No Currency Is an Island

New report shows currency volatility impacted fewer companies in Q4/2013, but for those that were impacted, the effect was large.

Three years ago, FiREapps began issuing a quarterly “Currency Impact Report,” which is an analysis of the earnings calls of 846 large, publicly traded companies. Every organization in the study makes 15 percent or more of its revenue outside its home country and does business in at least two currencies. The Q4/2013 report, which was released yesterday, shows a reduction in the number of companies reporting that currency volatility had a negative impact on their earnings per share (EPS)—and yet for those that did experience a currency impact, the impact was large.

In the fourth quarter of last year, 196 of the companies in the FiREapps study (23.2 percent) reported a material negative currency impact on EPS, or currency “headwinds.” That number is 12 percent lower than the average over the previous six quarters. Nevertheless, among the companies that quantified the headwinds they experienced, the currency impact in Q4/2013 was higher than in any of FiREapps’ other reports, with the exception of the second and third quarters of 2012 when the Eurozone crisis was at its peak. The total negative currency impact, among companies in this study that released that figure, was US$5.83 billion, up from US$4.184 billion in Q3/2013. (See Figure 1.)

It should come as no surprise, then, that analysts asked more detailed, sophisticated, and informed questions—about both emerging-market currencies and others—in Q4/2013 than in any quarter FiREapps previously studied. Forty percent of companies reporting a currency impact on EPS fielded questions from analysts about the currency impact.

What might come as more of a shock is that the Canadian dollar tied the Brazilian real as the currency that was mentioned most frequently as impactful during the Q4/2013 earnings calls included in the study. “While the fourth quarter 2013 change in the U.S. dollar/Canadian dollar [USD/CAD] exchange rate was less than 4 percent, a quick adjustment toward the end of the quarter appears to have caught a number of corporates off-guard, resulting in a significant jump in the number of companies disclosing CAD impacts,” explains Wolfgang Koester, CEO of FiREapps.

Indeed, Koester sees the movement in the Canadian dollar as indicative of the unpredictability of currency risks worldwide. “From emerging markets to analyst questions to the Canadian dollar, the theme for 2013 is surprise,” he says. His advice: “There are simply too many potential currency pairs on which you could be exposed to manage them all individually. While the average company has tens—if not hundreds—of currency pairs, none of them can be ignored. Companies that manage risk well are taking the portfolio approach, managing currency risk across all exposures such that the impact of fluctuations falls below a preset threshold, no matter which way any currency pair moves.”

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