Operating and Financial Review

Financial Review

 
 

Treasury policy

The funding and treasury risk management of the Group is carried out by a central department operating under policies and guidelines approved by the Board. The Finance Committee, a committee of the Board, is responsible for regular review and monitoring of treasury activity and for approval of specific transactions, the authority for which may be delegated. The Group has a Treasury function that raises all the funding for the Group and manages interest rate and foreign exchange rate risk.

The Group has separate financing programmes for each of the main Group companies. The Finance Committee of the Board and the finance committee or board of the appropriate Group undertaking approve all funding programmes.

The Treasury function is not operated as a profit centre. Debt and treasury positions are managed in a non-speculative manner, such that all transactions in financial instruments or products are matched to an underlying current or anticipated business requirement.

The use of derivative financial instruments is controlled by policy guidelines set by the Board. Derivatives entered into in respect of gas and electricity commodities are used in support of the business' operational requirements and the policy regarding their use is explained below.

As a result of the Public Utilities Holding Companies Act 1935 and other US regulatory limits applicable to certain US companies in the Group, the freedom of these companies to provide financing among themselves is restricted. Nevertheless, for those Group companies external financings or other arrangements are in place to ensure that they have adequate access to short-term liquidity.

The Group had borrowings outstanding at 31 March 2005 amounting to 14,219 million (31 March 2004: 13,248 million). The table in note 20 shows the expected maturity of these borrowings.

The Group has in place appropriate committed facilities, and believes that the maturing amounts in respect of its contractual obligations as shown in Commitments and Contingencies can be met from these facilities, operating cash flows and other refinancings that it reasonably expects to be able to secure in the future. The Group's financial position enables it to borrow on the wholesale capital and money markets and most of its borrowings are through public bonds and commercial paper.

The Group places surplus funds on the money markets, usually in the form of short-term fixed deposits that are invested with approved banks and counterparties. Details relating to the Group's cash, short-term investments and other financial assets at 31 March 2005 are shown in note 21 to the accounts.

We have a credit rating of Baa1/A-, provided by Moody's and S&P respectively. In addition, certain Group undertakings are also credit rated. National Grid Company plc has a credit rating of A2/A provided by Moody's and S&P respectively, whereas Transco plc has a credit rating of A2/A/A and Transco Holdings plc has been separately rated A3/A-/A- by Moody's, S&P and Fitch respectively.

It is a condition of the regulatory ring-fences around National Grid Company plc, Transco plc and Transco Holdings plc that they use reasonable endeavours to maintain an investment grade credit rating. It is also an SEC requirement that we maintain an investment grade credit rating. At these ratings, the principal borrowing entities of the Group should have good access to the capital and money markets for future funding when necessary.

The main risks arising from the Group's financing activities are set out below. The Board and the Finance Committee review and agree policies for managing each risk and they are summarised below.

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Refinancing risk management

The Board controls refinancing risk mainly by limiting the amount of financing obligations (both principal and interest) arising on borrowings in any 12 month and 36 month period. This policy restricts the Group from having an excessively large amount of debt to refinance in a given time-frame. During the year, a mixture of short-term and long-term debt was issued.

Within these limits we have increased the amount of short-term borrowings at 31 March 2005 in anticipation of repaying an expected 2.3 billion in debt following completion of the planned sales of four regional gas distribution networks expected to occur on 1 June 2005.

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Interest rate risk management

The interest rate exposure of the Group arising from its borrowings and deposits is managed by the use of fixed and floating rate debt, interest rate swaps, swaptions and forward rate agreements. The Group's interest rate risk management policy is to seek to minimise total financing costs (being interest costs and changes in the market value of debt) subject to constraints so that, even with large movements in interest rates, neither the interest cost nor the total financing cost can exceed pre-set limits. Some of the bonds in issue from National Grid Company plc and Transco Holdings plc are index-linked, that is their cost is linked to changes in the UK Retail Price Index (RPI). The Group believes these bonds provide a good hedge for revenues that are also RPI-linked under the price control formulae.

