Forex Blog: Currency Trading News & Analysis.

February 21st 2007

Commentary: What will it take to end the Yen carry trade?

Before I attempt to answer the following question, let’s examine where the Japanese Yen is today and more importantly, how it got there. The story begins around the establishment of the second Bretton-Woods agreement, which de-linked the USD from gold, and ushered in the modern era of freely floating currencies. In the 30 years that have elapsed since this period began, the Yen has never been less valuable. In fact, in trade-weighted terms, the Japanese Yen is at an all-time low!

The decline began in 1995, touched off by a nagging recession and the accompanying easy monetary policy, in which Japanese real interest rates were effectively negative. The decline seems to have accelerated over the past five years, due to the proliferation of the carry trade. In this type of trade, investors borrow Japanese Yen at a low interest rate, and sell the Yen for a currency which is supported by higher interest rates. The profit, known as carry, is the spread between the two rates. Hedge funds have piled into the carry trade, driving the Yen to lower and lower depths.

Politicians, relying on economists, have begun to clamor for reform. For a while, trade representatives and politicians insisted Japan was intervening on behalf of the Yen, which was ostensibly keeping the Yen grounded. They have since retreated from this position and embraced the carry trade theory as being responsible. Regardless of the causes, everyone agrees that the Yen’s undervaluation is not only destabilizing, but is economically inefficient. After all, Japan is home to the world’s largest trade surplus, and its economy is growing at an annualized rate of almost 5%!

So why doesn’t Japan give in and raise rates? The answer, it turns out, may not even matter. Traders have speculated that it require a rise of 200 basis points in Japanese interest rates for the carry trade to lose its appeal, an event which is extremely unlikely to occur by the end of 2007. Instead, a little bit of volatility in forex markets might go a long way in coaxing the currency upward. The Economist has drawn an analogy of the current situation to 1998, when the Russian default made hedge funds nervous, and they unwound their carry positions in the Yen. The result was a rapid 15% appreciation in the Yen.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Commentary, Japanese Yen | No Comments »

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