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Currency Markets Jolted After Months of Calm

Currency Markets Jolted After Months of Calm

Volatility Rises as Investors Focus on Interest-Rate Divergence

By ANJANI TRIVEDI and IRA IOSEBASHVILI WSJ

After months of calm, currency markets have sprung back to life, as investors scramble to take advantage of the divergent paths taken by major central banks.

Bigger and more-frequent shifts in the foreign-exchange market are a welcome relief for investors, many of whom struggled to make profitable trades when currencies weren’t moving as dramatically.

Banks, whose currency desks execute trades on behalf of clients and companies, also see revenues grow when choppier markets drive up demand for their services.

“This definitely brightens my day,” said Chris Stanton, who oversees about $200 million at California-based Sunrise Capital Partners LLC. “It’s a welcome return to what feels like a freer market.”

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The size of daily trading swings across currencies has jumped 55% since hitting its lowest in at least a decade on July 31, according to Deutsche Bank AG. During that time, the dollar climbed to a six-year high against the yen, the euro fell below $1.30 for the first time since July 2013 and the pound tumbled to a 10-month low against the dollar. On Wednesday, the Swiss franc saw its biggest drop against the euro in six months.

Driving the price swings is a shift in policies at some of the world’s largest central banks. A burgeoning recovery in the U.S. has brought the Federal Reserve closer to raising rates, a move that would make the dollar more attractive to investors. At the same time, European and Japanese central banks are still trying to kickstart their economies and relying on policies such as bond buying that tend to drive down interest rates and reduce the value of a currency.

Implied volatility, which tracks the price of options used to protect against swings in exchange rates, has surged 45% in September to an eight-month high, according to Deutsche Bank. Higher implied volatility suggests money managers are buying options in anticipation of a more-active market.

Some money managers are buying the dollar ahead of next week’s Fed meeting, where policy makers could send firmer signals on their outlook for interest rates. Mr. Stanton’s fund is betting that the dollar will continue to strengthen against the yen and emerging-market currencies as the Fed gets closer to raising interest rates.

Citigroup Inc., C +1.11% the world’s largest currencies-dealing bank, on Monday said its markets revenue, which includes currency trading, is on track to be roughly flat in the third quarter compared with the same period in 2013, ending a decline that started a year ago.

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Until recently, unusually calm markets had left investors with fewer opportunities to trade and led to the demise of several large currency funds. FX Concepts LLC, founded in 1981 and considered a pioneer in currency investing, closed its doors last year after assets shriveled to $660 million from $14 billion before the financial crisis.

Currency volatility plummeted after the financial crisis, as the world’s biggest central banks cut interest rates to near zero. That gave traders little incentive to try and capture the difference in interest rates between various currencies, a key driver of activity in the foreign-exchange market.

That status quo has started to crack. Minutes from the Fed’s July meeting showed growing support for raising rates, spurring gains in the dollar when they were released in August. Earlier this month, the ECB surprised investors with a rate cut, bringing down the euro. Meantime, the pound tumbled on concerns over the repercussions from Scotland’s possible secession. On Wednesday, the Swiss National Bank said that it could introduce negative interest rates to halt the franc’s rise.

Trading bands of some major currencies have widened this summer, opening the door to bigger profits for investors. So far in September, the dollar is moving on average by 0.70 yen a day, the biggest range since February and up from 0.35 in July. Daily moves in the euro this month are averaging 0.79 U.S. cent, compared with 0.4 cent in July.

“Now, there are more opportunities to make money,” said Masafumi Takada, vice president of currency trading at BNP Paribas SA BNP.FR -0.39% in New York. Business volume at the bank’s New York currency-trading desk has quadrupled since July, Mr. Takada said.

Currency volatility can be a double-edged sword. Investors can profit by riding the dollar’s steady move higher against a variety of currencies. But a sudden reversal—such as a surge in the pound if Scotland votes against independence—could catch traders off guard. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. GS +1.39% took a loss on an options trade involving the dollar and yen about a year ago, people familiar with the matter said. Last summer, the yen’s months-long decline had stalled.

Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen attends a Board of Governors meeting at the Federal Reserve in Washington last week. Associated Press

Some traders believe the current bout of volatility may die down. The large moves seen this week are unusual, analysts say.

On Wednesday, the euro fell 0.2% to $1.2917, while the dollar rose 0.6% against the yen to 106.85. The pound rebounded, with the dollar falling 0.64% against the British currency.

“The question is whether or not this much of a jump [in volatility] is sensible,” said Geoff Kendrick, head of foreign-exchange and rates strategy in Asia at Morgan Stanley MS +1.24% in Hong Kong.

Still, many find it hard to imagine that the magnitude of the Fed’s policy shift won’t continue sending waves across currency markets.

“The dollar’s on a tear, and there is more of this to come,” said Kit Juckes, a strategist at Société Générale SA.

—Justin Baer and Saabira Chaudhuri contributed to this article.

Write to Anjani Trivedi at anjani.trivedi@wsj.com and Ira Iosebashvili at ira.iosebashvili@wsj.com

Deloitte survey: Financial institutions increasing focus on risk management

Thursday 22, August 2013 by Robin Amlôt

Deloitte survey: Financial institutions increasing focus on risk management

 

Heightened regulatory scrutiny and greater concerns over risk governance have led financial institutions to elevate their focus and attention on risk management, a new global survey from Deloitte finds. In response, banks and other financial services firms are increasing their risk management budgets and enhancing their governance programs.

 

According to Deloitte’s eighth biennial survey on risk management practices, titled “Setting a Higher Bar,” about two-thirds of financial institutions (65 per cent) reported an increase in spending on risk management and compliance, up from 55 per cent in 2010.

 

A closer look at the numbers finds, though, that there is a divergence when it comes to the spending patterns of different-sized firms. The largest and the most systemically important firms have had several years of regulatory scrutiny and have continued their focus on distinct areas like risk governance, risk reporting, capital adequacy and liquidity. In contrast, firms with assets of less than $10 billion are now concentrating on building capabilities to address a number of new regulatory requirements, which were applied first to the largest institutions and are now cascading further down the ladder.

 

“The financial crisis has led to far-reaching major changes of doing business in financial institutions’ risk management practices, with stricter and ruled based regulatory requirements demanding more attention from management and increasing their overall risk management and compliance efforts,” said Joe El Fadl, Financial Services Industry Leader at Deloitte Middle East. “That said, risk management shouldn’t be viewed as either a regulatory burden or a report destined to gather dust on a shelf. Instead, it should be embedded in an institution’s framework, philosophy and culture for managing risk exposures across the organisation.

“Knowing that a number of regulatory requirements remain in the queue, financial institutions have to be able to plan for future hurdles while enhancing their risk governance, enhancing management capabilities with better risk awareness using data analytics, and improving in data quality,” added El Fadl. “Those that do will be well placed to steer a steady course though the ever-shifting risk management landscape.”

The majority of the institutions participating in the survey (58 per cent) plan to increase their risk management budgets over the next three years, with 17 per cent anticipating annual increases of 25 per cent or more. This is not a trivial matter as 39 per cent of large institutions – particularly those based in North America – reported having more than 250 full-time employees in their risk management function.

 

Risk management moves up the boardroom agenda

Alongside increased spending, risk management has also significantly risen up the agenda in the boardroom. According to the survey’s results, 94 per cent of company boards now devote more time to risk management oversight than five years ago, and 80 per cent of chief risk officers report directly to either the board or the chief executive officer (CEO). Additionally, 98 per cent of company boards or board-level risk committees regularly review risk management reports, an increase from 85 per cent in 2010.

 

“Regulators have been focusing more and more on the role of the board of directors in risk governance, engaging them to approve the institution’s risk appetite and risk policies, overseeing their implementation by management and increasingly looking to understand the challenge that the board makes in its oversight of the financial institution’s risk management of key issues,” said Fadi Sidani, partner in charge, Enterprise Risk Services at Deloitte Middle East.

Other major findings in the survey include:

Almost three out of four risk managers rated their institution to be either extremely or very effective in risk management overall, an increase from 66 percent in 2010’s survey results.