The performance of the Treasury function in interest rate risk management is measured by comparing the actual total financing costs of its debt with those of a passively-managed benchmark portfolio.

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Foreign exchange risk management

The Group has a policy of hedging certain contractually committed foreign exchange transactions over a prescribed minimum size. It covers a minimum of 75% of such transactions expected to occur up to six months in advance and of 50% of transactions six to twelve months in advance. Cover generally takes the form of forward sale or purchase of foreign currencies and must always relate to underlying operational cash flows.

The principal foreign exchange risk to which the Group is exposed arises from assets and liabilities not denominated in sterling. In relation to these risks, the objective is to match the US dollar proportion of the Group's financial liabilities to the proportion of its cash flow that arises in dollars and is available to service those liabilities.

Foreign exchange fluctuations will affect the translated value of overseas earnings and cash flows. This translation has no impact on the currency cash flows of the Group, and accordingly is not hedged other than indirectly through the natural hedge of having foreign currency interest expense arising on currency denominated liabilities. Cash flows may be hedged through matching with interest flows or by forward foreign exchange deals and options.

The currency and average interest rate compositions of the Group's financial liabilities and assets are shown in note 21 to the accounts.

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Counterparty risk management

Counterparty risk arises from the investment of surplus funds and from the use of derivative instruments. The Finance Committee has agreed a policy for managing such risk, which is controlled through credit limits, approvals and monitoring procedures.

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Derivative financial instruments held for purposes other than trading

As part of its business operations, the Group is exposed to risks arising from fluctuations in interest rates and exchange rates. The Group uses off balance sheet financial instruments (derivatives) to manage exposures of this type and they are a useful tool in reducing risk. The Group's policy is not to use derivatives for trading purposes. Derivative transactions can, to varying degrees, carry both counterparty and market risk.

The Group enters into interest rate swaps to manage the composition of floating and fixed rate debt and so hedge the exposure of borrowings to interest rate movements. In addition, the Group enters into bought and written option contracts on interest rate swaps. These contracts are known as swaptions. The Group also enters into foreign currency swaps to manage the currency composition of borrowings and so hedge the exposure to exchange rate movements. Certain agreements are combined foreign currency and interest rate swap transactions. Such agreements are known as cross currency swaps.

The Group enters into forward rate agreements to hedge interest rate risk on short-term debt and money market investments. Forward rate agreements are commitments to fix an interest rate that is to be paid or received on a notional deposit of specified maturity, starting at a future specified date.

More details on derivative financial intruments are provided in note 21 to the accounts.

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Valuation and sensitivity analysis

The Group calculates the fair value of debt and derivative instruments by discounting all future cash flows by the market yield curve at the balance sheet date. The market yield curve for each currency is obtained from the Reuters or Bloomberg screen notes for interest and foreign exchange rates. In the case of instruments with optionality, the Black's variation of the Black-Scholes model is used to calculate fair value.

The valuation techniques described above for interest rate swaps and currency swaps are a standard market methodology. These techniques do not take account of the credit quality of either party but this is not considered to be a significant factor unless there is a material deterioration in the credit quality of either party.

In relation to swaptions, the Group only uses swaptions for hedging purposes with a European style exercise. As a consequence, the Black's variation of the Black-Scholes model is considered to be sufficiently accurate for the purpose of providing fair value information in relation to these types of swaptions. More sophisticated valuation models exist but the Group does not believe it is necessary to employ these models, given the extent of its activities in this area.

The valuations obtained using the techniques described above are used for the purpose of disclosure of fair value information under UK GAAP as shown in note 21 to the accounts and for recognition, where appropriate, under US GAAP as shown in note 32 and note 33 to the accounts.

For debt and derivative instruments held, the Group utilises a sensitivity analysis technique to evaluate the effect that changes in relevant rates or prices will have on the market value of such instruments.

At 31 March 2005, the potential change in the fair value of the aggregation of long-term debt and derivative instruments, assuming an increase or decrease of 10% in the level of interest rates and exchange rates, was 151 million and 159 million for interest rates and 386 million and 472 million for exchange rates respectively.

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