Apr 2013

The (Im)possibility of Liquidity Planning


By Martin Bellin, published in Treasurer Magazine

Liquidity is essential. Companies can survive a certain amount of time without making a profit. However, they will go down within just a few days if they lack the necessary liquidity. Therefore, liquidity planning is high on any treasury's agenda.

Suddenly, cash was in short supply. Everything ground to a halt. Indeed, the crisis of 2008 has shown how important it is for companies of all sizes and industries to plan with liquid assets. They have to ensure that liquidity fluctuations will be hedged adequately and that times of tight liquidity can be overcome easily. Even long-term profitability cannot always serve as a guarantee that financial markets will be able to provide sufficient liquidity in times of crisis – unless waterproof strategic agreements for financing liquidity shortages were concluded long before the crisis. Liquidity planning is not the same as planning a company’s cash balance. Instead, it forms a basis for strategic hedging decisions in interest, currency and commodity management.

When you begin dealing with liquidity planning in your business , you may be disappointed at first. You will not be able to transfer experience from balance sheet and profit and loss (P&L) calculation. As a first step, you will need to define liquidity planning and set your treasury's liquidity planning goals.

Liquidity Planning Versus Cash Management

Liquidity planning serves to illustrate cash flows from all organizational units over time. lt distinguishes between different cash flows, e.g. customer payments and HR payments. Tue timeline - the underlying planning horizon - usually includes the next six to twelve months. However, certain business models may require planning several years in advance. Never confuse liquidity planning with daily cash management, which focuses only on future balances of individual bank accounts and on creating daily cash forecasts.

The quality of balance sheet and P&L planning is determined by its accuracy. The better the planning, the more accurate the predictions. In the relationship of balance sheet and P&L to liquidity planning, the most important factor is the end result- both plans should result in the same balance at the end of period. To ascertain this figure alone, a treasury department would not need to create its own liquidity plan. Yet from a treasury perspective, the projected balance is only a means of checking plausibility at the end of the planning horizon. Even the smallest change in an underlying transaction or payment can lead to significant changes in the final result, without affecting overall corporate success or reducing the quality or even sense of liquidity planning as a whole.

A Basis for Hedging

Determining a precise cash balance at the end of particular planning horizon is not the goal of liquidity planning. Its focus lies on analyzing the differences between an original plan and a rolling plan. Tue treasury department bases hedging decisions on the original plan. Then, it examines the reliability of these risk management measures. If the treasury finds significant inconsistencies, it can swap or create new foreign exchange deals, negotiate new credit lines or revise the maturities of interest­ bearing transactions.

Liquidity planning is possible. However, it is impossible to plan liquidity in terms of cash on hand at a particular date. With this different goal in mind, liquidity planning becomes the basis for strategic hedging decisions. Only a liquidity plan that is kept up to date can provide information on when to expect cash flows in foreign currency,  when group companies need more liquidity within the  planning period and when excess liquidity will be returned.

Interest and Currency Risk

Liquidity planning is not just about liquid assets, however. Flawed planning can have negative side effects, particularly with regard to financing and related interest. High interest rates can reduce income and reserve assets of companies that are notoriously «short», i.e. always in a position of net debt. At the opposite end of the spectrum, companies in a «long» position, i.e. those who have sufficient liquidity to finance their ongoing business, miss out on interest earnings. They rarely consider such opportunity interest.

Interest topics aside, liquidity planning also deals with the somewhat more complex issue of foreign exchange risk. Currency exposure can also affect cash on hand. Tue media frequently circulate striking examples, although they often wrongly blame derivatives for lack of liquidity or financial losses. In any case, it is important to note that a shift in exchange rates may have a decisive influence on the liquidity development of companies active in countries with foreign currencies.

Room to Breathe

No company can exist without liquidity: it would be incapacitated within just a few days. Primary liquidity risk factors take a company's liquidity - its room to breathe. Cash management is essential for short-term planning horizons. In the medium and long term, companies require a liquidity plan, a pre requisite for meaningful risk management, which is cleanly separated from corporate financial planning. These two topic areas deal with interest and currency management from different perspectives. Companies need to ensure a basic liquidity supply, consider supply costs and take into account possible fluctuations caused by currency exchange factors.

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