Friday, November 27, 2009

Dollar Carry Trade - Easy Money in Difficult Times

What is driving asset prices to scale newer heights in year 2009? Answer is simple - weak dollar and near zero interest rates in US. It is very simple for global investors to make quick and easy money. Borrow at near zero interest rate in US, short dollar and invest that money in any asset in the country whose currency you have bought. Lets examine all the options available to global investors to make easy money :-
  • Scenario #1. Borrow dollars in US. It is almost free to borrow since you have to pay near zero interest on the dollar borrowed. Put this money to work in US itself by buying any high yielding asset like stocks, commodities, gold etc. As these assets appreciate you will be making money from capital given to you almost free of cost by US Govt. Isn't this a simple equation for making easy money?
  • Scenario #2. Borrow dollars in US. Then sell dollars to buy another currency of a country where interest rate is higher, say India. This arbitrage situation if tapped in India can fetch a global investor about 5% profit through interest differential for doing next to nothing.
  • Scenario #3. Borrow dollars in US. Sell dollars and buy currencies of different emerging markets especially the BRIC countries. Then employ this money in various high yielding risky assets and enjoy rapid appreciation.
Well global investors are doing all the above and maybe more. Dollar has become the international currency for carry trade, a position that yen and Swiss franc used to enjoy till some time back. This drives dollar to depreciate as there is massive supply of dollar for buying various other assets. And that is how we are witnessing this spike in prices of all assets, from stocks to commodities to gold, while the dollar is plummeting.

I am certainly not complaining for what is presently happening across all assets because of dollar carry trade. If it is dollar carry trade plus other positive reasons like turn around from recession, then all the more reason to rejoice! Let us enjoy the spike till it lasts. But the question that begs an answer is 'till when?'. Certainly till US Feds keep the interest rates to near zero. Simple as that! But once the interest rates are hiked in US then the following can happen:-
  • Investors who are short in dollar will cover their positions, making the dollar to appreciate with a spike.
  • Massive unwinding of carry trade will take place with tremendous rush to buy back the dollar after exiting all trades like emerging market stocks, commodities, gold, et al.
  • With dollar rallying significantly, prices of all other assets will plummet which will have the effect of bursting of asset bubble.

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