Financial risk management is part of Ahlstrom’s group-wide risk management activities targeted to mitigate events which could affect negatively the achievement of the company’s strategic and operative goals. The overall objective of financial risk management in Ahlstrom is to have cost-effective funding in Group companies as well as to protect the Group from unfavorable changes in the financial markets and thus help to secure profitability. The principles and limits for financing activities are defined in the Group Treasury Policy on the basis of which Group companies have specified their own procedures, which take into account the special aspects unique to their businesses. The Group Treasury Policy has been approved by the Audit Committee of the Board of Directors and the treasury activities are coordinated by Group Treasury.
Foreign currency risk
The Group is exposed to currency risk arising from exchange rate fluctuations. The management of foreign currency exposure is divided into two parts: one relating to foreign currency flows (transaction exposure) and the other relating to balance sheet items denominated in foreign currency (translation exposure).
Transaction exposure concerns forecasted foreign currency flows and firm commitments. In 2016, approximately 45% of Ahlstrom's net sales were denominated in euros, approximately 42% in US dollars and 13% in other currencies. Ahlstrom's raw materials are generally purchased in US dollars and euros. Foreign currency flows are hedged on a net exposure basis per currency of the respective Group company in accordance with the rules set in the Group Treasury Policy. The guideline for Group companies is to hedge 100% of the forecasted 3 month net foreign currency flows per currency against the base currency of the respective company. However, hedging periods can be extended up to 12 months when agreed with Group Treasury. Foreign currency forwards are used as hedging instruments and these are generally booked through the income statement.
Translation exposure consists mainly of foreign currency denominated loans and receivables (Balance Sheet exposure) and net investments in foreign subsidiaries (Equity exposure). The Balance Sheet exposure is managed by Group Treasury and the aim is a fully hedged balance sheet exposure position, whenever economically possible. The Group norm is to leave the Equity exposure unhedged due to the long-term nature of the investments.
Interest rate risk
Interest rate risk is measured with modified duration, which defines the Group's loan portfolio's interest rate sensitivity in response to a change in interest rates. According to the Group Treasury Policy the Group's benchmark duration is 12 months and the duration may deviate between 3 and 48 months. The duration of the loan portfolio can be adjusted by the use of derivative instruments such as interest rate swap contracts with maturities usually between 2 and 5 years.
Raw material and energy price risk
Group earnings are exposed to commodity and energy price volatility. Group companies have the responsibility of identifying and measuring their commodity and energy price risk. Group companies should primarily seek to hedge their risks in relation to movements in commodity prices (primarily for pulp, energy and chemicals) with their suppliers through fixed price contracts for a defined period. Where such hedges cannot be obtained or if they are commercially uneconomical Group companies may enter into financial commodity price risk hedging transactions through commodity derivatives. All such transactions need to be concluded with Group Treasury.
Liquidity and refinancing risk
The Group seeks to maintain adequate liquidity under all circumstances by means of efficient cash management and restricting investments to highly liquid instruments only. Cash, cash equivalents and available committed credit facilities should always cover outstanding short term debt and following 12 months interest payments, loan amortizations, committed capital and maintenance investments and estimated dividend payments.
The Group's objective is to maintain an efficient capital structure which is targeted both to increase the company's shareholder value and also to secure the Group's ability to operate in the credit and capital markets at all times. The Board of Directors reviews the capital structure of the Group regularly.
The capital structure is monitored on the basis of the gearing ratio which is calculated by dividing interest-bearing net liabilities with total equity. Interest-bearing net liabilities are calculated as interest-bearing loans and borrowings less cash and cash equivalents and other current investments. According to the set financial targets Ahlstrom's gearing ratio should in the long-term be below 100%.
Credit and counterparty risk
Credit and counterparty risks materialize when a customer or a financial institution is unable to meet its financial obligations towards Ahlstrom. Credit risks relating to trade receivables are managed by assessing the creditworthiness of customers and by approving customer credit limits based on guidelines defined in the Group Credit Policy.
Monitoring of past payment behavior, obtainment of credit information data and credit references form part of the limit approval process. As its main risk mitigation tool Ahlstrom uses a global credit insurance program, in which a majority of the subsidiaries are participating. Due to its diversified customer base and geographical spread of the receivables there is no significant concentration of credit risks for the Group. The ten largest customers of Ahlstrom account for less than 20% of net sales.
Counterparty risks arise from exposures associated with financial transactions such as deposits, placements, derivative contracts, guarantees issued in favor of Group companies and receivables from insurance companies. Counterparty risks are managed by monitoring the creditworthiness of counterparts based on guidelines defined in the Group Treasury Policy and transactions are concluded with highly rated banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions only. Ahlstrom encountered no materialized counterparty risks in 2016.