CARRY TRADE AS A TOOL OF PROFIT MAKING
First, let’s take a look at the carry trade. In short, the carry trade is used when an investor or speculator is attempting to capture the price appreciation or depreciation in a currency while also profiting on the interest differential. Using this strategy, a trader is essentially selling a currency that is offering a relatively low interest rate while buying a currency that is offering a higher interest rate. This way, the trader is able to profit from the differential of interest rates.
With the introduction of the carry trade , yen currency pairs have become the speculator’s preference. Currency crosses like the GBP/JPY and NZD/JPY have been able to net small intraday or even longer term profits for the currency trader as speculation continues to support the bid tone. But how can one enter into a market that is already seemingly overheated? Even if a trader could, what would be a good price, and doesn’t everything that goes up come down? The answer is easier and simpler than most believe. In this article we’ll show you how to use carry trades to profit from overwhelming market momentum.
A strategy in which an investor sells a certain currency with a relatively low interest rate and uses the funds to purchase a different currency yielding a higher interest rate. A trader using this strategy attempts to capture the difference between the rates – which can often be substantial, depending on the amount of leverage the investor chooses to use.
For example, taking one of the favored pairs in the market right now, let’s take a look at the New Zealand dollar/Japanese yen currency pair. Here, a carry trader would borrow Japanese yen and then convert it into New Zealand dollars. After the conversion, the speculator would then buy a Kiwi bond for the corresponding amount, earning 8%. Therefore, the investor makes a 7.5% return on the interest alone after taking into account the 0.5% that is paid on the yen funds.
Now on the earning side of the trade, the investor is also hoping that the price will appreciate in order to make further gains on the transaction. In this case, anyone that has invested in the NZD/JPY trade has been able to reap plenty of benefits.
Evolution of the carry trade
The first wave of carry trade started in the late 1980s when financial speculators borrowed in yen and invested in European securities. This first phase ended in 1993 after the Japanese bubble collapsed, Japanese investors retreated home and the yen appreciated.
The second round of carry trade began in the summer of 1995 and ended in late 1998 after Russia defaulted, the Long-Term Capital Management hedge fund collapsed, and the Japanese government planned to recapitalize the distressed banking sector. The yen rose 15% against the dollar in a week.
The recent wave of the yen carry trade is built on the Japanese government’s policy of keeping its interest rate and currency low in order to export its way out of recession and deflation. It has continued until (10-17 August) when the yen jumped 10% caused by the default in sub-prime mortgages and the knock-on effects on equity markets worldwide.
Profitability in carry trade
Over the past five years, official interest rates have been lowest in Japan and Switzerland, and the yen and the Swiss franc are the most commonly cited funding currencies (Graph 1). The Australian dollar, the New Zealand dollar and sterling have appreciated steadily and have been cited as popular target currencies, although a number of other currencies are often used as well (eg the Brazilian real and the South African rand). Since 2004, with the normalization of policy rates from historically low levels, the US dollar has moved from being a funding currency to a potential target.
The carry-to-risk ratio is a popular ex ante measure of the attractiveness of carry trades. It adjusts the interest rate differential by the risk of future exchange rate movements, where this risk is proxied by the expected volatility (implied by foreign exchange options) of the relevant currency pair. By this measure, carry trade positions that were short yen and long target currencies such as the Australian dollar were increasingly promising from 2002 to 2005.
Sources: Bloomberg; JPMorgan Chase; national data; BIS calculations
These positions have remained so on average, despite two bouts of higher volatility which led to significant, albeit temporary, declines in the attractiveness of some target currencies (eg the South African rand).Over the longer term, however, the attractiveness of carry trades relative to other investments is less clear (Burnside et al (2006)).
Risk reversals – or the price difference between two equivalently out of the-money options – potentially provide an alternative market indicator of perceived risks in carry trades. If the risk associated with carry trade returns is not generalized uncertainty about future values of the exchange rates, as the carry-to-risk measure implicitly assumes, but rather directional uncertainty, this will be more effectively captured by risk reversals calculated from out-of-the money options. A strong correlation between the two measures is apparent in Graph 1. In addition, Gagnon and Chaboud (2007) argue that movements in risk reversals tend to post-date large exchange rate movements in periods of high volatility.
The Mechanics of Earning Interest
One of the cornerstones of the carry trade strategy is the ability to earn interest. The income is accrued every day for long carry trades with triple rollover given on Wednesday to account for Saturday and Sunday rolls. Roughly speaking, the daily interest is calculated in the following way:
(Interest Rate of the Currency that you are Long – Interest Rate of the Currency that you are Short) x Notional of Your Position
No of Days in a Year
For example one lot of NZD/JPY that has a notional of 100,000, we compute interest the following way:
(.8 – 0.005) x 100,000 = approximately $20 a day
It is important to realize that this amount can only be earned by traders who are long NZD/JPY. For those who are fading the carry, interest will need to be paid every day.
Flags and Pennants in carry trade
At present in this currency rising trend, how can a trader really capture market profits in the bull market? One such formation that has proved to be a great setup may be the all too familiar, flag and pennant formations. This has been especially useful in carry currency crosses such as British pound/Japanese yen and New Zealand dollar/Japanese yen. Both formations are used in similar capacities; they are great short-term tools that can be applied to capture nothing but continuations in the foreign exchange market. They are both even more applicable when the market, especially in the case of carry trade currencies, has been trading higher and higher in every session.
