources of risk associated with currency exchangerates, interest rates, credit exposure, commodity prices, and otherrelated events. Examples illustrate risk scenarios and offer tipson an array of management alternatives, including changes in theway business is conducted and hedging strategies involvingderivatives.
About the Author
Karen A. Horcher, CGA, CFA, provides consulting and training in treasury, capital markets, and financial risk management for corporations, financial institutions, governments and regulators, and professional services firms. She is the author of several financial risk management titles.
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Essentials of Financial Risk Management
By Karen A. Horcher
John Wiley & SonsISBN: 0-471-70616-7
Chapter OneWhat Is Financial Risk Management?
After reading this chapter you will be able to
Describe the financial risk management process
Identify key factors that affect interest rates, exchange rates, and commodity prices
Appreciate the impact of history on financial markets
Although financial risk has increased significantly in recent years, risk and risk management are not contemporary issues. The result of increasingly global markets is that risk may originate with events thousands of miles away that have nothing to do with the domestic market. Information is available instantaneously, which means that change, and subsequent market reactions, occur very quickly.
The economic climate and markets can be affected very quickly by changes in exchange rates, interest rates, and commodity prices. Counterparties can rapidly become problematic. As a result, it is important to ensure financial risks are identified and managed appropriately. Preparation is a key component of risk management.
What Is Risk?
Risk provides the basis for opportunity. The terms risk and exposure have subtle differences in their meaning. Risk refers to the probability of loss, while exposure is the possibility of loss, although they are often used interchangeably. Risk arises as a result of exposure.
Exposure to financial markets affects mostorganizations, either directly or indirectly. When an organization has financial market exposure, there is a possibility of loss but also an opportunity for gain or profit. Financial market exposure may provide strategic or competitive benefits.
Risk is the likelihood of losses resulting from events such as changes in market prices. Events with a low probability of occurring, but that may result in a high loss, are particularly troublesome because they are often not anticipated. Put another way, risk is the probable variability of returns.
Since it is not always possible or desirable to eliminate risk, understanding it is an important step in determining how to manage it. Identifying exposures and risks forms the basis for an appropriate financial risk management strategy.
How Does Financial Risk Arise?
Financial risk arises through countless transactions of a financial nature, including sales and purchases, investments and loans, and various other business activities. It can arise as a result of legal transactions, new projects, mergers and acquisitions, debt financing, the energy component of costs, or through the activities of management, stakeholders, competitors, foreign governments, or weather.
When financial prices change dramatically, it can increase costs, reduce revenues, or otherwise adversely impact the profitability of an organization. Financial fluctuations may make it more difficult to plan and budget, price goods and services, and allocate capital.
There are three main sources of financial risk:
1. Financial risks arising from an organization's exposure to changes in market prices, such as interest rates, exchange rates, and commodity prices 2. Financial risks arising from the actions of, and transactions with, other organizations such as vendors, customers, and counterparties in derivatives transactions
3. Financial risks resulting from internal actions or failures of the organization, particularly people, processes, and systems
These are discussed in more detail in subsequent chapters.
What Is Financial Risk Management?
Financial risk management is a process to deal with the uncertainties resulting from financial markets. It involves assessing the financial risks facing an organization and developing management strategies consistent with internal priorities and policies. Addressing financial risks proactively may provide an organization with a competitive advantage. It also ensures that management, operational staff, stakeholders, and the board of directors are in agreement on key issues of risk.
Managing financial risk necessitates making organizational decisions about risks that are acceptable versus those that are not. The passive strategy of taking no action is the acceptance of all risks by default.
Organizations manage financial risk using a variety of strategies and products. It is important to understand how these products and strategies work to reduce risk within the context of the organization's risk tolerance and objectives.
Strategies for risk management often involve derivatives. Derivatives are traded widely among financial institutions and on organized exchanges. The value of derivatives contracts, such as futures, forwards, options, and swaps, is derived from the price of the underlying asset. Derivatives trade on interest rates, exchange rates, commodities, equity and fixed income securities, credit, and even weather.
The products and strategies used by market participants to manage financial risk are the same ones used by speculators to increase leverage and risk. Although it can be argued that widespread use of derivatives increases risk, the existence of derivatives enables those who wish to reduce risk to pass it along to those who seek risk and its associated opportunities.
