Economic Exposure

A subtype of foreign exchange exposure that results from the impact of unanticipated currency fluctuations on the cash flows, earnings, and foreign investments of a company in the future

Author: Rohan Arora
Rohan Arora
Rohan Arora
Investment Banking | Private Equity

Mr. Arora is an experienced private equity investment professional, with experience working across multiple markets. Rohan has a focus in particular on consumer and business services transactions and operational growth. Rohan has also worked at Evercore, where he also spent time in private equity advisory.

Rohan holds a BA (Hons., Scholar) in Economics and Management from Oxford University.

Reviewed By: Josh Pupkin
Josh Pupkin
Josh Pupkin
Private Equity | Investment Banking

Josh has extensive experience private equity, business development, and investment banking. Josh started his career working as an investment banking analyst for Barclays before transitioning to a private equity role Neuberger Berman. Currently, Josh is an Associate in the Strategic Finance Group of Accordion Partners, a management consulting firm which advises on, executes, and implements value creation initiatives and 100 day plans for Private Equity-backed companies and their financial sponsors.

Josh graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Maryland, College Park with a Bachelor of Science in Finance and is currently an MBA candidate at Duke University Fuqua School of Business with a concentration in Corporate Strategy.

Last Updated:December 1, 2023

What Is Economic Exposure?

Economic exposure is a subtype of foreign exchange exposure that results from the impact of unanticipated currency fluctuations on the cash flows, earnings, and foreign investments of a company in the future.

It is also known as operating exposure and has the potential to have a significant impact on the market value of a company due to the fact that it has far-reaching effects and is a more long-term concern.

Businesses, especially those involved in foreign exchange trading, can safeguard themselves against unexpected currency value shifts. Economic exposure is closely tied to the volatility of the foreign exchange market—if it's highly volatile, the risk increases; if it's stable, the risk decreases.

Multinational corporations, which operate in various countries with multiple currencies, often face this risk due to the nature of their diverse business activities. However, with the rise of globalization, even companies solely operating in domestic markets can be exposed to economic risks.

To minimize economic exposure, companies employ different strategies:

1. Operational Strategies: Diversification of production facilities, end-product markets, and financing sources.

2. Currency Risk Mitigation Strategies: Implementation of currency swaps and other financial instruments.

The degree of operating exposure is directly linked to currency volatility. When foreign exchange markets are highly volatile, economic exposure increases, and it decreases during periods of low volatility.

Companies with numerous subsidiaries abroad and extensive dealings in foreign currencies naturally face higher operating exposure. However, the broader impact of globalization has expanded the risk to all businesses, regardless of size or whether they primarily operate in domestic markets.

Any company engaged in business activities is at risk of economic exposure and must consider strategies to minimize potential risks in the dynamic global economic environment.

Key Takeaways

  • Long-term risk from currency fluctuations affecting a company's finances.
  • All businesses face risk due to economic exposure in a globalized world.
  • Operating exposure increases with currency market volatility.
  • Diversification, restructuring, and currency tactics help reduce economic risk.
  • Economic exposure is a fundamental, long-term risk affecting future cash flows, contrasting with short-term transaction exposure.

Types of risk due to the volatility of currency

The impact that changes in exchange rates have on a company's financial obligations to make or receive payments that are denominated in a different currency is what is meant to be understood as transaction exposure. 

This kind of exposure can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes. Translation risk is the risk that a company will incur losses due to the effect that changes in the currency will have on its consolidated financial statements.

This risk is heightened when the company has operations in multiple countries. This kind of exposure can last anywhere from a few months to a few years.

Operating risk is a risk that is not as well-known as the other two, but it is still a significant risk. It is long-term in nature, and it is caused by the effect that unexpected currency fluctuations have on the future cash flows and market value of a company. 

It is caused by the effect of unexpected currency fluctuations. Even if a company does not have any operations or sales in other countries, unanticipated shifts in the value of the exchange rate can have a significant impact on the company's position in the market. 

