So here we are, just weeks out from a post-Brexit vote world, and a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the U.K. as it is left to try and carve out its new place in this new paradigm.
With the outlook for global interest rates cloudy at best, a U.S. presidential election that promises to be as unpredictable as we’ve seen in recent history and a weakening outlook for the global economy, firms involved in international trade should be reexamining their international payment and FX strategies and implementing sound plans if they’re currently lacking one.
The onus is on international payments firms to counsel clients and help them anticipate and navigate future market-moving events, providing the appropriate technology, strategic advice and FX products to mitigate potential risks. With sentiment driving market activity as much as it ever has and persistent central bank intervention in the currency markets, it is essential that businesses are alive to the geo-political, as well as economic risks, not just in their own countries but the countries they trade with, and plan accordingly.
While it may be years before history grants us a full picture of the magnitude of this vote, U.S. businesses, particularly those involved in exporting/importing and cross border payments, have been given a close-quarters glimpse of the impact that a momentous and unexpected political decision can have on the global markets. It has also served as a valuable lesson for businesses to learn from the event’s immediate aftermath and recognize the importance of having an adaptable payments and currency hedging strategy.
One of the most immediate and obvious effects of the UK’s decision to leave the EU was seen in currency markets. In the hours following the vote, sterling dropped to 30-year lows against the U.S. dollar, falling by 10%. Many U.S. businesses involved in cross-border commerce will have had exposure to sterling and the euro, wreaking short-term and potentially long-term havoc if proper controls weren’t in place prior to the news.
Rather than looking at their good fortune to be trading a stronger dollar now, importers should be looking at the currency exposure on the horizon and ensuring they are protecting themselves against future volatility that may not be so advantageous. With a presidential election coming up in November, there is likely to be volatility in the months ahead for the greenback. Similarly, exporters who experienced initial pain have an opportunity to implement a sound payments and FX strategy before the next market-moving event.
The Brexit vote serves a useful example for U.S. businesses in how public polling, projection and headline noise from the media can affect the global currency markets. In the 24/7 news cycle that is in vogue, markets are increasingly being driven by sentiment rather than economic fundamentals. The presidential race in the U.S. is a great example of this shift.
It is important for firms to act with conviction and patience when locking in hedging strategies, whether they’re forward contracts or options. Too often, small business owners in particular are tempted to adopt a casino mentality, second-guessing their initial pricing if the market moves against them. Lock in a price versus whichever currencies a business is exposed to and then set your business plan into motion accordingly. With certainty and clarity into a worst-case scenario, a company can protect profits and their bottom line.
In the near-term, companies with currency commitments to sterling should consider hedging. Even if they had no contingency plan for a Brexit victory, it isn’t too late. It is reasonable to expect plenty of uncertainty in the coming months, and while sterling may continue to fall, as the negotiations progress and if certainty returns, there is the potential for it to mount a recovery. This has been demonstrated as sterling recovered some of its lost ground in appointing a new Prime Minister more quickly than expected.
The Brexit decision hopefully served as a wake-up call for U.S. businesses as we enter the presidential election season. When something is left to a public vote, the only certainty is that nothing is certain. No scenario should be excluded from consideration, not even a Trump presidency.
Robert Bolle is an FX trader in Key Accounts for AFEX. The opinion provided here should not be construed as providing advice or recommendations of any kind.