Synopsis and Objectives

Synopsis and Objectives Student Help CARREFOUR S.A.
 

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Synopsis and Objectives
 
In August 2002, the French retail giant Carrefour S.A. is considering alternative currencies for raising (euros) EUR750 million in the eurobond market. Carrefour’s investment bankers provide various borrowing rates across four different currencies. Despite the high nominal coupon rate and the lack of any material business activity in the United Kingdom, the British-pound issue appears to provide the lowest cost of funds if the exchange rate risk is hedged.
 
The case is designed to serve as an introduction to topics in international finance. Topics of discussion include foreign-currency borrowing, interest-rate parity, currency risk exposure, derivative contracts (in particular forward and swap contracts), and currency risk management. Students are tasked with exploring (1) motives for borrowing in foreign currencies, (2) the exposure created by such financing policy, and (3) strategies for managing currency risk.
 
 
Suggested Questions for Advance Assignment to Students
 
1. Why should Carrefour consider borrowing in a currency other than euros?
2. Assuming the bonds are issued at par, what is the cost in euros of each of the bond alternatives?
3. Which debt issue would you recommend and why?
 
 
Hypothetical Teaching Plan
 
1. What is going on at Carrefour?
2. Is the Swiss-franc issue, at 3⅝%, a “no-brainer”?
3. What can a firm do to manage the exchange-rate risk of foreign-currency borrowing?
4. Using appropriate forward rates, what is the cost of borrowing in Swiss francs? British pounds? U.S. dollars? What should Carrefour do?
 
As reference material, broad empirical evidence of the managerial question in the case can be found in Matthew R. McBrady and Michael J. Schill, “Foreign currency denominated borrowing in the absence of operating incentives” Journal of Financial Economics 86 (October 2007): 145–177 and Matthew R. McBrady, Sandra Mortal, and Michael J. Schill, “Do firms believe in interest-rate parity?” working paper, Darden Graduate School of Business Administration, University of Virginia, Charlottesville.
 
 
Case Analysis
 
1. What is going on at Carrefour?
 
Carrefour is a massive retailer (Europe’s largest) with strong but selective expansion prospects internationally (case Exhibit 1). The company has a history of funding its capital needs through securities denominated in many different currencies (case Exhibit 3), and is sophisticated in managing currency risk. Carrefour currently has a EUR750 million capital need that the company intends to meet through the eurobond market.[footnoteRef:1] This offering represents approximately 11% of Carrefour’s bond portfolio. Carrefour’s investment bank has provided market borrowing rates in euros and three foreign currencies. [1: Bob Bruner suggests using the case to develop various facets of the eurobond market: (1) the eurobond market is an external market, outside the regulatory jurisdiction of any one country; (2) the bonds so issued are in unregistered form (i.e., the owner’s name is not cited on the face of the bond itself); (3) coupon payments are made annually, rather than semiannually, as is the custom in the United States; (4) the bonds are issued on an unsecured basis, which effectively limits the demand in this market to only the highest-quality issuers; and (5) the international bond market is huge. In the 1980s, the eurobond market ballooned in trading, new issues, and outstandings, concurrently with the globalization of financial sourcing by governments and corporations.]
 
Using the prevailing exchange rates, the borrowing alternatives for Carrefour can be specified as
 
1. Borrow EUR750 million at 5.25%
2. Borrow (British pounds) GBP471 million at 5.375%
3. Borrow (Swiss francs) CHF1,189.75 million at 3.625%
4. Borrow (U.S. dollars) USD735 million at 5.5%
 
If Carrefour borrows in a currency other than the euro, the company can generate its EUR750 million capital need by converting the foreign currency proceeds to euro at the prevailing spot rates of GBP0.628/EUR, CHF1.453/EUR, and USD0.980/EUR.
2. Is the Swiss-franc issue, at 3⅝%, a “no-brainer”?
 
The Swiss-franc bonds work well as a foil for interest-rate parity. The instructor can ask why Carrefour would ever want to borrow at any rate higher than 3.625%. To go into the specific detail of the alternatives, the instructor can solicit the series of euro payments from the euro bond and the Swiss-franc payments from the Swiss-franc bond (see Exhibit TN1). If one assumes that the future Swiss-franc payments can be converted into euros at the current spot rate of CHF1.453/EUR, the Swiss-franc bond is a “no-brainer.” Astute students will respond to this argument with concerns about the exchange-rate risk exposure. Carrefour will be happy with the decision if the exchange rate stays above the current exchange rate (Swiss-franc depreciation). If, however, the exchange rate declines (Swiss-franc appreciation), Carrefour will have to pay back the debt by buying more expensive francs. If the currency appreciates enough, the borrowing gains will be offset by the exchange-rate losses. The instructor can capture the exchange-rate risk of the Swiss-franc borrowing with the payoff diagram in Exhibit TN2.
 
If students are new to exchange rates, it is worth spending some time on interpreting the trends in Exhibit 6 to understand what is meant by appreciation and depreciation of exchange rates. In the end, students should be comfortable with understanding which direction in exchange rates represents borrowing cost reduction and which direction represents borrowing cost increases. Because exchange rates tend to be volatile, the perceived wisdom is that the exchange-rate risk commonly offsets any potential borrowing gains from nominal interest rate differentials. A common phrase that captures the hazards of accepting foreign-currency risk to achieve interest rate differentials is “picking up nickels in front of bulldozers.” Despite the exchange rate risk, there are plenty of case examples of firms and traders that borrow in currencies with low interest rates and invest in currencies with high interest rates. This strategy is known as the “carry trade.”
 
3. What can a firm do to manage the exchange-rate risk of foreign-currency borrowing?
 
This challenge motivates the appeal of the forward contract. With exposure to the future exchange rate, students can see the risk management gains from buying a forward contract that locks in a particular exchange rate. Exhibit TN3 shows graphically how the forward contract offsets the currency risk exposure of the foreign-currency debt obligation.
 
To motivate interest-rate parity, the instructor can invite a class member (the banker) to play the role of the counterparty to the Carrefour forward contract. To motivate the example, the instructor can encourage the student to come up with a one–year forward rate off the top of their head (one that is not the correct forward rate). Once the improper forward rate is established, the instructor can invite another student (the arbitrageur) to propose an investment strategy based on the banker’s forward rate and the prevailing inter-bank rates (Exhibit 8). Suppose the banker selects a forward rate of CHF1.5/EUR as the one-year forward rate. Since this rate is well above the proper forward rate of 1.419, the appropriate arbitrage strategy is t

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