With the steep increase in the value of our dollar compared to other currencies, hedging against currency fluctuations has become popular and many US and international equity funds are now available in currency-neutral flavours. There are two schools of thought on currency hedging: one holds that currency fluctuations “cancel out” for a long-term investor and the other holds that currency fluctuations have a significant effect on equity performance and should be hedged away. Even if you are convinced of the need for hedging the currency exposure, there is one reason for thinking twice about hedging: cost.
Let’s take the iShares CDN S&P 500 Index Fund (XSP), which holds the iShares S&P 500 Index (IVV) and hedges the exposure to US dollars for an extra MER of 0.15%. At first glance, it seems to be a small price to pay for hedging. However, the extra MER doesn’t seem to be the only overhead for hedging. The total cost of the hedging shows up in the tracking error. IVV posted a total return of 15.78% and 5.3% in 2006 and 2007 respectively compared to the total return from XSP of 14.06% and 3.01%. In other words, XSP trailed IVV’s return in US dollars by 1.72% and 2.29% in 2006 and 2007.
Another example is the difference is performance between the TD US Index (US$) e-Series Fund (TDB952) and the TD US Index Currency Neutral (TDB904). The currency neutral version charges an extra MER of 0.15% but the tracking error was 1.8% in 2007 and 1.1% in 2006. Since the benefits of hedging are debatable but the costs are certain, it may be best to stick with direct exposure to foreign equity markets.
Updated October 26, 2010:
Both XSP and TDB904 again trailed their US dollar counterparts in 2008. Details in this post:
Currency-Hedged Funds Performed Poorly Again in 2008
The currency-hedged EAFE Index Fund (XIN) also exhibits large tracking errors: Performance of the Currency-Neutral MSCI EAFE Index Fund