This can have a significant negative impact. For instance, if the dollar were to significantly strengthen, a U.S. manufacturer of furniture that operates only on the local market would still have to compete with imports from Asia and Europe. 

These imports could become more affordable and, as a result, more competitive.

It is important to keep in mind that economic exposure refers to unanticipated shifts in currency exchange rates, which, by definition, are impossible to forecast. 

The reason for this is that the management of a company bases their budgets and forecasts on certain assumptions, which represent the change in currency exchange rates they anticipate. 

The risks associated with transactions and translations can be precisely estimated so to mitigate the risk, they are hedged, whereas the risks associated with economic exposure are difficult to quantify precisely and, as a result, are difficult to hedge.

Mitigation of Economic Exposure

Restructuring can lessen a company's exposure to economic risk by moving the origins of costs or revenues to different geographic locations. This helps ensure that cash inflows and outflows are balanced in terms of foreign currency.

Reorganizing business processes can help reduce a company's exposure to economic risk over the long term. It is a task that is significantly more difficult than hedging any other type of foreign currency transaction. 

Additionally, after this, the new structure is evaluated by determining how sensitive the revised cash flows are to a number of different potential exchange rate scenarios.

It can be reduced either through operational strategies or currency risk mitigation strategies. 

Because the effects of different currencies can, to some extent, cancel each other out when there are multiple currencies involved, it is important for operational strategies to involve diversification of production facilities, end-product markets, and financing sources.

Operational Strategies

The following is a list of operational strategies that can be used to reduce the risk of being exposed to economic risk:

1. Increasing the number of production facilities while expanding into new markets.

The inherent risk could be reduced if, rather than concentrating on only one or two markets, the production facilities were diversified, and sales were made to a variety of markets. 

However, when this occurs, the companies in question are forced to forego the benefits that come with economies of scale.

2. Finding Sources of Flexibility

It's possible that businesses have access to other channels for sourcing essential inputs. If the fluctuations in the exchange rate cause the inputs from one region to be more expensive, then alternative sources may need to be utilized.

3. Expanding Financing Horizons

It is possible for a company to gain access to the capital markets in several of the world's most important regions. Because of this, the company is able to gain flexibility in its ability to raise capital in the market at the cost of funds that is the lowest possible.

Currency Risk Mitigation Strategies

The following is a list of currency risk mitigation strategies that can be utilized to reduce the likelihood of suffering from adverse economic consequences:

1. Adjusting for Changes in Currency Flows

Matching the amount of foreign currency that is brought in by that which is taken out, is the simplest form of mitigating operating exposure.

For instance, if a European company is looking to raise debt and already has significant inflows in US dollars, it should consider borrowing in US dollars rather than its native currency.

2. Agreements for the Sharing of Currency Risk

Within the context of the purchase and sales contract, an agreement is negotiated between the two parties involved. The parties are required to equally share the risk that may result from the fluctuations in the exchange rates, as stated in the agreement. 

A price adjustment clause is included in the agreement. This clause states that the base price of the transaction will be adjusted in the event that there is a change in the exchange rate.

3. Loans Taken Out Back-to-Back

Using this strategy, which is also referred to as a credit swap, two businesses located in different nations come to an agreement to borrow money in the local currency of the other country for a predetermined amount of time. 

The currencies are repaid once the time period that was specified has passed.

4. Exchange Rate Swaps

The method of currency swapping is comparable to the method of making back-to-back loans. On the other hand, there is no indication of this on the balance sheet

Two companies, one of which will borrow foreign currency from the global market so that the other can receive the best possible interest rate, will then swap the proceeds of their borrowing.

Example of Economic Exposure

Let’s say, a large pharmaceutical company based in the United States has operations and subsidiaries in several countries all over the world.

Europe and Japan are the company's two most important export markets, and together they are responsible for forty percent of the company's annual revenue. 

When compared to the euro and the Japanese yen, management anticipated that the value of the dollar would fall by an average of three percent over the course of the current year and the following two years.

Their pessimistic outlook on the dollar was founded on the belief that factors such as the persistent impasse over the United States budget, as well as the expanding fiscal and current account deficits, would continue to put pressure on the greenback in the years to come.

