How to Assess Country Risk for International Trade

How to Assess Country Risk for International Trade

Is your business ready for overseas expansion but not sure how to choose your next market? Do you have a few markets in mind but want to ensure you’re choosing the right ones? When you’re planning to expand abroad, it is crucial to your success to be strategic, not reactive.

Diversifying your portfolio across different countries can help you balance the potential volatility of conducting business in one economic region. Participating in international trade means you will be helping to make global financial markets more stable, while you profit from increases in value wherever they occur.

There are, of course, many factors to consider before deciding to do business internationally. The importance of embarking on a country risk analysis – weighing the economic, political and business risks unique to a specific country which might result in unexpected investment losses – is clear.

A country risk assessment can help a business identify and evaluate country-specific risks. In doing so, businesses can determine how much those risks might impact their business and what steps they can take to manage or mitigate those risks.

The importance of this type of country risk analysis cannot be overstated. Without it, businesses could face unexpected and potentially devastating changes to the business environment without warning. Learn more about how to evaluate country risk by checking out Euler Hermes' resources.

Analyzing Country Risk

Country-specific risks cover a wide spectrum. When you are ready to explore international investments, you can conduct country risk analyses via qualitative and quantitative assessments, or a combination of both. Quantitative analysis uses an objective analysis of ratios and statistics to determine risks. These assessments may include the debt-to-gross domestic product ratio or the beta coefficient of the Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI) index for a country. Qualitative analysis determines risk based on subjective analysis of things like political news and market rumors.

As a prospective international business investor, you can find quantitative information in rating agency reports, online sources and investment magazines like the Economist. Search Google News and other international news aggregators and financial publications for information you can uses in a qualitative assessment. Sovereign credit ratings, independent assessments of the creditworthiness of a country or sovereign entity, are essential resources for international investors – offering an easy way to analyze country risk. The three most-watched rating agencies are Standard & Poor's, Moody's Investor Services and Fitch Ratings.

Use Public and Government Resources to Analyze Risk

Governments and public resources can be a great support both at home and abroad. Your local government may help you expand abroad, and the foreign government can also help you to expand into the country you hope to do business in. Most countries have departments or organizations dedicated to this.

To find the right organization try contacting the trade departments or organizations of your home country as well as the countries you are considering for future investment. You may find that they have programs to help you expand, and they can also help put you in contact with the right people.

These organizations will have insider knowledge when it comes to many economic, political and other risks involved in international business with specific countries. Including respectable sources of information, like chambers of commerce and trade consulates, in your risk assessment can help you get details about exciting and profitable business opportunities abroad and learn which markets and business partners to avoid in order to minimize risk.

 



Types of Risk in International Business

There are hundreds of factors to consider in international business when you are looking to embark on a new opportunity, but they can largely be categorized as economic, political and social factors.

Tax laws, interest rate hikes, political and social unrest or upheaval, and even comments from politicians can impact international business dealings and your associated risk. Specific risks include fluctuations in currency exchange rates, economic or political instability, the potential for trade sanctions or embargo and anything else occurring in the country that could negatively impact the business environment or trade and cash flows in and out of that country.

Economic risks stem from a country's financial condition and ability to repay debts. Political risks come from the impact of politicians’ decisions about investments. Social factors unique to a country – like belief systems and practices, customs, traditions and behaviors, trends and influences – can all affect your potential risks and successes, as can any kind of significant social unrest or movements intended to bring about societal change. In some cases, these risks can be intertwined. Below, you will find a few of the most important factors to consider in your country risk analysis.

Economic Risk in International Trade

It is important to always carefully evaluate economic data by country to determine risk. No country is immune to economic risk. Even generally stable countries like the United Kingdom have faced significant economic consequences, like currency fluctuations as a result of its proposed (and eventual) exit from the European Union.

Businesses can  analyze economic data by country using the following key economic indicators. These indicators provide a snapshot of a country’s economic performance and future prospects that can help paint a fuller picture when evaluating country risk.

  • The stability and solvency of banks
  • The short-, medium- and long-term outlook for country’s GDP and GNP
  • Debt-to-GDP ratio
  • Unemployment rate
  • Overall government finances
  • Monetary policy and currency stability
  • Currency exchange rates
  • Access to affordable capital

Political Risk

In every country, from the most and to the least developed, there is some level of political risk. When you decide to do business in another country, it is wise to look into factors like the stability of all levels of government, the presence or absence of corruption, and the regulatory environment. Obvious signs of instability, like a war or coup, translate to political risks. However, changes to government policies and priorities following a democratic election or leadership change can also have a significant influence. A shift from less to more regulation, greater state ownership of certain industries or more government involvement in the economy also represent political risk.

