Category Archives: exposure

Unhedged. …oooops.

Clean Currents

What happens when you sell your customers power at a fixed price, and you buy your power at a floating price? A local DC green electricity marketer, Clean-Currents, found out as last month’s frigid temperatures sent wholesale power prices rocketing. It’s now out of business, and the customers who had those contracts are…back on the market either getting their power from the incumbent utility or looking for a fresh deal.

Clean-Currents sent this message to customers:

Dear Customers:

We are writing to inform you, with deep regret, that the recent extreme weather, which sent the wholesale electricity market into unchartered territories, has fatally compromised our ability to continue to serve customers.

We are extremely saddened to share this news with you.

What does this mean for you?

All Clean Currents’ customers will be returned to their utility service, effective immediately. You should see this change in service on your next bill, or the bill after that, dependent on your meter read cycle. If you so choose, you are able to switch to another third party electricity supplier, effective immediately. Clean Currents waives any advanced notice requirement or early termination fee provisions in our contracts.

Please contact your utility if you have any questions about your change in service:  …

We are deeply grateful that you chose to be a Clean Currents customer. It has been a pleasure to serve you. We hope you will still choose renewable energy for your home or business.Sincerely,

Gary Skulnik & Charles Segerman, Clean Currents Co-Founders

 

 

American Airlines Stops Hedging

Image

On its quarterly earnings call earlier this week, the new American Airlines confirmed speculation that it would end the company’s legacy policy of hedging jet fuel prices. The hedges that are in place will be allowed to runoff, but they will not be replaced.

American’s merger with US Airways was completed in December, and the combined company is being led by US Airways’ management team. For a number of years now, since 2008, US Airways has shunned hedging. Now that policy is being extended to the merged firm.

Why?

Experience is one factor. Going into 2008, US Airways hedged jet fuel prices just like other companies. But 2008 was a wild ride for all businesses in which fuel costs are a major line item, airlines especially. Oil prices spiked dramatically during the first half of the year, and then collapsed even more dramatically during the second half. While the company may have profited off of its hedges in the first two quarters, it reported whopping losses on its hedges in the last two–$488 million in the 3rd quarter and another $234 in the 4th quarter, each time approximately half the company’s total loss in the quarter. Of course, at the same time the airline was paying a smaller price to buy jet fuel, so the company’s net cash flow on fuel plus the hedge showed less volatility. That’s how a hedge is supposed to work. But hedge decisions are always second guessed whenever the financial leg of the package earns a loss.

The second guessing at US Airways goes a little deeper than usual, and the management team’s rationale deserves a fair hearing.

Management seems to think that hedging somehow invites companies to be less ruthless about cost discipline. At it’s Q2 earnings call last year, US Airways President Scott Kirby said

And our cost discipline has been equally impressive. First, since US Airways stopped hedging fuel we’ve had the lowest or second lowest cost of fuel in 10 of the last 14 quarters, a strong validation of our no hedging strategy.

Management also thinks it isn’t really as exposed to fuel costs as many imagine. Casual observers focus too narrowly on jet fuel costs alone, the company points out. Looking at operating margin – revenue less variable cost – the company has a much smaller exposure to jet fuel prices than first meets the eye. Here’s Scott Kirby again, from a 2012 conference:

I think a non-fuel hedging program is the most effective and the most rational program because we have a natural hedge. This is a natural hedge — fuel prices versus demand. When fuel prices are going up, in most cases revenue is going to follow and vice-versa. Fuel prices are driven in many regards by the economy. That’s not the only driver of fuel prices, but it’s probably — over a longer time horizon, it is the principal driver of fuel prices as what’s happening with the economy, and so we have a strong natural hedge. And if we hedge jet fuel prices or hedge oil prices, you’re breaking this natural hedge, not to mention the expense of hedging but just the natural hedge that you have between jet fuel and revenues.

So a sizable financial hedge is not necessary, and might even increase the airline’s risk.

I have a hard time believing that the right hedge is zero. Ticket prices don’t move one-for-one with jet fuel prices, at least not immediately. Many tickets are sold in advance, whether individually or as a part of corporate and other packaged sales. And the quantity of sales will be affected by the price, too, so that the company is exposed on an aggregate basis even when its operating margin is not.

Of course, that argument does not take into account the cost of hedging. In order to cover those costs, Kirby said, fuel prices would have to rise 30% year-over-year, something he obviously doesn’t think is likely.

Since US Airways inaugurated its new policy of not hedging, oil prices have stayed in a relatively narrow band, so the policy has not yet been stress tested. Now that policy is being extended to the larger, combined American Airlines. It will be interesting to see whether it runs into any stormy price swings, and how it fares under stress.

The Value of Clearing Derivatives

financial dominos

What are the costs and benefits of the reform of derivative markets now taking place? A report released last week by the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) pegged the central estimate of the benefits at 0.16% of annual GDP.[1] With US GDP at something more than $15 trillion, that’s $24 billion annually. For the OECD as a whole, the figure is nearly triple that.

Approximately 50% of the benefits are due to the push to central clearing. Continue reading

Backwardation in Gold Prices?

Izabella Kaminska at FT Alphaville clarifies what’s going on.

Games with Risk Controls

FT Alphaville has been running a series of blog posts digging in to items raised in the investigation of the fiasco at JP Morgan’s Chief Investment Office. The series is called The Belly of the Whale.

