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How are businesses impacted by exchange rates?

23 Apr 2018

3D currency symbols with shadowed backgroundIoD Preferred partner World First bannerBusinesses interact with, and can be affected by, overseas markets in a number of different ways; be it importing machinery from Europe or exporting your goods to China. 

In many circumstances, this will involve either receiving or sending a foreign currency from or to your business partner and so, naturally, you’ll have exchange rate exposure. This exchange rate exposure can affect businesses and the wider economy both positively and negatively. Here, we outline a few examples of how foreign exchange markets can be a headwind or a tailwind to UK businesses.

How your business could be exposed to currency risk

Transactional Translational  Credit  Liquidity 
Forecasted FX exposures Balance sheet adjustments  Default risk  Liquidity events 
 Accounts payable Foreign assets / liabilities  Concentration risk  Margin calls 
 Accounts recievable Tax obligations  Counterparty risk   
 Capital expenditure Foreign currency loads     
 Significicant company purchases/M&A      

How do exchange rates affect a business?

The ways in which businesses are effected by currencies can be roughly divided into transactional, translational, credit and liquidity risks. All four of these categories can then be subdivided a number of times to fit any and all kinds of businesses.

Supplier payments

When paying a supplier, it’s this exchange rate exposure that can make a difference to your business. If, for example, you’re contracted to pay a French supplier for a shipment of goods in six months’ time at a cost of €80,000, every percent of change in the EUR/GBP rate will have a direct impact on your bottom line. At the time of writing, the EUR/GBP exchange rate sits at 0.88, making your final bill £70,400 if paid today. However, should the value of the pound fall by 2.5%, EUR/GBP would rise to over 0.90, lifting your supplier payment to over £72,160 – meaning you’re paying nearly an additional £2,000 for the same shipment of goods. Nonetheless, should exchange rates move in your favour (the pound strengthening in this example) then you’d end up forking out less for your euro payment.

Sales forecasts

For multinational companies, sales forecasts can be any of the following: headache, hindrance, tailwind or motivator. Where they become more complicated is when sales are listed in another currency and what looks like a firm beat on your well thought-out sales forecast turns to pennies when the exchange rate moves against you.

Balance sheet hedging

Any finance director or CFO who’s got experience of dealing with multinational companies will know that holding assets and liabilities in a variety of currencies can be a burden. When you’re creating or submitting financial documents, balance sheets can be subject to sharp revisions or remeasurements if the value of an asset or liability has changed due to foreign exchange fluctuations. A loan taken out in US dollars will look very different on your sterling-denominated balance sheet from one quarter to another if currency markets are volatile, unpredictable and changing.

These are just a few examples of ways in which currency markets can impact individual businesses. For the broader economy, the implications of a volatile currency can be more nuanced.

The broader economy

The UK is an island nation and a trading one as a result. Its lack of involvement in the European single currency has perpetuated the need for businesses and individuals to understand and account for currency risk, especially when dealing with its largest and most important trade partner.

The transmission effect of currency movements into prices and into trade flows remains a source of much academic focus; the oft-touted received wisdom of a devalued currency meaning higher inflation and higher exports doesn’t always ring true.

Sterling slips but no trade rebound graph

Source: ONS, Bank of England

During periods where the pound weakened, for example from 2008-2012 in the graph above, the volume of goods and services exported from the UK has grown. The trouble is, it hasn’t grown sufficiently to outweigh the costs that are incurred through higher import costs – thereby depressing our trade balance figures and preventing a weaker pound from driving economic growth.

How can small businesses/SMEs combat, control and manage the effect of exchange rates?

It’s not the nature of these risks themselves, but how you deal with them that will make a difference to your business. There are a number of different methods and techniques with which to approach currency markets.

Transferring money can be simple – spot contracts and short-term forwards can be a quick, easy and efficient way of moving your funds from one currency to another. But, this may introduce an element of risk to your business as there’s effectively no way of predicting what the exchange rate will be on your future transfers. So how can you know what your profit margins will be in one week, month or even years’ time? For some businesses, using hedging strategies or longer-term forwards can trim some of this risk and more complex payment solutions can be more suited. At the end of the day, it all comes down to you, your business and the way you approach foreign exchange.

Spot transfer

A spot transaction is arguably the simplest way to transfer money across borders. Enquire at any currency specialist to receive a rate quote (this will usually be the interbank rate with a spread applied), once this is booked you send the broker the funds for the trade, which are then sent on in your chosen currency.

Forward contracts

If you want to secure a rate but aren’t yet ready to make a transfer, you can choose a forward contract to fix a rate today for a specified date in the future. The great thing about a forward contract is that you know now exactly how much you’ll get when you’re ready to transfer. It helps you plan and protects you should rates move against you later. However, a forward contract could work against you if rates move in your favour after you have secured a rate. We strongly recommend that you chat through your options with a reputable FX dealer before choosing what’s best for you.


According to World First’s latest Global Trade Barometer research, the number of UK SMEs trading internationally has halved in the past year, with less than 1/3rd currently harbouring plans to export. The UK already languishes in the bottom five European nations sorted by percent of SMEs exporting. Much of this hesitance to exporting is a direct result of uncertainty that stems from the impact and complications that FX can bring to businesses. It’s overcoming this uncertainty with confidence that’s key to success.

If the UK is to retain its status as an open, global and forward-looking nation, SMEs should approach international trade and foreign exchange markets with greater confidence. Indeed, recent IoD analysis shows that IoD members are bucking the trend, with two thirds engaging in outbound international trade, up from 57% in 2013.

Furthermore additional research conducted by WorldFirst showed that over half of all SMEs have experienced a rise in profits as a direct result of exporting, amounting to an average of £287,000 of additional revenue received per year.

The rewards are demonstrably out there, and with an informed, up-to-date and reactive strategy, tackling foreign exchange markets is within reach of every company in the UK, regardless of size, headcount or previous experience.

Whether you are making an international money transfer for you or your business, World First’s currency experts will work with you to find the right solution for your needs. IoD members can access specially negotiated offers from World First, the IoD's preferred partner of international payments.

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