To get a better sense of how this works, let’s quickly review the differences between a flag and a pennant:
• A flag formation is a charting pattern that is indicative of consolidation following an upward surge in price. The name is attributed to the fact that it resembles an actual flag with a downward-sloping body (due to price consolidation) and a visually evident post. Targets are also very reliable in flag formations. Traders who use this technical pattern will reference the distance from the bottom of the post (significant support level) to the top. Subsequently, when the price breaks the upper trend line of the flag, the distance of the post will more often than not be equivalent to the next level of resistance.
• A pennant formation is similar to the flag formation – it differs only in the form of consolidation. Instead of a body of consolidation that moves in the opposite direction of the post (as in the case of a flag), the pennant’s body is simply a symmetrical triangle. Although pennants have been known to slope downward as well, the textbook formation has also been noted as a symmetrical triangle, hence the name.
Similar setups are seen in the cross currency pairs, giving the trader plenty of opportunities in the currency market, with or without dollar exposure. Taking another market favorite, the British pound/Japanese yen, let’s take a look at how this method can be applied to the chart.
In the short-term 60-minute chart in Graph 2, a typically long flag formation is coming around in the GBP/JPY currency pair. In order to establish the formation initially, it is recommended that the chartist draw the topside trend line first. This rule is a must as an initial drawing of the bottom trend line may lead to varying interpretations. Once the initial downward-sloping trend line is drawn, the bottom is a simple duplicate. Here, the trader will make sure to note a touch by the session bodies rather than the wicks in verifying the formation as true. This is to isolate only true price action and not volatility or common “noise” that may occur in the short term.
Step by Step procedure for carry traders:
Now let’s take a look at a step by step process that will allow traders to enter on the carry trade momentum in the market. Figure 3 shows a great opportunity in the New Zealand dollar/Japanese yen cross pair. Following the complete downturn that occurred July 9 – July11, 2007, a visual burst can be seen by chartists as bidders take the currency higher over the next 48 hours, establishing a temporary top at Point A.
Source: FX Trek Intellicharts Figure 3: Following A Sharp Decline, NZDJPY Vaults Higher Off Of Support
1. After consolidation, draw the topside trend line first, completing the formation with the duplicate bottom trend line giving the chartist the flag boundaries.
2. On a sign of a trend line break, measure the distance from the bottom of the post to the top. In this instance, the bottom support of the post is 93.81 with the top at 95.74. This gives the trader a potential for 193 pips on the trade after a break of the top trend line.
3. Once there is a confirmed break of the trend line, place the entry that is at the session close or lower of the finished candle. In this case, the break occurs approximately at 95.40 with the entry being placed at that session’s close of 95.46 (Point C). Subsequently, a corresponding stop is placed five pips below the session low of 95.37. Ultimately, the position is well within normal risk parameters as it is risking 14 pips to make 193 pips.
4. Set initial and full targets. With the full move estimated at 193 pips, we get a partial distance of 96 pips (193 pips / 2). As a result, the initial target is set for 96.42 (Point B).
5. Set contingent trailing stops. Once the initial target is achieved, the overall position should be reduced by half with the rest being protected by a trailing stop set at the entry price (or break-even). This will allow for further gains while protecting against adverse moves against whatever is left. Longer term strategies will hold to the entry price as the ultimate stop, promoting a worst-case scenario of break-even.
Best Way to Trade Carry
With the pros and cons of carry trading in mind, the best way to trade carry is through a basket. When it comes to carry trades, at any point in time, one central bank may be holding interest rates steady while another may be increasing or decreasing them. With a basket that consists of the three highest and the three lowest yielding currencies, any one currency pair only represents a portion of the whole portfolio; therefore, even if there is carry trade liquidation in one currency pair, the losses are controlled by owning a basket. This is actually the preferred way of trading carry for investment banks and hedge funds. This strategy may be a bit tricky for individuals because trading a basket would naturally require greater capital, but it can be done with smaller lot sizes. The key with a basket is to dynamically change the portfolio allocations based upon the interest rate curve and monetary policies of the central banks.
The carry trade is a long-term strategy that is far more suitable for investors than traders because investors will revel in the fact that they will only need to check price quotes a few times a week rather than a few times a day. True carry traders, including the leading banks on , will hold their positions for months (if not years) at a time. The cornerstone of the carry trade strategy is to get paid while you wait, so waiting is actually a good thing.
Partly due to the demand for carry trades, trends in the currency market are strong and directional. This is important for short-term traders as well because, in a currency pair where the interest rate differential is very significant, it may be far more profitable to look for opportunities to buy on dips in the direction of the carry than to try to fade it. For those who insist on fading AUD/JPY strength for example, they should be wary of holding short positions for too long because with each passing day, more interest will need to be paid. The best way for shorter term traders to look at interest is that earning it helps to reduce your average price while paying interest increases it. For an intraday trade, the carry will not matter, but for a three-, four- or five-day trade, the direction of carry becomes far more meaningful.