What is Transaction Risk?

Transaction risk refers to the adverse effect that foreign exchange rate fluctuations can have on a completed transaction prior to settlement. It is the exchange rate risk associated with the time delay between entering into a contract and settling it.

Key Takeaways

  • Transaction risk refers to the adverse effect that foreign exchange rate fluctuations can have on a completed transaction prior to settlement.
  • Transaction risk tends to increase when there is a long period of time between entering into a contract and settling it.
  • Transaction risk can be reduced by utilizing forwards and options contracts to hedge adverse exchange rate moves.

Understanding Transaction Risk

Typically, companies that engage in international commerce incur costs in that foreign country's currency or have to, at some point, repatriate profits back to their country. When they have to engage in these activities, there is often a time delay between agreeing on the terms of the foreign exchange transaction and executing it to complete the deal. The greater the time differential between these events, the higher the transaction risk, because there is more time for the exchange rate to fluctuate. Transaction risk is inevitably beneficial to one party of the transaction but companies must be proactive to ensure that they protect the amount they expect to receive.

For example, if a U.S. company is repatriating profits from a sale in Germany. it will need to exchange the Euros that it would have received to U.S. Dollars (USD). The company agrees to complete the transaction at a certain EUR/USD exchange rate. However, there is usually a time lag between when the transaction was contracted to when the execution or settlement happens. If, in that time period, the Euro were to depreciate versus the USD, then the company would receive less U.S.Dollars when this transaction is settled.

If the EUR/USD rate at time of transaction agreement was 1.20 then this means that 1 Euro can be exchanged for 1.20 USD. So, if the amount to be repatriated is 1,000 Euros then the company is expecting 1,200 USD. If the exchange rate falls to 1.00 at the time of settlement, then the company will only receive 1,000 USD. The transaction risk resulted in a loss of 200 USD.

Transaction risk creates difficulties for individuals and corporations dealing in different currencies, as exchange rates can fluctuate significantly over a short period. However, there are strategies companies can use to minimize any potential loss. The potentially negative effect resulting from volatility can be reduced through many hedging mechanisms. A company could take out a forward contract that locks in the currency rate for a set date in the future. Another popular and cheap hedging strategy is options. By purchasing an option a company can set an 'at-worst' rate for the transaction. Should the option expire out of the money then the company can execute the transaction in the open market at a more favorable rate.