Monday, November 02, 2009

Mother of All Carry Trades....

My friend Roger Congleton at GMU Econ sends the following link:

Nouriel Roubini, "Mother of all carry trades faces an inevitable bust"
(Financial Times, Nov 1 2009)

An excerpt:
...while the US and global economy have begun a modest recovery, asset prices have gone through the roof since March in a major and synchronised rally. While asset prices were falling sharply in 2008, when the dollar was rallying, they have recovered sharply since March while the dollar is tanking. Risky asset prices have risen too much, too soon and too fast compared with macroeconomic fundamentals.

So what is behind this massive rally? Certainly it has been helped by a wave of liquidity from near-zero interest rates and quantitative easing. But a more important factor fuelling this asset bubble is the weakness of the US dollar, driven by the mother of all carry trades. The US dollar has become the major funding currency of carry trades as the Fed has kept interest rates on hold and is expected to do so for a long time. Investors who are shorting the US dollar to buy on a highly leveraged basis higher-yielding assets and other global assets are not just borrowing at zero interest rates in dollar terms; they are borrowing at very negative interest rates – as low as negative 10 or 20 per cent annualised – as the fall in the US dollar leads to massive capital gains on short dollar positions.

The problem, as Roubini notes, is that at some point the dollar will stop falling. People will actually have to buy dollars, or take it right in their shorts (a finance pun, sorry). And THEN the dollar might even appreciate, and the bubble will burst, and down will come baby, cradle and all.

The LMM and I have a considerable, though hardly huge, position in Euros in an account at Sparkasse in Erlangen. And, through dumb luck, we have made a nice piece of change. Holding Euros is a bet that the dollar depreciates, but in a covered way, because we actually own the cute little buggers. To understand why the above is a problem, consider the following two definitions:

Short Position
: In finance, short selling (also known as shorting or going short) is the practice of selling assets, usually securities, that have been borrowed from a third party (usually a broker) with the intention of buying identical assets back at a later date to return to the lender. The short seller hopes to profit from a decline in the price of the assets between the sale and the repurchase, as he will pay less to buy the assets than he received on selling them. Conversely, the short seller will incur a loss if the price of the assets rises. Other costs of shorting may include a fee for borrowing the assets and payment of any dividends paid on the borrowed assets. Shorting and going short also refer to entering into any derivative or other contract under which the investor profits from a fall in the value of an asset.

Carry Trade: The term carry trade without further modification refers to currency carry trade: investors borrow low-yielding currencies and lend (invest in) high-yielding currencies. It tends to correlate with global financial and exchange rate stability, and retracts in use during global liquidity shortages.
The risk in carry trading is that foreign exchange rates may change to the effect that the investor would have to pay back more expensive currency with less valuable currency. In theory, according to uncovered interest rate parity, carry trades should not yield a predictable profit because the difference in interest rates between two countries should equal the rate at which investors expect the low-interest-rate currency to rise against the high-interest-rate one. However, carry trades weaken the currency that is borrowed, because investors sell the borrowed money by converting it to other currencies.

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