Carry Trade — Why Did It Work and Why It Won't Anymore

Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Carry trade is the kind of Forex trading where low-yielding currency is sold for the high-yielding one and the produced difference between the yields is gained by the trader; usually it’s also multiplied by the margin leverage. So what are the yields of the currencies? Each currency has an overnight interest rate associated with it. If you trade via a broker you buy and sell currencies without a physical delivery, so when you buy a currency you should get paid an interest from a broker, because he gets to «store» and «use» that currency, while you hold the position. If you sell a currency you should pay an interest because you «hold» and «use» the currency you sold, while the position is open. Because in Forex you trade the currencies in pairs you will get the difference between the long currency’s interest rate and the short currency’s interest rate. If you sell GBP/JPY pair and Bank of England’s interest rate is 5.00%, while Bank of Japan’s is 0.50% you’ll lose 4.50% interest on this position, if you buy this pair you gain this difference. In reality, brokers apply some commission to these differences, so you’ll lose more on negative interest and earn less on positive.

These rate differences wouldn’t be so attractive if it wasn’t high leverage that multiplies the gain by tens and hundreds. With 1:100 leverage you get 450%/year holding a long GBP/JPY position. With a higher leverage and a higher rate difference the results are even more impressive. South African rand has 12.0% interest rate associated with it. Buying ZAR/JPY with 1:400 leverage would yield 4600% a year.

No surprise that from 2001 to mid-2007 Forex carry trades were extremely popular. Such currency pairs as GBP/JPY, EUR/JPY, AUD/JPY and NZD/JPY brought thousands percents of profit through the interest rate difference only; considering that those pairs also rose tremendously during that period, such positions made many people rich.

So what happened in 2007 and why carry trade positions aren’t very popular now? Global economy crisis spurred by mortgage lending crisis in U.S. triggered the growth of the global volatility. Central banks stopped raising interest rates and started to focus on growth, while high-yielding currencies started a correction. Higher yields are always associated with the higher risks, so when the global risks increased, the carry traders started to close their positions and spurred a wave of decline on those currency pairs. Currently all those popular carry trade pairs are moving sideways with a little downward slope.

Carry trades didn’t vanish from the Forex market they just became much less popular and no longer last for years. Now carry traders prefer to buy at the local bottoms and hold the pair for weeks or even days to gain their interest rate difference. And this situation will probably last while the global economic growth remains in danger.