What are Carry Trades in Forex?
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As you continue increasing your knowledge about forex trading and the market in general, more and more new concepts and ideas will pop up. This includes a growing range of trading technique and strategies. One such trading strategy which has been around for a very long time in the industry, is the carry trade. Here we will take a closer look at exactly what a carry is in forex, and provide all the information you need to decide if carry trading is a good strategy for you as you move forward on your trading journey.
Basics of How a Carry Trade Works
In its most simple form, a carry trade in forex, is borrowing one currency, and using it to buy another. For example, you may borrow (sell) $100,000 Australian Dollars, and use those funds to purchase the same amount of JPY. Placing a carry trade is one of the most popular trading strategies in the entire sector, and used by many traders to benefit from the position of currencies around the world.
So, what is the benefit in borrowing one currency and using it to buy another? This comes from the difference in interest rates between the two currencies. Let’s look again at our example in more detail.
Presuming the interest rate on the Australian Dollar was 4%, and the interest rate on the JPY was 0.1%, a carry trade would be where you buy the AUD/JPY market, as here, what you are effectively doing is selling (borrowing) Japanese Yen, to purchase Australian Dollars. In the most simple of ways, you will now have placed a carry trade. Here you will earn 4% interest on the Australian Dollars you are holding, while paying 0.1% interest on the Japanese Yen you have borrowed. This should leave you in a profitable position if the rate does not change, and is known as a positive carry trade at +3.9%.
Why is Carry Trading Popular?
From an outside perspective, even looking at our hypothetical example where there is quite a gap between the interest rates, you may wonder why placing carry trades is so popular when the potential profit may seem quite small. There are two main elements at play in the forex market though which make this a very attractive type of trading strategy.
Currency Pairs: The fact that currencies are traded in pairs make a carry trade very accessible, and convenient for all traders. The difference in interest rates has never been so easy to take advantage of as it is in forex trading, where you can directly trade low and high interest currencies in pairs.
Leverage: The availability of extensive leverage in forex makes it the ideal place to carry trade. Many forex brokers can make leverage of up to 500:1 available on certain currency pairs. This basically means that even a relatively small deposit of $1,000 can open up huge buying power of $100,000 at 100:1 leverage, or more. Dealing with such large numbers, even low percentage profits are very meaningful.
Popular Forex Pairs to Carry Trade
Given the fundamentals of how a carry trade works, borrowing a low interest currency, to buy a high interest currency, then this is precisely what traders are on the lookout for in the forex market when it comes to placing a carry trade. There are a couple of currencies in particular that are most popular in this regard.
As a selling currency, the Japanese Yen is always a very popular choice. This is thanks to the historically very low cost of borrowing in Japan. The country has not had an interest rate of above 0.5% in more than 20-years. Another popular choice as a selling currency may be the Swiss Franc (CHF).
On the buying side, popular choices include both the Australian, and New Zealand Dollar as countries which typically hold slightly higher interest rates, yet are recognized as quite stable currencies.
Benefits of a Carry Trade
A carry trade in forex can be an excellent long-term investment strategy. You will have the potential to benefit from a carry trade even if the rates do not change at all thanks to the difference in interest rates. This makes it perfect for an investor who intends to hold the position for a long time.
Added to that, if the rate does change in your favor, then you can potentially have a sizable profit when added to the interest rate difference, and factoring in the leverage used. The fact that many brokers nowadays also cater for trading with very competitive fees and low spreads also plays to your advantage if placing a carry trade, and is something that many look out for.
Risks Involved in a Carry Trade
With every form of trading, there is always a certain element of risk. With a carry trade, though it is seen as a low-risk strategy, there are still a couple of things to be mindful of.
The market can still move against you. A change in the market can certainly negate any benefits you have gained from the positive interest rate difference. Particularly if you decide to trade in minor, or exotic currency pairs which are less common, you should note that these markets can be highly volatile, and subject to change in a very swift fashion. Some examples include trading with the MXN (Mexican Peso), or NGN (Nigerian Naira). Both may appear attractive for a carry trade, but can be subject to intense volatility. This risk can be amplified even further if you are trading with a lot of leverage.
You should also remember that, just because there may be a positive rate difference at the moment, the monetary policy in every country is subject to change at different times. The perfect example of this would be right now, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, many nations have moved to cut interest rates. This has the possibility to really change the dynamics of your carry trade.
Anthony is a financial journalist and business advisor with several years’ experience writing for some of the most well-known sites in the Forex world. A keen trader turned industry writer, he is currently based in Shanghai with a finger on the pulse of Asia’s biggest markets.