 

The impact of increased regulation is having a significant effect on business strategy and the bottom line, with 48 percent of firms confirming that they have had to adjust product lines and/or business activities, a percentage that doubled from 24 percent in 2010.

The use of institution-wide enterprise risk management (ERM) programs is continuing to grow. Today, 62 percent of financial institutions have an ERM strategy in place, up from 52 percent in 2010, while a further 21 percent are currently building a program. The total of 82 percent of firms either with or building an ERM program is significantly up from 59 percent in 2008.

 

Institutions are increasingly confident about their effectiveness in managing liquidity risk (85 percent rate themselves as extremely or very effective vs. 77 percent in 2010); credit risk (83 percent against 71 percent in 2010); and country/sovereign risk (78 percent vs. 54 percent in 2010).

 

Stress testing has become a central plank in many institutions’ risk management efforts. Eighty percent of the institutions surveyed stated that stress-testing enables a forward-looking assessment of risk, and 70 percent said that it informs the setting of their risk tolerances.

Technology used to monitor and manage risk is a particular concern and, according to the report, significant improvements in risk technology are needed. Less than 25 percent of institutions rate their technology systems as extremely or very effective while 40 percent of institutions are concerned about their capabilities in the management of risk data.

 

Progress in linking risk management with compensation has changed only incrementally since 2010’s survey results. Currently, 55 percent of institutions incorporate risk management into performance goals and compensation for senior management, which is little changed from 2010. The use of “clawback” provisions in executive compensation, however, has increased (41 percent vs. 26 percent of institutions in 2010).

 

“Financial institutions are becoming increasingly confident in their risk management abilities, but they also recognize where there are gaps,” said Sidani. “Where concerns linger particularly is around operational risk, with a number of recent headlines – like management breakdowns and large-scale cyber-attacks – underscoring the important impacts this area can have on an institution’s reputation. This is a gap that may trigger significant operational risk combined with reputational risk that needs to be properly addressed.”

According to the report, operational risk, which is a key component of Basel II, has been a continuing challenge for institutions. The lack of ability to measure operational risk and the complexity of many operational processes are key causes of this. Only 45 per cent of firms rated themselves as extremely or very effective in this area, down slightly from 2010.

 

Deloitte’s survey assesses the risk management programs, planned improvements, and continuing challenges among global financial institutions. The eighth edition surveyed chief risk officers – or their equivalent – at 86 financial institutions, and represents a range of financial services sectors, including banks, insurers, and asset managers, with aggregate assets of more than $18 trillion. The survey was conducted from September to December 2012.

 

The report may be viewed at http://www.deloitte.com/us/globalrisksurvey

 

Companies Shift Cash Out of Treasurys as Fears Subside

August 7, 2013, 1:28 PM ET

Companies Shift Cash Out of Treasurys as Fears Subside

Companies moved money out of government debt and into commercial paper and corporate debt, as worries over Federal Reserve policy faded and treasurers showed a willingness to take on some risk to gain yield.

Click on the image above to view an interactive chart of corporate cash allocations.

U.S. Treasurys ended a three-month streak of increases in their share of corporate cash allocations, falling by 0.85 percentage point to represent 26.5% of corporate cash on August 1, according to data from Clearwater Analytics.

Corporate debt and commercial paper grew by .55 and .32 percentage point, respectively. Corporate debt remains the largest asset class among cash allocations, representing one-third of the total.

Worries that the Fed would reduce its bond-buying program prompted credit spreads to widen in May and June, said Rhet Hulbert, a portfolio manager at Clearwater Advisors LLC. But last month, he said, “the market settled, recognizing an over-reaction.”

Mortage-backed securities grew by .21 percentage point to 3.5% of all cash allocations.

“Mortgages had been underperforming other asset classes recently,” Mr. Hulbert said, “but investors in July moderated their views on risk and interest rates and moved some assets back into the space.”

Other asset types were mostly stable last month. Both agency bonds and CDs sank by 0.16 percentage point, but all other asset classes shifted less than 0.1 percentage point in July.