Don’t let foreign currency fluctuations impair performance measurements

Companies need to determine the best approach for translating financial statements to show true operating performance.
By Mark D. Mishler, CPA

Don’t let foreign currency fluctuations impair performance measurements
Image by rosendo/iStock

The value of the U.S. dollar rose significantly from June 2014 to April 2015 compared with other foreign currencies. For U.S. companies with international operations, that could have resulted in reduced reported sales and net income. But the stronger dollar could also have had an impact on the companies' internal performance analyses.

ASC Topic 830, Foreign Currency Matters, prescribes methods for translating foreign operations' financial statements into U.S. dollars for consolidation. But drawing operating performance conclusions from these U.S. GAAP-translated financial statements may result in the wrong conclusions and suboptimal decisions impacting future financial performance.

For example, the U.S. dollar appreciated 17% against the euro from an average $1.3695 in the first quarter of 2014 to an average $1.1320 in the first quarter of 2015. Quarterly averages are the basis for translating foreign income statements under U.S. GAAP (Topic 830).

This article ultimately shows that a constant-dollar income statement presentation may best illustrate true operating performance and disaggregate the impact of fluctuating foreign currency.

U.S. dollars to buy one euro

Weekly and average quarterly exchange rates show the trend of the U.S. dollars required to buy one euro from Jan. 1, 2014, through April 1, 2015 (see the chart "Euro/Dollar Exchange Rate").

Euro/dollar exchange rate
Euro/dollar exchange rate

Specific information for the income statement is in ASC Paragraph 830-10-55-11 and ASC Paragraph 830-30-45-3.

Topic 830 requires translating income statement accounts at the foreign currency exchange rates on the recognition date for revenues and expenses. Because it might be impractical to use the current exchange rate for the dates that the numerous income statement elements are recognized, an appropriately weighted average foreign currency exchange rate for the period covered by the income statement may be used to translate those elements.

The guidance also applies to accounting allocations in the income statement, such as depreciation, amortization, cost of goods sold from inventory, and deferred revenues and expenses. Thus, these allocations are required to be translated at the foreign currency exchange rates on the date they are included in revenues and expenses, and not the rates on the historical dates the related items originate.

While Topic 830 is appropriate for financial reporting, better tools are available for assessing business performance.


Consider a U.S. entity with operations in ­Europe. This company would translate its income statement using the average foreign currency exchange rate over the period covered in the income statement.

U.S. GAAP-translated P&L

The U.S. dollar income statement for the first quarter ended March 31, 2015, of a company's European operations prepared according to Topic 830 is appropriate for financial reporting purposes (see the chart "European Operations P&L Translated Into Dollars").

European Operations P&L Translated Into Dollars
European Operations P&L Translated Into Dollars

The income statement in the chart "European Operations P&L Translated Into Dollars" is not appropriate for performance measurement because it is not sufficient for reaching meaningful operating conclusions and, as a result, could lead to poor decisions with unfavorable consequences.

The operating performance conclusions from this income statement are that sales of $15.2 million are below both budget and prior year. Income is relatively flat, coming in slightly above budget but slightly below the prior year. It appears that management may have positively reacted to the sales decline by aggressively reducing expenses.

Because of U.S. GAAP's foreign currency guidance limitations for operating performance measurement, a more appropriate approach may be to evaluate operating performance using local foreign currency financial statements before translation into U.S. dollars.

P&L before translation

The income statement for the first quarter ended March 31, 2015, in euros appears much different from the one measured in U.S. dollars (see the chart "European Operations P&L Before Translation Into Dollars").

European Operations P&L Before Translation Into Dollars
European Operations P&L Before Translation Into Dollars

Unlike the currency-translated income statement, which showed poor performance, the operating performance assessment in euros is very favorable with sales higher than both budget and the prior year and with gross margin improvement from cost of goods sold increasing at a lower rate than sales. The European operations also achieved operating leverage from smaller overall cost increases versus revenues, despite operating expenses growing faster than expectations and faster than sales. There is not enough information to know whether the gross margin improvement is due to product mix or manufacturing expense control, but it can be concluded that operating expenses are not being controlled.

