The Australian Corporate Treasury Association had the pleasure to host a number of Melbourne’s Senior Treasurers last night, representing some of the countries largest corporates.
The evening was full of fantastic discussion around the table on what the key issues effecting treasurers, treasuries and their business including the impact of Corona virus; the low interest rate environment, and the fact that it impacts not just borrowing; what would a negative rate environment look like and the need for an industry view; benchmark rate changes, when, how; ESG for both sides of the balance sheet; the shallow market currently existing for business with lower ratings; the advantages of Treasurers working in Investor Relations; supply change finance – reporting and implications of that, effect on ratings, possible change to accounting standards?
Thanks to Alice Van Der Geest, Uri Gordon, Shane Healey, Mark Tarlinton, Diane Crossley, Kim Kerr, Darren Murphy, Peter Kopanidis, Martin Dunton, Andrew Vandeligt, Karen Jordan, and Steven Cunico for your insights.
We look forward to doing it again, starting in Sydney in April!
In these uncertain times, the Treasury function is as important as ever to every Australian business. If you have been impacted in your role by the current pandemic, we want to help.
Just as individuals have been impacted, so too have many Treasuries been impacted with extra responsibility and are as such resource poor. The FTA would like to bring together prospective employees and employers to match up capabilities and needs on both sides.
So if your team needs an extra set of hands to help with the day to day; or if you are looking for work, contact the FTA, Australia’s Treasury Community.
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I’m writing to update you on the FTA response to the growing COVID-19 threat. Given the amount of information you are already receiving, I will keep this brief.
From a resource perspective, we are very small, but we are now working separately to each other, while maintaining member servicing. While this is important for the well being of the team, it is vital that we play our part in restricting the spread of the virus through our communities, and therefore to those most vulnerable people. This is something we feel very strongly about and believe everyone should be undertaking where possible.
For our members and Treasury community, we are working hard to ensure ongoing value and a continuing viable business. To that end we are
Not holding any face to face meetings or functions from March 16 until May 31 unless advised by authorities that it has become safe to do so. We will further advise any addition to this.
Working hard on delivering an increased online CPD program via increased numbers of webinars and content sharing
Exploring ways to deliver other educational programs in a virtual or online environment
Finalising improvements to our website including a communications forum to facilitate online networking and discussion
On behalf of the Board, I thank you all for your ongoing support, and while we consider these steps to be the only option for our wider community, we do apologise for any disruption this may cause.
Stay safe, take care of each other – we look forward to resuming normal programs as soon as possible.
Chief Executive Officer
Finance and Treasury Association
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The Finance and Treasury Association had the pleasure to hosted a number of Melbourne’s Senior Treasurers last night, representing some of the countries largest corporates.
The evening generated fantastic discussions on the key issues affecting Treasurers and their businesses including the impact of coronavirus; the low interest rate environment, and the fact that it impacts not just borrowing; what would a negative rate environment look like and the need for an industry view; benchmark rate changes, when, how; ESG for both sides of the balance sheet; the shallow market currently for lower rated debt; the advantages of Treasurers working in Investor Relations; supply chain finance – reporting and implications of that, the new leasing standard and the effect on ratings.
Thank you to all who attended – we look forward to doing it again, starting in Sydney in April!
Reserve Bank of Australia – Uncharted territory for unattainable goals
3 October 2019
Aidan Shevlin, CFA Head of Asia Pacific Liquidity Fund Management J.P. Morgan Asset Management
At the beginning of October, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) cut its overnight cash rate by 25bps to a new record low (Exhibit 1a). The third rate cut in five months has effectively halved the central bank’s key policy rate – leaving the RBA in uncharted territory and one step closer to unconventional monetary policy to achieve potentially unattainable employment and inflation goals. The current trajectory of cash rates will have significant and far-reaching implications for local currency cash investors.
Optimistic rate cuts
In recent speeches, RBA governor Philip Lowe struck an upbeat tone, noting the economy had reached a “gentle turning point”1 helped by a combination of low interest rates, tax cuts, lower currency, infrastructure spending and housing market stabilization.
