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The Role Of Currency In Investment Portfolios

The following post has been authored by Susan Mallin. Susan is a registered investment advisor with MGI Securities and holds the Certified Financial Planner (CFP), Canadian Investment Manager (CIM) and the Life Licensing Underwriter Course (Life Insurance) designations. Her blog can be found at

Susan Mallin is a registered investment advisor with MGI Securities

I just spit out my coffee all over my desk. Not because it tasted bad or because it was too hot. I was on the phone with one of my old friends when it happened. You see, he was telling me that he was unloading some property in the US and that he was considering exchanging his money immediately out of the US dollar once he gets it. Ok fine, that wasn’t my choking moment. It was when he said, “I’m thinking of exchanging everything to the Euro because it’s better than the US dollar, and I think the Euro will one day be the reserve currency”. Spit.

Part of any investment strategy is to at least try and get the “big picture” right. Perhaps the Euro which is experiencing a very overcrowded short position will have a nice pop in the short term. However, in a big picture way, and longer term, to become the reserve currency is a long shot and I would not place my money on. Currency can play a big role in the outcome of investment returns and when taken in the context of an investment portfolio, it should be analyzed as a risk to either mitigate or not. First, here is a refresher on the basics of the currency markets:

Here in Canada, the majority of investors use Canadian money to invest abroad. When doing so, our loonie will get converted to the appropriate currency of the country being invested in. But it is always traded with the US dollar before it moves to another currency. This is called the cross trade.

Basically there are three major currencies that trade on the market; the US dollar, the Japanese Yen, and the Euro. Everything else is cross traded against one or two those three. For instance, if a Canadian investor wants to buy the Bolivian Boliviano known as the BOB, their Canadian dollars are first exchanged to US dollars; the cross trade. Though they don’t disclose all of the “crosses” used to eventually get to the BOB, typically, a quote is given and the investor chooses to take it or not. How a regular investor eventually goes from a Loonie to a BOB is all done behind the scenes with the currency traders.

The point is, when an investor converts to another currency, the US dollar always plays a role in the trade. Traditional investors have to determine their outlook for the US dollar as well as other currencies to determine whether it warrants hedging out the risk or not.

As an example of how currency can affect the returns on an investment portfolio I have included this chart which shows various index percentage returns year to date (May 31st 2010) based in the local currency of the respective country, and then, the same index converted to Canadian currency.

IndexLocal currency (%) percentage return
Canadian Dollar % return
Dow Jones Ind. Avg.-2.79%-3.05%
S&P 500 Index-2.30%-2.56%
NASDAQ Comp.-0.53%-0.80%
S&P /TSX Composite-0.15%-0.15%
Mexico IPC Index-1.78%-0.55%
Brazil Bovespa-9.07%-12.64%
Hang Seng-9.63%-10.32%
DAX Index0.43%-13.91%
FTSE MIB Index-15.87%-27.88%
Swiss Market-3.20%-13.49%

Source: Bloomberg World Equity Indexes 9:33 AM  EST . Year to date  May 31th 2010

Based on this data, it would have been wise to use a currency hedge in an investment portfolio. Had an investor used Canadian currency and converted to the Euro in order to invest in the German DAX index and then cashed out and converted back to Canadian dollars, they would have lost money instead of made money (based on the above time frame). Going forward, to hedge or not is based on what one thinks of the global macro picture.

My Big Picture:

Personally, I think the macro picture when it comes to currency is very uncertain and will most likely be very volatile. With sovereign debt in abundance, risk of deflation, risk of another recession, all within the scope of already low interest rates, just makes me think the only tool in the tool box to be used is a global race to currency devaluation. Since I’m not a currency speculator, I prefer to mitigate currency risk in investment portfolios for the time being.

Now, I need another cup of coffee.


Susan Mallin is a registered investment advisor with MGI Securities.

This article has been prepared by Susan Mallin. The opinions expressed herein are those of the writer, and not necessarily those of MGI Securities Inc. (MGI). Statistics and factual data and other information contained herein are from sources MGI believes to be reliable but their accuracy cannot be guaranteed. This information is not intended to provide specific financial, investment, tax, legal, accounting or other advice, and should not be relied upon in this regard. You should not act or rely on the information without seeking the advice of a professional. MGI is a member of the Canadian Investors Protection Fund (CIPF).

Logos of MGI are registered trademarks or trade names of MGI Securities Inc. All other trademarks appearing on any documents are the property of their respective owners.

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