The ability to estimate the likelihood of a financial loss is highly desirable. However, standard theories of probability often fail in the analysis of financial markets. Risks usually do not exist in isolation, and the interactions of several exposures may have to be considered in developing an understanding of how financial risk arises. Sometimes, these interactions are difficult to forecast, since they ultimately depend on human behavior.
The process of financial risk management is an ongoing one. Strategies need to be implemented and refined as the market and requirements change. Refinements may reflect changing expectations about market rates, changes to the business environment, or changing international political conditions, for example. In general, the process can be summarized as follows:
Identify and prioritize key financial risks.
Determine an appropriate level of risk tolerance. Implement risk management strategy in accordance with policy.
Measure, report, monitor, and refine as needed.
For many years, the riskiness of an asset was assessed based only on the variability of its returns. In contrast, modern portfolio theory considers not only an asset's riskiness, but also its contribution to the overall riskiness of the portfolio to which it is added. Organizations may have an opportunity to reduce risk as a result of risk diversification.
In portfolio management terms, the addition of individual components to a portfolio provides opportunities for diversification, within limits. A diversified portfolio contains assets whose returns are dissimilar, in other words, weakly or negatively correlated with one another. It is useful to think of the exposures of an organization as a portfolio and consider the impact of changes or additions on the potential risk of the total.
Diversification is an important tool in managing financial risks. Diversification among counterparties may reduce the risk that unexpected events adversely impact the organization through defaults. Diversification among investment assets reduces the magnitude of loss if one issuer fails. Diversification of customers, suppliers, and financing sources reduces the possibility that an organization will have its business adversely affected by changes outside management's control. Although the risk of loss still exists, diversification may reduce the opportunity for large adverse outcomes.
Risk Management Process
The process of financial risk management comprises strategies that enable an organization to manage the risks associated with financial markets. Risk management is a dynamic process that should evolve with an organization and its business. It involves and impacts many parts of an organization including treasury, sales, marketing, legal, tax, commodity, and corporate finance.
The risk management process involves both internal and external analysis. The first part of the process involves identifying and prioritizing the financial risks facing an organization and understanding their relevance. It may be necessary to examine the organization and its products, management, customers, suppliers, competitors, pricing, industry trends, balance sheet structure, and position in the industry. It is also necessary to consider stakeholders and their objectives and tolerance for risk.
Once a clear understanding of the risks emerges, appropriate strategies can be implemented in conjunction with risk management policy. For example, it might be possible to change where and how business is done, thereby reducing the organization's exposure and risk. Alternatively, existing exposures may be managed with derivatives. Another strategy for managing risk is to accept all risks and the possibility of losses.
There are three broad alternatives for managing risk:
1. Do nothing and actively, or passively by default, accept all risks.
2. Hedge a portion of exposures by determining which exposures can and should be hedged.
3. Hedge all exposures possible.
Measurement and reporting of risks provides decision makers with information to execute decisions and monitor outcomes, both before and after strategies are taken to mitigate them. Since the risk management process is ongoing, reporting and feedback can be used to refine the system by modifying or improving strategies.
An active decision-making process is an important component of risk management. Decisions about potential loss and risk reduction provide a forum for discussion of important issues and the varying perspectives of stakeholders.
Factors that Impact Financial Rates and Prices
Financial rates and prices are affected by a number of factors. It is essential to understand the factors that impact markets because those factors, in turn, impact the potential risk of an organization.
Factors that Affect Interest Rates
Interest rates are a key component in many market prices and an important economic barometer. They are comprised of the real rate plus a component for expected inflation, since inflation reduces the purchasing power of a lender's assets. The greater the term to maturity, the greater the uncertainty. Interest rates are also reflective of supply and demand for funds and credit risk.
Interest rates are particularly important to companies and governments because they are the key ingredient in the cost of capital. Most companies and governments require debt financing for expansion and capital projects. When interest rates increase, the impact can be significant on borrowers. Interest rates also affect prices in other financial markets, so their impact is far-reaching.
Other components to the interest rate may include a risk premium to reflect the creditworthiness of a borrower. For example, the threat of political or sovereign risk can cause interest rates to rise, sometimes substantially, as investors demand additional compensation for the increased risk of default.
