How Important Is Currency Risk?

As investors, we can spend a lot of time managing various risks within our portfolio.

There is inflation risk, political risk, systematic and non-systematic risk the list goes on. However, the average investor may not pay a lot of attention to the effects of currency risk.

Currency Risk Example

If you are a U.S. investor and you have stocks in Canada, the return that you will realize is affected by both the change in the price of the stocks and the change of the Canadian dollar against the U.S. dollar. Suppose that you realized a return in the stocks of 15% but if the Canadian dollar depreciated 15% against the U.S. dollar, you would realize no gain.

The Kicker

In most cases, bearing more risk gives the investor and opportunity for a higher return. However, this is not the case with currency risk. Actually, several academic studies (without 100% certainty mind you) have determined that a portfolio with no hedge against currency is at no particular advantage to gain superior returns than the same portfolio for which currency risk is hedged.

What does this mean?

Essentially, this means that if you are carrying currency risk, meaning your portfolio is not hedged against currency fluctuations, you are carrying a needless risk.

As you can see, currency risk can have a dramatic effect on your portfolio’s “real return”. It is for that reason that you should not only pay attention to the stock markets, but also take a glimpse at the currency markets from time to time.

How Currency Risk Affects Your Retirement Plan

Yes, currency risk does have a place in retirement planning. For example, if you are a Canadian who is nearing retirement and you have a steady (and growing) stream of dividends coming in from Canadian companies you are set. Or are you? If you are like many retired Canadians, you will travel during your retirement to different countries. Currency risk may not affect the casual traveler too much during retirement if most of their expenses are in Canadian dollars.

On the other hand, many retired Canadians travel for extended periods of time, particuarly in the southern United States. Therefore, they bear a lot of expenses that are in United States Dollars. In this case it would be prudent to hold some investments in high quality, dividend growth stocks that pay their dividends in United States Currency.

If your retirement plan is one in which you expect to travel extensively and/or have many expenses in another currency, you might want to remember this little article. It just might save you some headaches in the future.

Here’s to  retirement!

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