Forex Blog: Currency Trading News & Analysis.

August 26th 2009

Carry Trade Still Popular, but Doubt is Growing

It’s safe to say that the inverse correlation observed between the Dollar (and also the Yen) and global equities is largely a product of the carry trade. “The U.S. stock market bottomed and the U.S. Dollar Index peaked almost simultaneously in March. While U.S. stocks are up more than 50% in that time, the Dollar Index (which measures the greenback’s value against the euro, the yen, the British pound, the Canadian dollar, the Swedish kroner and the Swiss franc) is down nearly 12%,” observed one analyst.

On one level, this represents a return to 2008, prior to the explosion of the credit crisis, when carry trading was THE dominant theme in forex markets. However, there is one important difference. While the Dollar and Yen were the funding currencies then and now (due to their low interest rates), there has been a slight shift in the currencies selected for the opposing/long end of the trade.

Traditionally, the most popular long currencies were those of industrialized countries, rich in commodities and backed by high interest rates and often rich in commodities. To be sure, these currencies have shined in recent months, certainly due in part to speculative (carry) trading. “Strategists at Wells Fargo Bank in New York ‘believe that the gains in the dollar-bloc currencies (Australia, New Zealand, Canada) have run ahead of the gains in commodity prices.’ ” The Bank of Canada also noticed that “At the time of its last statement, oil prices were about $75 a barrel, but now they are in the $60-to-$65 range. That suggests the currency’s appreciation has outpaced the demand for its commodity exports.”

But the run-ups in the Kiwi, Aussie, and Loonie have been overshadowed by even more rapid appreciation in emerging market currencies. This shift is largely a product of changes in interest rate differentials, which are now gapingly large between developed countries and developing countries. Compare the 2.75%+ spread between the US and Australia, with the 8.5% spread between the US and Brazil or 12.75% between the US and Russia. For investors once again becoming complacent about risk, the choice is a no-brainer.

Still, some analysts are nervous about this change in dynamic: “While the new carry trade may be less leveraged, it’s an inherently riskier bet. As such, it’s more vulnerable to the kind of swift unraveling of risk appetite observed across all nations and sectors in 2008, but which occurs with far more frequency in emerging markets.” Meanwhile, emerging market stocks have behaved volatilely over the last few weeks (with Chinese stocks even entering bear market territory), and some investors are concerned that they may be temporarily peaking. There are also signs that bubbles may be forming in carry trade currencies, with bullish sentiment at high levels. Accordingly, one strategist suggests waiting out a 5% pullback in the Australian dollar, and a 10% pullback in the New Zealand dollar before going back in.

There is also the outside possibility that the Fed will raise interest rates, which would crimp the viability of the US Dollar as a funding currency. Granted, it seems unlikely that the Fed will tighten within the next six months, but investors with a longer time horizon could begin to adjust their positions now, rather than wait until the 11th hour, at which point everyone will be rushing for the exits.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Central Banks, Investing & Trading, News | 1 Comment »

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  1. Forex Links for the Weekend | Forex Crunch Says:

    […] Adam Kritzer follows up on carry trades, which remain popular, but are doubted. […]

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