Comment of the Week – The Mystery of Market Risk Disclosures

Market Risk Disclosures are one area that many participants in our workshops seem to shy away from. This Item is one of the less well understood disclosures in Forms 10-K and 10-Q. The mechanics of writing the disclosure are, well, at best, mysterious.

With all the volatility in exchange rates, oil prices and other markets in the current environment these disclosures will likely become more important for many companies this year end. Because of this, we thought “going to go back to the basics” of this disclosure would be helpful in many companies’ year end process. So, this post includes a review of the objective of the disclosure and some tips to navigate the requirements in S-K Item 305 as you prepare the disclosure.

Since this is a comment of the week post, there are also some comments at the end of the post. If you are already comfortable with what market risk disclosures are about and how they work, you can skip to the end!

Objective of the Disclosure

To prepare these disclosures well it is crucial to understand their objective, what they are supposed to tell a reader. To understand this objective the first step is to understand what kind of risk the term “Market Risk” means. Market risk is a term that can be interpreted in a number of different ways ranging from the market for a particular product to market driven rates such as interest rates or commodity prices.

Deep in the body of Regulation S-K – Item 305, likely one of the most challenging reads in all of Regulation S-K, you find these instructions:

Instructions to paragraph 305(b): 1. For purposes of disclosure under paragraph 305(b), primary market risk exposures means:

  1. The following categories of market risk: interest rate risk, foreign currency exchange rate risk, commodity price risk, and other relevant market rate or price risks (e.g., equity price risk); and
  2. Within each of these categories, the particular markets that present the primary risk of loss to the registrant. For example, if a registrant has a material exposure to foreign currency exchange rate risk and, within this category of market risk, is most vulnerable to changes in dollar/yen, dollar/pound, and dollar/peso exchange rates, the registrant should disclose those exposures. Similarly, if a registrant has a material exposure to interest rate risk and, within this category of market risk, is most vulnerable to changes in short-term U.S. prime interest rates, it should disclose the existence of that exposure.

To paraphrase, these disclosures are not about the “market” for a product like computers or smartphones. They are about the risks a company faces from market driven prices like interest rates or commodity prices. So, while the market for smart phones could affect a company, the Market Risk Disclosures are about issues like how a change in interest rates could affect a company if the company has significant investments or borrowings.

And that brings us to the next step in understanding the objective of these disclosures. Once we know what sort of market risk we need to describe, what should we say about it?

In S-K Item 305(a)(1)(ii)(A) you will find this language:

“sensitivity analysis disclosure that expresses the potential loss in future earnings, fair values, or cash flows of market risk sensitive instruments resulting from one or more selected hypothetical changes in interest rates”

In other words, this disclosure is designed to help a reader assess how much a change in a market driven price, such as an interest rate or a commodity price, would affect the business.

Conceptually what this disclosure is about is fairly easy to understand. However, the application of S-K Item 305 is complex. It requires both qualitative and quantitative information   Our review here is fairly brief. S-K Item 305 has a maze of detailed rules. If you will be drafting or reviewing the disclosure you should refer to the actual S-K language. Also, the comments below illustrate several of the complexities in this rule.

Qualitative Disclosures

The logical place to start drafting is with qualitative disclosures. Knowing what a company’s market risks are is necessary before quantitative information will make sense to a reader. Unfortunately, in Item 305, the qualitative disclosures are sort of hard to find, as they are not the first thing listed. You can find them in paragraph (b), which says:

(b) Qualitative information about market risk.

(1) To the extent material, describe:

(i) The registrant’s primary market risk exposures;

(ii) How those exposures are managed. Such descriptions shall include, but not be limited to, a discussion of the objectives, general strategies, and instruments, if any, used to manage those exposures; and

(iii) Changes in either the registrant’s primary market risk exposures or how those exposures are managed, when compared to what was in effect during the most recently completed fiscal year and what is known or expected to be in effect in future reporting periods.