Despite this professed optimism, the RBA still cut rates in October and remained dovish, committed to “ease monetary further if need to support sustainable growth in the economy, full employment and the achievement of the inflation target”2. However, given current lack of macroeconomic drivers to achieve the central banks full inflation of 4.5% was last reached in 2008 and core inflation target of ≥2% (Exhibit 1b), the probability of attaining either goal remains remote.
The reality is more nuanced: While Australia is currently in its 28th year of economic expansion, gross domestic product (GDP) growth has slowed to a decade low; moreover the rising participation rate is offsetting almost 2-years of positive jobs creation and despite the recent recovery, housing prices have fallen below their long-term trend. Meanwhile, the long term slowdown and rebalancing of the Chinese economy will eventually weigh on exports – although short-term Chinese infrastructure stimulus will benefit Australia’s commodity driven economy.
Sluggish consumption and structural trends
Apart from weak global growth, the RBA’s other key domestic concern remains the lack of growth in domestic consumption – especially during a period of rising employment. However, this can partly be explained by job insecurity, muted wage growth and the high level of consumer indebtedness (Exhibit 2a). All these factors should still benefit from lower interest rates – suggesting that monetary policy remains an effective policy tool – provided commercial banks pass the rate reductions on to consumers.
Interestingly, for the first time, the RBA alluded to a new rationale for the latest rate cut. The structural shifts in global interest rates (Exhibit 2b) – which have fallen to record lows have also placed downward pressure on Australian interest rates. The central bank fears if it ignored the actions of major central banks, the “exchange rate would appreciate, which in the current environment would be unhelpful on terms of achieving both the inflation target and full employment”3.
The implications of sustain lower interest rates
The recent rate cuts, fiscal stimulus and continued Chinese commodities demand, suggest the modest Australian economic recovery is likely to endure. However, growing expectations of additional monetary policy easing by major central banks may force additional, unnecessary RBA rate cuts and even trigger unconventional monetary policy to restrain unwanted capital inflows and AUD appreciation.
For Australian cash investors who are more familiar with high interest rates, steep yield curves and competitive deposit rates, the prospect of extremely low or even zero yields represents a significant challenge. These difficulties have been compounded by the Royal Commissions impact on commercial banks demand for deposits and the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority’s (APRA) clarification on the definition of cash.
Nevertheless there are several techniques developed and refined during the past decade of zero US interest rates which should help Australian corporate treasurers mitigate some of these complications. These include diversifying beyond deposits into money market funds and ultra-short duration funds, segmenting cash by liquidity requirements and identifying sectors and tenors that offer additional return for minimal reductions in liquidity and security.
Although combining these three techniques will not fully offset the negative impact of RBA rate cuts on cash returns, they will allow treasurers to achieve a competitive return consistent with the objectives of capital preservation and maintaining a high degree of liquidity.
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The definition of cash, while
ostensibly straightforward – banknotes and coins – becomes increasingly
challenging when the demands for higher returns counteracts the obligation to
ensure adequate liquidity and the commitment to avoid losses.
As memories of the liquidity stress
and market dislocation triggered by the global financial crisis faded, the
range of financial instruments deemed acceptable in Australian cash products
broadened dramatically. This was also a time when investors grappled with the
challenges of outperforming attractive headline retail bank deposit rates.
Unfortunately, defining which instruments are truly cash equivalents is one of the most difficult tasks for modern corporate treasurers.
The Regulatory Dilemma
Globally, cash investors look to regulators and rating agencies to define and clarify suitable cash investment instruments and structures. This is especially true in the United States, European Union, and China, where the size and systemic importance of liquidity and money market funds (MMFs) made this a critical regulatory issue following the 2008 financial crisis.
These rules and regulations vary
from prescriptive, listing specific approved and unapproved instruments, to
abstract, outlining key sources of investment risk and limits to mitigate
them. Regardless of the regulator’s
philosophy, the ultimate goals remain the same – to ensure adequate liquidity
and minimise the probability of losses.
