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Hedging - Good, Bad, the Dirty

Communication is all about clarity. We communicate some piece of information, the recipient gets it. Straightforward on the face of it. Speaking about trading will typically be succinct, focused, and very clear when complete.
The ‘audience’ has as many expectations as the speaker though: one should know the context and purpose of the information they are getting to a specific discourse.
I occasionally drop into jargon or analogy. It’s a personal weakness: I assume the audience will have the appropriate context of the situation, and knowledge of the context. It’s also a habit. I was on a recorded line for a decade, and use as few a words as possible in a business situation.
My writing, not so much.
I’ve hesitated to talk much about trading, because of ‘it’. I’ve seen ‘it’ far too often…..’it’ being people using language and jargon of trading without really knowing what they are talking about.
A great example of this is around options. People can pick up the definitions, the verbiage, the ‘lingua franca’ as it were.
Problem is, they have no clue what they are talking about in the whole.
Sure, definitions are known and expounded upon. But the context/situation remains in the abstract to them. Or what they are talking about doesn’t sync with the nature and purpose of the exposure they are taking on. Like talking about that cool new skateboard you’re riding as you're sitting on a bicycle.
This isn’t conceit or hubris - it’s only what I’ve observed. Hence the backstory above.
Speaking with u/modo85 and u/TheJosh last week plugged me in again to professionals face to face, and a recent post about Constellation by a sub got me thinking about trade again. So….I’m going to tackle the most misunderstood word in trade: hedging.
I was taught in business school that a hedge is a ‘risk neutral activity’.
One can find definitions for hedging in many places, and for the most part, they’ll align. What won’t is the people using the term.
Dynegy, Enron, and other companies took on ‘hedging programs’ that were often positions of leverage. Even the word ‘hedge fund’ is a relative misnomer. Looking at some of the bomb craters left behind by a couple of them....they were either simply a ponzi or flavours of insider trading. They weren’t hedging, they were stealing.
So, what’s a hedge?
A risk neutral activity that reduces aggregate risk to a primary exposure.
A Canadian company buying a greenhouse from an American supplier in 4 easy payments over the next 2 years? Great. You’ll have to pay in USD, so, buy forwards in 6 month increments, pay CAD at the time they come due, your forex exposure is gone, and the total cost is known in advance.
The USD/CAD rate might move for or against you during that time.
But that’s the point of a hedge: replace risk with certainty.
A while ago, Westjet bought a strip of jet fuel futures, taking out physical price exposure for (a very long) 2 years. While not unheard of, it’s a pretty big move. If jet fuel prices tank, they get to eat the difference. As it happened, jet fuel prices soared, Westjet bought physical with cash and offset the futures gains against it. They enjoyed a 2 year window of serious operational cost advantage, and their share price accretion showed it.
Prescient....or lucky? That’s what business books are written about.
This example might have prompted you to think about another industry where energy is the single largest direct input cost behind headcount (hint: it's cannabis)
Constellation’s entry through the CGC buy is another example of a hedge to myself. Different nature and purpose, but a hedge nonetheless.
In my eyes, STZ sells booze. Weed will impact aggregate sales of booze, with potential to reduce it.
STZ’s buy into the industry is a hedge is to replace dislodged revenue from booze by dope: cannabis exposure will replace these lost revenues, keeping STZ whole.
A hedging program is part of a larger initiative, and plugged directly into the strategic course of the business. It has topline impact.
If you’ve noticed - the Westjet and STZ examples above are for far different underlying purposes - but they are both simply hedges.
Hedging for the retail investor might entail seeking exposure to different provinces, or different links of the value chain, or perhaps within wholesale or retail price exposures.
With hedging, you are seeking to reduce, not enhance, existing exposure.
The other takeaway is (and there is one in here): don’t use terminology and trade terms unless you know exactly what you are talking about, or what the underlying purpose of using it is. It doesn’t matter what someone notices or thinks: any professional can tell pretty quickly if someone knows what they are talking about.
What really matters is that you know what you are actually doing when you take on risk of loss to your capital.
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