Here are some examples of factors you should consider when analyzing a country’s political risk:

  • Government stability
  • Information access and transparency
  • Terrorism, violence and crime
  • Regulatory and policy environment
  • Workforce freedom and mobility
  • Government assistance programs for businesses
  • Immigration and employment laws
  • Attitudes toward foreign investment

Structural Assessment

The structural factors within a specific country also merit close inspection. Structural factors include any fixed elements within the country that can impact economic performance, including:

  • Demographics
  • Physical infrastructure
  • Social infrastructure
  • Labor force
  • Competitors
  • Treaty participation
  • Export regulations
  • Import acceptance from other countries
  • Co-production opportunities with other nations

Is the country’s infrastructure able to support efficient transportation, telecommunications technology, and banking and financial services? Are current and future demographic trends and health and educational systems likely to support a strong labor force? For example, if you launch operations or partner with a country with an aging population that has not invested enough in its education and health care systems, you may have trouble finding a readily available skilled workforce.

Debt Management

Debt management should be an important consideration in your country risk analysis. Debt management deals with how well a country is managing its debt load and whether it is growing, static or declining. High levels of government debt can lead to inflation and currency destabilization, both of which are likely to have a real and significant impact on any company doing business in and with that country.

What debt management indicators should you consider?

  • Total debt stocks to GNP
  • Debt service to exports
  • Current account balance to GNP

Country Risk Ratings

Country risk ratings can be excellent tools for evaluating a country risk level. Taking into consideration the factors discussed above, it is possible to provide a rating score or letter grade indicating an overall country risk level. The process is similar evaluating and grading risks when awarding a credit rating score. This might include a letter grade, such as A through F, or a numerical score from 0 to 100.

Country risk is reflected in a country’s sovereign credit rating. This grade can give you, the investor, insights into the level of risk associated with doing business in this country.

For example, Standard & Poor's gives “investment grade” countries a BBB- or higher rating. BB+ grades or lower are deemed to be speculative or "junk" grade. Moody’s considers a Baa3 or higher rating to be of investment grade, and a rating of Ba1 and below to be speculative.

Importance of Mitigating Risk

Evaluating country risk prior to making investments or conducting business in a country should be a critical part of your due diligence. Given the dynamic nature of global and individual country economies, this is not an easy process – especially if you are looking to do business in a developing nation. However, by relying on trusted sources of analysis and information, you can get a strong idea of the potential risks these countries represent.

Ignoring country risk factors is a bad move. Doing so can lead to damaging consequences like:

  • Catastrophic losses
  • Failure to thrive
  • Lawsuits
  • Lack of transparency
  • Theft (due to the perception of a lax attitude)

If you decide to proceed, you will need risk factor insights to manage and mitigate risks. As you do so, you will be vulnerable to any potential disruption and problems that occur, but you do not have to deal with these risks on your own.

Other Factors to Consider in International Business Expansion

You can narrow down your list of potential countries, or either regions of countries, when you decide to expand into new markets. Factors to consider in international business include setup costs, the tax and regulatory climate, competition, workforce availability, shipping costs and insurance needs. If you are considering a larger country, like China or Brazil, it may make sense to narrow your focus to specific regions.

Consult your customers to see if they have affiliates in other countries or are otherwise active abroad. You may be able to piggyback on existing relationships to sell to an affiliate. Customers can also act as your ambassadors and references for overseas expansion.

Consider international trade shows, which can be a good way to learn about potential markets, connect with contacts and get feedback on your plans. Find trade shows in your industry and target markets – events where you can gain rapid market insights.

Once you have gathered some information, take a second look at the markets and remember the importance of saying no to expansion opportunities that are not in line with your business strategy. Try not to lose focus or spread your resources too thinly, which will reduce your chances of success.

If you are ready to expand into a new market, remember that an intelligent risk management strategy relies on insurance policies to assume risks that you cannot or do not want to manage on your own. Because so many of these country risk factors can impact the creditworthiness of current and potential business partners, trade credit insurance can be an important component of your international business risk management strategy. It can offer you a country risk analysis for international business, as well as protect you against credit risk in international trade.

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