Articles
Published on
August 18, 2023

What Happens to FX Rates in a Recession and How to Hedge Against It

5
min read

Recessions can have a significant impact on foreign exchange (FX) rates, which can result in losses for businesses and individuals who have exposure to multiple currencies. In this article, we will explore the relationship between FX rates and a recession and how to protect your business from the risks.

Key Takeaways

  • A recession in a country typically leads to a decline in FX rates as investors hold back on buys and expect the continuation of the economic downturn.
  • Businesses can look to GDP, inflation, and the consumer price index (CPI) to gauge the potential risks and the severity of a recession.
  • Hedging strategies such as futures contracts, currency options, and FX swaps can help protect businesses from the uncertainty of FX volatility.

Understanding the relationship between FX rates and recession

Foreign exchange, commonly referred to as FX, is the market where currencies are traded. FX rates represent the value of one currency in relation to another. A recession, on the other hand, is a period of economic decline characterised by a decrease in GDP, employment, and income over two consecutive quarters.

In most cases, a recession leads to a decline in FX rates. This is because investors tend to shy away from currencies of countries experiencing economic downturns, preferring to invest in those with stronger economies. As a result, the demand for weaker currencies decreases, leading to a drop in their value.

In contrast, currencies of countries with stronger economies tend to appreciate in value during a recession. This is because investors seek to invest their money in stable currencies and economies, leading to an increase in demand for these currencies.

What about monetary policies?

During a recession, governments and central banks implement various policies and measures to stabilise the economy and prevent further decline. These policies can have significant effects on foreign exchange (FX) rates.

One common policy is fiscal stimulus, where the government increases spending and lowers taxes to boost economic growth. This can lead to increased confidence among investors, which strengthens a currency. However, this strategy sits on a sensitive scale where if the stimulus scheme is more successful than estimated, it may tip the economy into an inflationary state.

Another policy is monetary easing, where the central bank lowers interest rates and engages in asset purchases to increase liquidity. This can stimulate borrowing and investment but also leads to lower currency values. On the other hand, if the central bank tightens monetary policy, by raising interest rates, for example, will strengthen the currency.

It's important to note that government policies and monetary measures can also have unintended consequences on FX rates. For example, if a government increases its debt to fund stimulus measures, investors may lose confidence in the country's ability to repay that debt, leading to a weaker currency.

Therefore, it's crucial to stay informed about government policies and central bank actions during a recession and how they may impact FX rates, in order to make informed hedging decisions.

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Read more: 4 Key Macroeconomic Factors that Affect FX Rates

Indicators of a recession and their impact on FX rates

The relationship between FX rates and recession is complex and multifaceted as it blends the factors of monetary policy, interest rates, and trade balances.

But there are telltale signs.

A recession can be identified by multiple indicators that signal a decline in economic activity, which can include sluggish GDP growth, rising unemployment rates, and falling equity markets. In addition, changes in consumer confidence, housing prices, and retail sales can also point towards an impending recession.

Typically, in times of economic downturn, investors tend to pull out of emerging markets and seek safer investments in more stable currencies such as the US dollar, Swiss franc, and Japanese yen. As a result, these currencies appreciate in value while emerging market currencies depreciate, leading to fluctuations in FX rates.

Factors influencing FX rates in a recession

In times of economic uncertainty, it's important to understand the various factors that can cause fluctuations in foreign exchange (FX) rates. Here are some of the most significant:

  • Interest rate decisions – A country's interest rates are one of the key drivers of FX rates. Higher interest rates usually lead to a stronger currency, while lower rates typically produce a weaker currency.
  • Inflation or consumer price index (CPI) data – Inflation and CPI have a significant impact on FX rates, as both these data points measure the cost of living and the purchasing power of a currency. Countries with lower inflation rates generally have stronger currencies.
  • Government debt – High levels of government debt can lead to a weaker currency, as investors may lose confidence in a country's ability to repay its debts.

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Read more: 5 Ways to Reduce Your Business FX Risks

Hedging strategies for FX in a recession

Companies that rely heavily on international trade have to face a lot of uncertainties during a recession and this fluctuating FX rates can have a major impact on profit margins.

This section discusses different hedging strategies that businesses can use to mitigate FX risks during a recession.

  • Futures contracts – These are similar to forward contracts, but they are traded on exchanges. Futures contracts are standardized, which makes them more accessible to small and medium-sized businesses.
  • Currency options – Options provide businesses with the right, but not the obligation, to buy or sell currency at a predetermined exchange rate. This hedging strategy can be more beneficial for businesses that need flexibility.
  • FX swaps – FX swaps involve the simultaneous buying and selling of currency. Businesses can use FX swaps to hedge against FX risks for a specific period of time.

One more item to note is that each of these hedging strategies comes with its own cost. Ergo, while incorporating hedging strategies keep the risks at bay, make sure to understand the additional cost to make an informed decision.

Summary

FX risks are an inherent part of an international business. And often, a recession amplifies the risks through heightened volatility or liquidity issues. However, appropriate hedging measures and a close monitoring of macroeconomic factors can lower the risks significantly.

If you need any help with your cross-border transactions, feel free to check out Wallex or contact our support specialist here.

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