Today’s entry is a must read for anyone who has tried to “control” traders using quantitative risk measures. It’s all about gaming government capital rules. But shouldn’t any corporate officer who has to manage teams of traders have to worry about similar games being played?

 

Alternatives to Captives & Contagion

Last week we wrote about the financial contagion from Peugeot’s auto manufacturing business to its captive finance unit, Banque PSA Finance (PFA). The important question this raises for management is whether there are other ways to get the synergies associated with a captive finance unit without at the same time being susceptible to the contagion.

One set of alternatives keeps the unit as a captive, but tries to find financial structures that are not subject to the contagion. This includes separating funding sources and eliminating cross recourse. PFA is now considering offering deposits and making its liabilities separate from the Peugeot.

It is also possible to capture the synergies by some other means such as a strategic alliance with an otherwise independent bank. That’s what Fiat/Chrysler is doing with Banco Santander. The new venture, Chrysler Capital, will provide funds to consumers purchasing and leasing Chrysler’s cars and trucks, as well as loans to dealerships construction, real estate and working capital.

In the new venture with Santander, the automaker Chrysler will not even be listed as a shareholder. Chrysler decided against it because of its low credit rating (B1 by Moody’s and B+ by S&P), arguing that it would have damaged Chrysler Capital’s borrowing costs and ability to raise funds. Chrysler Group vice president of dealer network development and fleet operations, Peter Grady, is quoted in the Bloomberg story saying that “We were looking for a bank with some significant heft” that could “provide the financial backstop that would be needed in a downturn if another capital market disruption occurred.”

 

Hiding Risk by Netting Exposures

whistling past the graveyard

Which representation of a bank’s derivative portfolio provides a fairer picture of the risk it presents, the net or gross balances? US banks, operating under US Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), report the balance after netting out offsetting exposures with the same counterparty together with collateral. European banks, operating under International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), report the balance gross.[1] Consequently, a naïve comparison of banks using total assets as reported under the two different standards gives an erroneous impression that US banks are much smaller relative to their European counterparts. Were the assets reported on a comparable basis, US banks would climb in the rankings. But which comparable basis is the right one? Should the US bank assets be adjusted upward with the netted derivative assets added back, or should the European bank assets be adjusted downward by netting out more of their derivative assets. A number of US banking regulators and experts have recently started calling for putting the gross exposure onto the balance sheet. Not surprisingly, the big US banks and derivative trade associations like the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) argue that the net exposure is the right one.

What is at the root of the disagreement?

Continue reading

Captives and Contagion

peugeot

The French automaker Peugeot is in trouble. Automobile sales in Europe saw a dramatic 8.6% slump in 2012. For Peugeot it was even worse: a 15% drop. Since the company relies overwhelmingly on sales in Europe, the company was burning through cash at a rate of €200 million per month, according to the Financial Times. Earlier today the company reported a loss of €5.01 billion in 2012. Already last March, Moody’s had downgraded the company’s credit rating to junk. To stabilize its finances, management last year initiated a program of asset sales, an issue of new equity, and the closure of one of its manufacturing plants near Paris.

Like many other manufacturers, Peugeot owns a captive finance arm, Banque PSA Finance (BPF). The bank has a special access to Peugeot-Citroen dealer networks and supports automobile sales by offering loans, leases and insurance to customers.

The bank gets its funds in the wholesale market, as shown in the figure below, taken from the bank’s 2012 annual report.

BPF

BPF’s captive relationship with Peugeot-Citroen exposes it to the risks of the car company. The sales volumes achieved on Peugeot and Citroën cars directly affect the bank’s own business opportunities. The ownership relationship, too, creates exposure. Accordingly, the credit rating agency Moody’s determined that its rating of the bank is constrained by its rating of the parent.

In 2012, the automaker’s financial problems infected the bank. As the parent was downgraded, Moody’s also reviewed the rating of the bank, and it was downgraded. In July, the parent was downgraded to junk, and Moody’s announced that the bank’s credit rating was in review for possible downgrade to junk status.

Continue reading

Was Ina Drew a Hedger or a Speculator?

This Sunday’s New York Times Magazine included a piece by Susan Dominus about Ina Drew, the former Chief Investment Officer (CIO) at JP Morgan who resigned following the outsized trading loss in her unit. The focus of the piece is on the rough and tumble of a woman trying “to succeed as an interloper in the Wall Street boys’ club. But buried within the piece is a repeated confusion of hedging with proprietary trading. Dominus repeatedly describes Drew as responsible for hedging this or that risk facing the bank, but immediately afterwards Dominus lauds Drew’s uncanny ability to predict where the market was heading and so to be a profit center. Since the question of whether JP Morgan’s CIO was or was not hedging is at the heart of the public policy dispute surrounding JP Morgan and the Volcker Rule (see here and here), it is worthwhile addressing the confusion in Dominus’ piece.

Continue reading

Alice’s Adventures in Australia

Liam Denning at the Wall Street Journal has a nice piece today on why Chevron has chosen not to hedge its apparent exposure to fluctuations in the value of the Australian dollar.

The apparent exposure arises from its Gorgon liquefied-natural-gas project. Sales of natural gas are denominated in US dollars, but a large fraction of Chevron’s costs at Gorgon are denominated in Australian dollars. Let’s look at the project’s value measured in US dollars. How are they exposed to fluctuations in the exchange rate between the Australian dollar and the US dollar? A mechanical sensitivity analysis will show the US dollar costs fluctuating as the exchange rate fluctuates, while the US dollar revenues will be constant. That creates the apparent exposure.

Continue reading

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