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How Currency Fluctuations Impact Canadian Investors

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How Currency Fluctuations Impact Canadian Investors

How Currency Fluctuations Impact Canadian Investors

For many Canadians, currency movements are an everyday part of life.

When the Canadian dollar is strong, it means that going south of the border is cheaper. Whether it’s a vacation in Hawaii or a shopping spree in New York City, a strong Canadian dollar can buy more in terms of U.S. dollars.

Likewise, a weak Canadian dollar can buy fewer U.S. dollars – meaning that travel, shopping, and other expenses in U.S. dollars are more expensive.

The Same Effect

The impact of currency fluctuations isn’t limited only to foreign purchases.

In fact, as today’s infographic from Fidelity Investments Canada shows, these same fluctuations can also affect the performance of your portfolio.

Why is that the case?

Many Canadian portfolios have exposure to American-listed companies such as Apple, Wells Fargo, Tesla, or Johnson & Johnson. As a result, fluctuations in the USD/CAD rate can have a profound impact on how these investments perform in Canadian dollars.

How Does This Work?

Here’s an example of the impact of currency in action:

  • A Canadian investor puts $100 CAD into a fund that buys U.S. stocks
  • At the time of investment, $1 CAD buys $0.80 USD
  • After exchange, $80 USD is invested in the U.S. market
  • The U.S. market goes up 10% in one year, and is now worth $88 USD
  • However, over the year, the exchange rate changed to $1 CAD per $0.85 USD
  • Converted back to Canadian dollars, at the new rate, the $88 USD is now worth $103.52 CAD, which is just a 3.5% gain in domestic Canadian currency

In the above case, a strengthening Canadian dollar ends up dampening the returns coming from the U.S. market.

In contrast, if the exchange rate went the other direction – meaning Canadian dollar was weakening – any returns would actually amplify.

Long-Term Planning

If currency fluctuations can have a substantial impact on investments, what does this mean for portfolio construction and assessing risk?

There are two main schools of thought on this:

Hedged: Some funds use a hedging strategy to try and cancel out any currency fluctuations. Ideally, the end result of this would be representative performance of the U.S. market.

Unhedged: This strategy does not try to anticipate currency fluctuations, since the long-term effects of currency movements tend to even out over time.

According to Fidelity Investments Canada, over the 20-year period of November 28, 1997 to November 30, 2017, the impact of currency fluctuations on the S&P 500 had a difference in annualized returns of 0.5%.

In other words, U.S. dollars invested in the S&P 500 had a 7.2% return, while Canadian dollars invested in the same stocks had a 6.7% return after adjusting for exchange rates.

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The World’s Most Powerful Reserve Currencies

Here are the reserve currencies that the world’s central banks hold onto for a rainy day.

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The World’s Most Powerful Reserve Currencies

When we think of network effects, we’re usually thinking of them in the context of technology and Metcalfe’s Law.

Metcalfe’s Law states that the more users that a network has, the more valuable it is to those users. It’s a powerful idea that is exploited by companies like LinkedIn, Airbnb, or Uber — all companies that provide a more beneficial service as their networks gain more nodes.

But network effects don’t apply just to technology and related fields.

In the financial sector, for example, stock exchanges grow in utility when they have more buyers, sellers, and volume. Likewise, in international finance, a currency can become increasingly entrenched when it’s accepted, used, and trusted all over the world.

What’s a Reserve Currency?

Today’s visualization comes to us from HowMuch.net, and it breaks down foreign reserves held by countries — but what is a reserve currency, anyways?

In essence, reserve currencies (i.e. U.S. dollar, pound sterling, euro, etc.) are held on to by central banks for the following major reasons:

  • To maintain a stable exchange rate for the domestic currency
  • To ensure liquidity in the case of an economic or political crisis
  • To provide confidence to international buyers and foreign investors
  • To fulfill international obligations, such as paying down debt
  • To diversify central bank portfolios, reducing overall risk

Not surprisingly, central banks benefit the most from stockpiling widely-held reserve currencies such as the U.S. dollar or the euro.

Because these currencies are accepted almost everywhere, they provide third-parties with extra confidence and perceived liquidity. This is a network effect that snowballs from the growing use of a particular reserve currency over others.