Over the past decade, global regulators have strengthened MMF
guidelines. They now demand higher levels of liquidity, impose tighter
investment limits and require increased diversification. For both retail and institutional investors,
these new rules have raised the standard of MMF investing while significantly
reduced the likelihood of funds suffering losses, albeit at the expense of
lower potential returns.
In contrast to detailed global
standards, Australian regulators have historically demurred the responsibility
to define cash or the suitability of various instruments for cash investments. The Federal government’s unlimited bank
guarantee during the Global Financial Crisis helped shelter the local financial
industry while a long history of self-regulation encouraged investors to create
their own definitions of cash and cash equivalents.
However, in 2018, a review of cash investment products by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) raised significant concerns about the level of volatility and risk in these products. Across the industry, the range of instruments and structures defined as cash varied enormously – as did returns. This created confusion for retail and institutional investors. In its subsequent report, APRA highlighted “examples in the industry where cash investment options appear to include exposure to underlying investments that would not generally be considered cash or cash-like in nature”1.
To encourage investment consistency and reduce the volatility of cash investment products, APRA concluded that “cash equivalents represent short-term, highly liquid investments that are readily convertible to known amounts of cash and which are subject to an insignificant risk of changes in value”1.
Cash means security,
liquidity and return
The report signalled a tougher
regulatory stance and additional focus on questionable cash investments
styles. However, in the absence of
detailed regulatory guidelines and exact definition of liquidity and risk,
investor due diligence is still required to balance the need to preserving capital,
while ensuring suitable levels of liquidity and maximising returns.
Three key steps in this process
involve clarifying investment policies, creating well defined investment
objectives and implementing cash segmentation.
Firstly, using an investment policy
statement forms a solid foundation for cash investment decisions. A well written policy provides clarity,
instils discipline and allows the organisation to successfully navigate
shifting markets, changing regulations and evolving business needs.
Secondly, by defining short term investment objectives and the strategies for achieving them, an organisation can establish acceptable levels of risk, identify permissible investments and detail relevant constraints.
Finally, by putting cash into different segments, the organisation can optimise its investment choices – ensuring it has sufficient liquid cash to meet its daily needs while avoiding the opportunity costs associated with very high levels of liquidity and principal protection by diversifying across different types of cash investment depending on their level of liquidity, volatility, and diversification.
The new APRA definition of cash has
already prompted a significant reorganisation across the Australian cash
management industry with several instrument structures being avoided and more
conservative investment guidelines introduced.
This, combined with more due diligence and understanding of the
underlying risks by retail and institutional investors, should help the
industry create a safer foundation for future growth.
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Agile Treasury Thought Leadership Series – Empower and Scale
Systems should empower people to effectively perform clearly defined processes, which means that time spent innovating and making valuable strategic decisions is maximised.
Designing a system can only be best achieved once the process the system is meant to empower is first designed. Ideally, the process will also be developed, implemented and operated for a period in a fast, flexible solution (Excel!) to refine the steps, calculations and clear actionable outputs.
• Expensive, committed technology licenses • Highly fragmented system data and multiple sources of truth • Lack of process planning prior to technology commitment • Extended implementation and training • Lack of technology flexibility as strategic requirements change • Lack of dataflow alignment to processes and policies • Lack of prescriptive or clear calls to action from workflow output
Solutions • RFP management should an advanced system still be deemed valuable • Strategic and holistic construction of low-cost, flexible operating tools in Excel • Implementation and training on new system • Integrated solutions for the identification, measurement, management and monitoring of risks
Download a copy of the case study prepared by Rochford Group on a global pharmaceutical distributor.
This case study has been developed by Rochford Group
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Have you met SONIA? Financial institutions are beginning to plan for the transition away from traditional IBORs, a change described as one of the biggest to ever occur to financial markets.
In December last year, Commonwealth Bank of Australia (“CBA”) did something that no other Australian bank had done before. It issued an Australian-origin transaction with a reference rate that was not an interbank offered rate (“IBOR”). The CBA transaction (GBP125 million of one year notes) referenced a margin of 40 basis points over the Sterling Overnight Index Average (“SONIA”), the interest rate benchmark being primed to take over from the London Inter-bank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”).
This piece has been developed by Barrington Treasury Services.
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