This qualitative information is really pretty simple; say what market driven prices such as interest rates, exchange rates, commodity prices or other types of prices affect the company; talk about how you manage them; and tell if they have changed. Note that the rules do not require that a company manage these risks, so if you don’t manage them, you should disclose that, along with the other information in (b) (10) above.  (Here is one place to review Item 305 in detail, as this disclosure needs to be broken down in pretty specific ways by type and source of risk.)

Quantitative Disclosures

The second part of this disclosure is quantitative, and is designed to help a reader understand how much a hypothetical change in market prices or rates could affect the business. Again, this is a very detailed requirement, but in essence starts with a choice among three alternatives:

Tabular Disclosure

S-K Item 305(a)(1)(i)(A)(1) describes a tabular presentation of information related to market risk sensitive instruments. This information includes fair values of the market risk sensitive instruments and contract terms sufficient to determine future cash flows from those instruments, categorized by expected maturity dates. In essence you are providing a reader with the input they could use to build a spreadsheet, make a price change assumption, and see how much the price change would affect the company’s income, cash flows or fair values.

Sensitivity Analysis

S-K Item 305(a)(1)(ii)(A) describes a sensitivity analysis disclosure that expresses the potential loss in future earnings, fair values, or cash flows of market risk sensitive instruments resulting from one or more selected hypothetical changes in interest rates, foreign currency exchange rates, commodity prices, and other relevant market rates or prices over a selected period of time. In essence, in this disclosure you build your own spreadsheet and assume a hypothetical change in rates or prices and compute the impact.

Value at Risk Analysis

S-K Item 305(a)(1) (iii)(A) describes value at risk disclosures that express the potential loss in future earnings, fair values, or cash flows of market risk sensitive instruments over a selected period of time, with a selected likelihood of occurrence, from changes in interest rates, foreign currency exchange rates, commodity prices, and other relevant market rates or prices. This is actually a complex econometric modeling process, and we won’t discuss it any further in this post. If your treasury or risk management group already uses this technique to assess risk it may well be a good disclosure option.

Again, this is very complex disclosure. You can choose one of the three alternatives for different risks, however you must disclose the most significant impact based on future earnings, fair values, and cash flows. Therefore, you must calculate the impact of a price change on income, cash flows and fair value to determine which has the greatest change, and thus is disclosed. Of course, If future earnings had the greatest impact last year, and this year the greatest impact is in fair value, then you would need to recast the prior year. These are only some of the judgments necessary to prepare this disclosure.
One last note, as you can see this disclosure is very forward looking, and is another reason the 1995 Private Securities Litigation Reform Act safe harbors are so important!
Example Comments

Last but not least, as this is a comment of the week post, here are some comments. Notice the focus on simple compliance with the S-K Item 305 disclosure requirements!

Foreign Currency Fluctuations, page 37

  1. We note from your disclosure on page 28 and in Note 26 that a substantial portion of your cash is held by foreign subsidiaries and 46% of your net sales to unaffiliated customers for fiscal 2014 were attributed to your foreign subsidiaries, respectively. We believe your market risk disclosures should be enhanced to provide a more robust discussion of the effects of foreign currency risk on your results of operations and financial condition. Additionally, your discussion of this market risk does not appear to comply with the guidance outlined in Item 305 of Regulation S-K. Please revise to expand your discussion of foreign currency risk to comply with one of the disclosure alternatives in Item 305(a) of Regulation S-K.

Quantitative and qualitative disclosure about market risk, page 70

  1. Please tell us how you considered the disclosures required by Item 305(a) of Regulation S-K with respect to your term loan.

Item 7A. Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosure About Market Risk

Foreign Currency Risk, page 125

  1. Please tell us what consideration you gave to providing a sensitivity analysis for each currency (e.g., British Pounds and Euro) that may have an individually significant impact on future earnings.

Item 7A – Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures About Market Risk, page 30

  1. We note your quantitative disclosure of interest rate risk associated with your investments in cash and cash equivalents and investment securities. We also note that your disclosure does not address market risk for other financial instruments such as the senior unsecured notes. Please revise to include qualitative and quantitative information about market risk in accordance with one of the three disclosure alternatives within Item 305 of Regulation S-K and that addresses the interest rate risk for the senior unsecured notes.

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