Is the U.S. dollar carry trade replacing the one in Japanese yen?

Nouriel Roubini seems to think so. In remarks quoted via Bloomberg, he called the enormous increase in asset prices “the mother of all carry trades.”

Investors worldwide are borrowing dollars to buy assets including equities and commodities, fueling “huge” bubbles that may spark another financial crisis, said New York University professor Nouriel Roubini.

“We have the mother of all carry trades,” Roubini, who predicted the banking crisis that spurred more than $1.6 trillion of asset writedowns and credit losses at financial companies worldwide since 2007, said via satellite to a conference in Cape Town, South Africa. “Everybody’s playing the same game and this game is becoming dangerous.”

If you recall, this is the same trade the world’s punters were putting on via the Japanese yen when the Japanese were pumping out huge amounts of liquidity earlier in this decade.  The yen’s real effective exchange rate only hit post Plaza Accord trade-weighted lows in 2007 when the carry trade was all the rage and just when all hell was breaking loose in subprime.

Reuters said then:

The yen’s real trade-weighted value slipped in October as the Federal Reserve’s interest rate cuts gave a boost to global stock markets and prompted investors to sell the Japanese currency in carry trades.

Bank of Japan data on Friday showed its index of the yen’s real effective exchange rate fell 1.9 percent in October to 96.7 JPYEEXR=J.

The retreat in the BOJ’s REER index took it closer to a 22-year low of 92.8 hit in both June and July, when the currency was sliding as carry trades flourished.

That was the weakest since the September 1985 Plaza Accord in which the five biggest industrialised countries agreed to depreciate the dollar against the German mark and the yen via intervention, aiming to correct the giant U.S. trade deficit at the time.

For the year the yen’s real value has lost 3.6 percent despite periodic bouts of strength as the credit market crunch this year and worries about the U.S. economy prompted market players to unwind risky carry trades.

The yen has suffered in the past few years from carry trades in which investors use the low-yielding Japanese currency as a cheap source of funds to buy higher-yielding currencies or rising assets, such as stocks or commodities.

My view has been that the Japanese yen carry trade was a major contributor to asset bubbles globally as the Bank of Japan’s excess liquidity found its way to other asset markets via the carry trade.  Last August, in my post “Japan’s easy money policy was the trigger for the tech wreck” I also pointed to the yen carry trade as a major factor in the Internet bubble. And I certainly see it as a major factor in this decade’s housing bubbles.

Now the U.S. dollar is the carry trade currency of choice, with zero percent interest rates funding asset purchases globally. This play is certainly pumping up all manner of asset prices. But as with the yen carry trade before it, I do not see this ending well.

Roubini takes a similar tack:

The risk is that we are planting the seeds of the next financial crisis,” said Roubini, chairman of New York-based research and advisory service Roubini Global Economics. “This asset bubble is totally inconsistent with a weaker recovery of economic and financial fundamentals.


Roubini Says Carry Trades Fueling ‘Huge’ Asset Bubble – Bloomberg

  1. Stevie b. says

    “I do not see this ending well.”

    but….WHEN exactly?

    Obviously difficult (to me anyway) and I wont hold you to it of course, but couldn’t it last for years and years before it ends (very) badly? It depends on lots of imponderables of course & maybe it’s only a matter of months, but as I’ve alluded to previously, the P-T-B are just whistling in the dark and hoping something will turn up, and maybe something will! It’s just too late to do anything else.

    1. Edward Harrison says

      It ends just as the last carry trade does, when the economy hits the wall and a recession comes. Unfortunately, I can’t say when that is because it depends on a lot of things (including government) which make it difficult to see a definitive end game.

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