Foreign-exchange firms say they're fielding more calls from companies wanting to hedge their businesses as the Canadian dollar hurtles towards parity.
Small and medium-sized companies in particular are looking for ways to shield themselves from the currency's volatility, they say.
"My phone's ringing off the hook," said Rahim Madhavji, president of Toronto-based Knightsbridge Foreign Exchange.
The move signals that a growing number of companies are worried the currency will stay at strong levels, and are vying to adopt a strategy they hope will reduce risk. Smaller firms are the most at-risk with volatile exchange rates, as they tend to have fewer resources to devote to currency strategizing and are more internationalized, the Conference Board of Canada said in February.
Many smaller firms are intimidated by the concept of engaging in currency hedging programs, largely because they lack the knowledge and experience to set up these strategies, it said, citing findings by Export Development Canada.
The Canadian dollar strengthened to 99.72 cents (U.S.) Monday, its highest level since July, 2008, and has risen 22 per cent in the past year.
Many strategists expect parity could happen in the coming days, particularly as oil prices trade at 17-month highs and as Canada releases its labour force survey Friday. Bank of Nova Scotia said Monday it believes the currency will keep appreciating against the greenback "over the spring and summer months."
Understanding the Canadian dollar: A four-part series
In Ottawa, too, companies are making more calls to ask about how to hedge. "Many businesses are asking if it's a good idea to hedge their future transactions when the U.S. and Canadian dollar are nearly at par, and we of course say yes all the way," said Marie Boivin, managing director of Accu-Rate.
She's receiving more than double the number of enquires these days, from December volumes, and as a result has hired an additional commercial account teller. It's medium firms, rather than very small companies, that are most interested in hedging, she added.
Like Mr. Madhavji, she is also seeing a wave of individuals interested in currency strategy because they want to buy properties in the United States.
The currency's movement has been such that Export Development Canada launched a website last week to help Canadian companies learn how to protect themselves. It says 57 per cent of firms have at least one form of hedging activity, while the rest don't currently hedge against currency risk. The agency says hedging can help companies mitigate risk.
There are two types of hedging: natural hedging and financial hedging, according to EDC's website.
In the first, a company tries to match revenues in a foreign currency with payments in that same foreign currency.
The second relates to financial products companies can use to smooth out price swings, such as foreign-exchange forward contracts, currency options and swaps - which are generally bought from banks or currency brokers.
The loonie has strengthened against a host of currencies in recent months - including the greenback, the euro and the British pound. The elevated level is already biting some companies, such as Kingsway Financial Services Inc. and Harry Winston Diamond Corp., which recently said the currency's fluctuations are eating into earnings.
The loonie's rise may be painful to some companies, but it is also proving beneficial to consumers - who could see price reductions on imported goods. Retailer Brooks Brothers said Monday it is cutting Canadian prices on items such as shirts to costs more in line with its U.S. stores.