Reserve Currencies Over Time

Here is how the usage of reserve currencies has evolved over the last 15 years:

Currency composition of official foreign exchange reserves (2004-2019)
🇺🇸 U.S. Dollar 🇪🇺 Euro🇯🇵 Japanese Yen🇬🇧 Pound Sterling 🌐 Other
200465.5%24.7%4.3%3.5%2.0%
200962.1%27.7%2.9%4.3%3.0%
201465.1%21.2%3.5%3.7%6.5%
201961.8%20.2%5.3%4.5%8.2%

Over this timeframe, there have been small ups and downs in most reserve currencies.

Today, the U.S. dollar is the world’s most powerful reserve currency, making up over 61% of foreign reserves. The dollar gets an extensive network effect from its use abroad, and this translates into several advantages for the multi-trillion dollar U.S. economy.

The euro, yen, and pound sterling are the other mainstay reserve currencies, adding up to roughly 30% of foreign reserves.

Finally, the most peculiar data series above is “Other”, which grew from 2.0% to 8.4% of worldwide foreign reserves over the last 15 years. This bucket includes the Canadian dollar, the Australian dollar, the Swiss franc, and the Chinese renminbi.

Accepted Everywhere?

There have been rumblings in the media for decades now about the rise of the Chinese renminbi as a potential new challenger on the reserve currency front.

While there are still big structural problems that will prevent this from happening as fast as some may expect, the currency is still on the rise internationally.

What will the composition of global foreign reserves look like in another 15 years?

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Currency

Why Gold is Money: A Periodic Perspective

Gold has been used as money for millennia. People often attribute this to beauty, but there are basic physical properties for why gold is money.

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Why Gold is Money

The economist John Maynard Keynes famously called gold a “barbarous relic”, suggesting that its usefulness as money is an artifact of the past. In an era filled with cashless transactions and hundreds of cryptocurrencies, this statement seems truer today than in Keynes’ time.

However, gold also possesses elemental properties that has made it an ideal metal for money throughout history.

Sanat Kumar, a chemical engineer from Columbia University, broke down the periodic table to show why gold has been used as a monetary metal for thousands of years.

The Periodic Table

The periodic table organizes 118 elements in rows by increasing atomic number (periods) and columns (groups) with similar electron configurations.

Just as in today’s animation, let’s apply the process of elimination to the periodic table to see why gold is money:

  • Gases and Liquids
    Noble gases (such as argon and helium), as well as elements such as hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, fluorine and chlorine are gaseous at room temperature and standard pressure. Meanwhile, mercury and bromine are liquids. As a form of money, these are implausible and impractical.
  • Lanthanides and Actinides
    Next, lanthanides and actinides are both generally elements that can decay and become radioactive. If you were to carry these around in your pocket they could irradiate or poison you.
  • Alkali and Alkaline-Earth Metals
    Alkali and alkaline earth metals are located on the left-hand side of the periodic table, and are highly reactive at standard pressure and room temperature. Some can even burst into flames.
  • Transition, Post Transition Metals, and Metalloids
    There are about 30 elements that are solid, nonflammable, and nontoxic. For an element to be used as money it needs to be rare, but not too rare. Nickel and copper, for example, are found throughout the Earth’s crust in relative abundance.
  • Super Rare and Synthetic Elements
    Osmium only exists in the Earth’s crust from meteorites. Meanwhile, synthetic elements such as rutherfordium and nihonium must be created in a laboratory.

Once the above elements are eliminated, there are only five precious metals left: platinum, palladium, rhodium, silver and gold. People have used silver as money, but it tarnishes over time. Rhodium and palladium are more recent discoveries, with limited historical uses.

Platinum and gold are the remaining elements. Platinum’s extremely high melting point would require a furnace of the Gods to melt back in ancient times, making it impractical. This leaves us with gold. It melts at a lower temperature and is malleable, making it easy to work with.

Gold as Money

Gold does not dissipate into the atmosphere, it does not burst into flames, and it does not poison or irradiate the holder. It is rare enough to make it difficult to overproduce and malleable to mint into coins, bars, and bricks. Civilizations have consistently used gold as a material of value.

Perhaps modern societies would be well-served by looking at the properties of gold, to see why it has served as money for millennia, especially when someone’s wealth could disappear in a click.

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