It may appear that using a local currency income statement for performance analysis would be ideal, but the approach has the following shortcomings:

  • It can be difficult for the management of a parent company to put foreign currency financial statements into perspective regarding magnitude and proportion related to other operations and to the overall business.
  • The income statement is not in U.S. GAAP, which, in addition to this limitation outright, could make it more difficult to calculate efficiency and profitability metrics that rely on income statement items tied to the balance sheet and statement of cash flows. Examples are return on assets, return on equity, and working capital turns.
  • There could be subtranslations of other foreign currencies into euros, such as from Swiss or U.K. operations, which reduce the purity of what appears to be a single currency.
  • It does not explain the overall impact of foreign currency changes on the consolidated income statement, which is required for proper footnote disclosure and for public company SEC management discussion & analysis (MD&A) disclosure.
  • It would not provide functional department performance measurement, such as for the treasury department that could be responsible for foreign currency risk management.


A performance management approach that will provide true operating performance and disaggregate the impact of fluctuating foreign currency is a constant-dollar income statement presentation. In this approach, the comparable budget and prior-year periods are all translated using the same current-period foreign currency exchange rate.

Constant-dollar P&L

The constant-dollar income statement for the period ended March 31, 2015, was prepared by translating all periods at the current quarterly period foreign currency exchange rate. The reconciliation is between the operating and currency performance variances, and the reported budget and prior-year variances are calculated according to Topic 830 (see the chart "European Operations P&L Using Constant Exchange Rate").

European Operations P&L Using Constant Exchange Rate
European Operations P&L Using Constant Exchange Rate

The constant-dollar table shows the true operating performance and the impact of foreign currency fluctuations compared with budget and the prior year. Although this is not U.S. GAAP, it does provide a better performance measurement format.

Unlike the U.S. GAAP presentation that reported decreasing sales and flat net income growth compared with budget and the prior year (columns 1 and 2), this constant-dollar table shows strong sales and net income growth. In addition, unlike the local-currency income statement, operating performance is measured in the parent entity's reporting currency, the U.S. dollar. Finally, the impact of foreign currency fluctuation is quantified in terms of U.S. dollars.

It also reconciles the performance measurement reported in the U.S. GAAP presentation translated into U.S. dollars with the constant-dollar presentation. This analysis meets both internal operating performance assessment and quantifies the foreign currency impact of SEC MD&A.


In addition to measuring operating performance, other reporting implications are affected by foreign currency rate fluctuations. Companies design management and employee incentive systems for profit sharing contributions, annual bonus payments, and long-term, share-based awards. For long-term shareholder value, it is important that incentive programs properly reward controllable and accountable performance.

Since foreign currency fluctuations are neither controllable nor accountable (except for finance departments and C-level executives in certain situations), the currency impact should be excluded from incentive plans. These situations are largely determined by corporate risk tolerance, operating philosophy, and culture, because these characteristics also play a role in incentive program design. This article focuses on foreign currency fluctuation impacts on measuring operating performance, without debating the merits of different incentive program designs.

Some companies structure incentive programs based on overall consolidated results with the philosophy that incentivizing internal cooperation triumphs over separate business operating performance that is more controllable at the country level. Globally, however, there may be foreign country statutory requirements for profit sharing that would not coincide with this consolidated incentive program design.

A potential pitfall of excluding the impact of foreign currency fluctuations from incentive programs is where country management has some control and accountability for foreign currency decisions, especially when the foreign entity can elect to transact in other currencies. For example, a German subsidiary that has significant sales to Swiss customers in Swiss francs may have some control over sales currency impact by purchasing materials and entering into contracts where costs are denominated in Swiss francs.

Lastly, finance and treasury departments may be accountable for foreign currency hedging programs. Thus, foreign currency exchange rate fluctuations should impact their incentive programs.

About the author

Mark D. Mishler ( is a principal at CFO Resource Management in Morristown, N.J., and an adjunct professor of accounting and finance at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J.

To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Sabine Vollmer, senior editor, at or 919-402-2304.


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