Factors that influence the level of market interest rates include:
Expected levels of inflation
General economic conditions
Monetary policy and the stance of the central bank
Foreign exchange market activity
Foreign investor demand for debt securities
Levels of sovereign debt outstanding
Financial and political stability
The yield curve is a graphical representation of yields for a range of terms to maturity. For example, a yield curve might illustrate yields for maturity from one day (overnight) to 30-year terms. Typically, the rates are zero coupon government rates.
Since current interest rates reflect expectations, the yield curve provides useful information about the market's expectations of future interest rates. Implied interest rates for forward-starting terms can be calculated using the information in the yield curve. For example, using rates for one- and two-year maturities, the expected one-year interest rate beginning in one year's time can be determined.
The shape of the yield curve is widely analyzed and monitored by market participants. As a gauge of expectations, it is often considered to be a predictor of future economic activity and may provide signals of a pending change in economic fundamentals.
The yield curve normally slopes upward with a positive slope, as lenders/investors demand higher rates from borrowers for longer lending terms. Since the chance of a borrower default increases with term to maturity, lenders demand to be compensated accordingly.
Interest rates that make up the yield curve are also affected by the expected rate of inflation. Investors demand at least the expected rate of inflation from borrowers, in addition to lending and risk components. If investors expect future inflation to be higher, they will demand greater premiums for longer terms to compensate for this uncertainty. As a result, the longer the term, the higher the interest rate (all else being equal), resulting in an upward-sloping yield curve.
Occasionally, the demand for short-term funds increases substantially, and short-term interest rates may rise above the level of longer-term interest rates. This results in an inversion of the yield curve and a downward slope to its appearance. The high cost of short-term funds detracts from gains that would otherwise be obtained through investment and expansion and make the economy vulnerable to slowdown or recession. Eventually, rising interest rates slow the demand for both short-term and long-term funds. A decline in all rates and a return to a normal curve may occur as a result of the slowdown.
Theories of Interest Rate Determination
Several major theories have been developed to explain the term structure of interest rates and the resulting yield curve:
Expectations theory suggests forward interest rates are representative of expected future interest rates. As a result, the shape of the yield curve and the term structure of rates are reflective of the market's aggregate expectations. Liquidity theory suggests that investors will choose longer-term maturities if they are provided with additional yield that compensates them for lack of liquidity. As a result, liquidity theory supports that forward interest rates possess a liquidity premium and an interest rate expectation component.
Preferred habitat hypothesis suggests that investors who usually prefer one maturity horizon over another can be convinced to change maturity horizons given an appropriate premium. This suggests that the shape of the yield curve depends on the policies of market participants.
Market segmentation theory suggests that different investors have different investment horizons that arise from the nature of their business or as a result of investment restrictions. These prevent them from dramatically changing maturity dates to take advantage of temporary opportunities in interest rates. Companies that have a long investment time horizon will therefore be less interested in taking advantage of opportunities at the short end of the curve.
Factors that Affect Foreign Exchange Rates
Foreign exchange rates are determined by supply and demand for currencies. Supply and demand, in turn, are influenced by factors in the economy, foreign trade, and the activities of international investors. Capital flows, given their size and mobility, are of great importance in determining exchange rates.
Factors that influence the level of interest rates also influence exchange rates among floating or market-determined currencies. Currencies are very sensitive to changes or anticipated changes in interest rates and to sovereign risk factors. Some of the key drivers that affect exchange rates include:
Interest rate differentials net of expected inflation
Trading activity in other currencies
International capital and trade flows
International institutional investor sentiment
Financial and political stability
Monetary policy and the central bank
Domestic debt levels (e.g., debt-to-GDP ratio)
Excerpted from Essentials of Financial Risk Management by Karen A. Horcher Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents
1. What Is Financial Risk Management?
2. Identifying Major Financial Risks.
3. Interest Rate Risk.
4. Foreign Exchange Risk.
5. Credit Risk.
6. Commodity Risk.
7. Operational Risk.
8. Risk Management Framework: Policy and Hedging.
9. Measuring Risk.
10. Global Initiatives in Financial Risk Management.
What People are Saying About This
"After finishing this book, I have a greater appreciation and a better understanding of the complexities of financial risk management." (Strategic Finance, October 2006)