What does “carry trade” mean?

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A carry trade, commonly associated with forex trading, is an investment strategy where an investor borrows money in a low-interest-rate currency and invests in a higher-interest-rate currency, generating returns equivalent to the interest rate difference. This strategy is prevalent in various investment funds, including global macro funds and alternative strategies. Effectively, a carry trade generates returns for holding or “carrying” an asset like a currency or commodity over time, independent of the asset’s appreciation, though it can influence the trade’s risk. Executing a carry trade involves borrowing in a low-interest-rate currency to invest in a higher-interest-rate currency or asset. While carry trades are popular in foreign currency investing, they pose high risks and necessitate specific market conditions and expertise for successful execution. Popular foreign currency carry trades involve pairs like the Australian dollar and Japanese yen or the New Zealand dollar and Japanese yen, leveraging their substantial interest-rate spreads. For instance, an investor could borrow in Japanese yen at 0% interest, while investing in New Zealand or Australian dollars at rates of 3.50% and 2.85%, respectively (excluding fees and costs), resulting in a profitable interest rate difference.

How the Carry Trade Operates

The carry trade strategy boils down to borrow a currency in a region with low-interest rates to purchase a currency in a region with high-interest rates. By doing so, investors aim to earn a high-interest rate while paying a lower one, potentially resulting in profitable returns. In carry trading, forex providers facilitate the transfer of relevant amounts into or out of accounts daily, based on whether the account holds positions with positive or negative carry values. This process usually occurs at the close of the day. Despite its apparent simplicity, carry trading involves intricate calculations. Various factors, such as the number of nights held, trade size, rollover contribute to determining the final overnight funding adjustment or potential profits/losses from the carry trade.

Carry Trade Risks Unveiled

Engaging in carry trading exposes traders to various risks, primarily associated with the price action of the forex pair and fluctuations in interest rates within the involved regions. In theory, a forex position with positive carry should yield consistent profits. However, the dynamic nature of the market introduces uncertainties. While favorable exchange rate movements can augment profits from the carry trade, volatile price actions in forex pairs can swiftly erase gains, especially considering the leverage inherent in forex trading. For instance, a short 1-lot EUR/USD position generating $10 daily in carry trade profits may encounter a scenario where a 100-pip adverse price movement over a month results in approximately $300 in carry trade profits and a substantial -$1,000 in losses from price action. While interest rates in major economies typically change infrequently, alterations affecting the carry trade can occur unexpectedly. Traders estimating potential gains from the carry trade over upcoming weeks and months must remain vigilant about interest rate fluctuations and incorporate these potential changes into their decision-making process. For example, a long USD/JPY position may yield positive carry profits one month due to higher Federal Reserve interest rates compared to the Bank of Japan.