On the other hand, the rapid improvement of the economy in the United States has given rise to rumors that the Federal Reserve may be getting ready to tighten monetary policy much sooner than was previously anticipated. 

As a direct consequence of this, the value of the dollar has been on an upward trend, and over the course of the last few months, it has increased by approximately 5 percent in comparison to the euro and the yen. 

Because monetary policy in Japan is expected to remain very stimulative and the European economy is just beginning to emerge from recession, the outlook for the next two years indicates that the dollar is likely to make additional gains in the coming years.

The pharmaceutical company based in the United States faces not only transaction exposure (due to a large amount of money it makes from exports) and translation exposure (due to the fact that it has subsidiaries located all over the world), but also economic exposure.

Remember that management anticipated that the value of the dollar would decrease by approximately 3 percent annually against the euro and the yen over the course of three years. 

However, the value of the greenback has already increased by 5 percent in relation to these currencies, which represents a difference of eight percentage points and is continuing to grow. 

It should come as no surprise that this will have a negative impact on the company's sales as well as its cash flows. 

The challenges that the company is going to have to face as a result of these currency fluctuations have already been picked up on by astute investors, which is why the stock has dropped by 7 percent in recent months.

Transaction vs Economic Exposure

The concept of comparing the impact of foreign exchange market fluctuations on cash flow over the short term versus the long term is represented by the phrase 'transaction versus economic exposure.' 

There are several key distinctions between transactions and operating exposure. Transaction risk is driven by upcoming receivables or payables denominated in a foreign currency.

On the other hand, the direction of economic exposure is driven by future currency cash inflows and outflows.

When it comes to international financial management, companies are frequently put in a position where they are vulnerable to fluctuations in their cash flow solely as a result of changes in exchange rates. 

There are both short-term and long-term risks associated with cash flow. Some cash flow risks are more immediate than others. The management of cash flows is intrinsically linked to the management of both transaction exposure and economic exposure.

1. Cash flow

Because transaction exposure is caused by transactions that have already been contracted for, the nature of these exposures is characterized as being short-term.

For instance, if a company based in the United States has already supplied goods to another company based in the United Kingdom with a value of one hundred million dollars and has agreed to receive payment in British pounds, then that company has already undertaken transaction risk on cash flows. 

Economic exposure encompasses transaction exposure in addition to operating exposure, both of which are associated with future cash flows. 

These cash flows have not been realized or agreed upon, and the risk involved is one that is more anticipatory in nature. It can arise due to changes in future sales, volume, pricing, or cost profile.

2. Nature of risk

The risk that is associated with transaction exposure is restricted to the specific contract or transaction that is being discussed.The risk associated with operating exposure, on the other hand, affects the fundamental value of a company rather than the value of a single transaction or contract specifically; specifically, it is the risk to the present value of future operating cash flows.

3. Identification

The risk associated with transactions is the foreign exchange risk that can be identified with the greatest ease. Because of the anticipatory nature of the economic exposure, it can be difficult to identify.

4. Cause and scope

Only when you enter into a contract that involves future receivables or payables denominated in a foreign currency do you run the risk of transaction exposure. As a result, the scope is kept limited. 

Economic exposure can occur even in the absence of transaction exposure, and as a result, the scope continues to be quite broad.

For instance, domestic cash flows might be influenced by the presence of foreign competition in the domestic market, which is connected to differences in currency exchange rates. 

Therefore, domestic currency depreciation will have an effect on your cash flows because increased sales in your domestic market due to increased foreign competition will occur.

5. Characteristics

The risk associated with transactions is more technical and tactical in nature. Economic exposure is inextricably linked to a company's business strategy, and as such, it is of a fundamental nature.

6. The Application of Hedging

Majority of companies are increasing the frequency with which they hedge their transaction exposures.

The vast majority of businesses subscribe to the idea that natural hedging is the most effective method for managing their economic risks.

Researched and authored by Ruxue Bai | LinkedIn

Edited by Sakshi Uradi | LinkedIn

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