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The Carry Trade and Volatility

In our ETF based newsletter, the carry trade is one of the strategies that we employ. For those unfamiliar with the carry trade, you are essentially trading the interest rate differentials of different countries. You short a low-yielding currency and go long a higher-yielding currency.

You can make money in two ways. You earn the “carry” if the currencies remain very stable, and neither move. You can also make money in this trade by being correct in the direction. For instance if you are short the Japanese Yen and long the Australian dollar, then you can also make money if the Australian dollar goes up, and the Yen goes down.

As an example of how to earn the carry, lets look at the Japanese Yen versus the Australian Dollar. The Yen has been the carry trade vehicle of choice for much of the past decade because Japan has consistently had extremely low interest rates. Australia, on the other hand, has had relatively high rates over the last decade.

To construct the differential for this trade, take one rate and subtract the other rate. In the chart below, we plot the difference between the AUD and the Yen since the beginning of 2007. As you can see, at one point the carry was as high as 7.34, but it has since declined to 2.69. If you had been long the AUD and short the Yen, you would have earned this interest rate differential the whole time.

AUD-JPY Interest Rate Differential

AUD-JPY Interest Rate Differential

Of course as we already mentioned, in order to make money on the carry trade, your long must outperform or stay flat relative to your short position in order to make money since a big directional move against you will wipe away any gains that you would be making solely off the carry.

There have been several academic studies as well as real world trading results that show that volatility is the biggest risk that the carry trade faces. Over the years, most studies were stuck using the SP500 VIX as a proxy for global financial market volatility. While it correlates quite well, there are now some far better options to help track and manage risk in the currency markets. We at The Macro Trader use the JP Morgan G-7 VIX index for our carry trading model as it correlates extremely well to the volatility in the DBV-Currency Harvest Trust ETF.

What we first found in the academic literature, later confirmed by our own testing and used successfully in our trading, was that when volatility in the currency markets is flat or declining, the carry trade works very well. On the other hand, when currency volatility is high, the carry trade typically is a money loser because the directional aspect of the trade overwhelms the carry, giving you a loss.

We look at the JP Morgan G-7 VIX using two different charts. The first one is a reversion to the mean chart where plot the VIX data, the historic mean, then one and two standard deviations above and below the mean. When volatility is high and then falls below one standard deviation, we start looking to enter the carry trade and when it get above the one standard deviation line we would sell if not already stopped out. On the downside, we look to sell when volatility declines too much since it represents excessive complacency and usually is a sign of higher volatility ahead.

JP Morgan G-7 VIX

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The other way that we like to look at the currency VIX is to invert it on a chart alongside the DBV. As you can see in the below chart, not only was equity volatility declining, but DBV managed to base for a few months before climbing higher and then consolidating at its 200-day moving average. Finally today it was able to break out to the upside.

DBV and JPM G-7 VIX

dbv-vxy

Finally we have the DBV itself. As you can see in the chart below, not only was equity volatility declining, but DBV managed to base for a few months before climbing higher and then consolidating at its 200-day moving average. Finally today it broke out to the upside.

DBV-Carry Trade ETF

dbv

Hopefully you see how volatility is bad for a lazy trade like the carry trade where you trying to get paid for sitting. If volatility climbs above 1 standard deviation above its mean we will look to tighten our stops as the odds of a downside move increase significantly.

DBV-G-10 Currency Harvest Fund is an ETF that goes long the three highest yielding currencies of the G-10 and shorts the three lowest yielding currencies on a 2x levered basis. While investors can go into the spot and futures FX markets and put on the same trade the DBV is a very simple way to gain exposure to positive carry in the currency markets.

Happy Trading,

Dave@TheMacroTrader.com

http://TheMacroTrader.com

Disclaimer-We currently hold positions in the DBV-G10 Currency Harvest Fund and FXA-Australian Dollar ETF.

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and mentioning The Macro Trader to friends and co-workers. Here’s the link information for this article:
Title: The Carry Trade And Volatility
URL: http://www.themacrotrader.com/2009/06/01/the-carry-trade-and-volatility/

A Simple SP500 Timing Model

We track hundreds of different economic, fundamental, technical, sentiment, and cycle indicators. Some are stand alone and only help us discern particular situations while others are full blown timing models that we use to get in and out of the market. Some are very complex with ten and even twenty inputs ranging from jobless claims, to put call ratios, to nickel, to the advance decline line. Essentially anything that we test that helps to give us an edge we use to some degree or other. As global macro traders we of course have several models for every market that we trade, as well as models that only point us to markets showing abnormal movement.

As of a few days ago we had one of our longer term SP500 timing models trigger a buy signal. This timing model is very simple and only uses the NYSE Advance Decline line and the SP500 closing price. This models esge is not huge but it is solid and historically you are risking about 1:1 meaning that the historical return is almost the same as the worst historical drawdown.

In our newsletter and in our own trading we rarely use a model as an automatic buy or sell signal but we do use them to tell us which dorection to trade. Right now this extremely simple model is showing that the advance delcine line has finally been able to have a sustained run and break above its long term trend, in this case the 150-day moving average. Again we don’t, and don’t recommend, trading directly off of these signals as almost every model we track can be improved upon by selecting better entry and exit points but they do helo us tremendously in our trading.

SP500-NYSE Advance Decline Line

sp500-advance-decline-model-4

As you can guess we are becoming increasingly bullish after being bearish for the better part of two years. Who knows if this rally will continue as there are a ton, and maybe a trillion tons, of harsh economic realities and hardships, but for now the trend is up and we are starting to lean to the long side.

Happy Trading,

Dave@TheMacroTrader.com

P.S. If you are getting value out of our posts, you can do us a favor by linking to us with your site or blog and mentioning The Macro Trader to any of your friends that trade.

Systematic Investing and Trading

Here at TheMacroTrader.com we use several different strategies across several asset classes. Why do we do this? For several reasons not the least of which is so that we can find and exploit as many of the best risk to reward situations as possible. If you tie yourself to one strategy or one asset class you are limiting your potential opportunites.

In this article we will focus on using systems. As we have already mentioned we use several systems. Some are purely automatic. If they say buy we will go and buy if they say to sell we will sell. We also have several systems that leave us a lot of discretion as to what we do. We look at many different variables depending on the asset class and time horizon. For instance in some of our short term systems we only use prices of the actual instrument to determine buys and sells. On some of our longer term systems we use economic data such as interest rates, market valuations, technical studies, inflation, competing yields, etc.

Right now we have several systems for domestic and foreign equities, domestic bonds (treasuries, corporates, and junk), precious metals, currencies, commodities, volatility trading, and asset allocation. All of the systems we use have historically beaten their benchmarks with less risk. So over time we can expect to outperform.

As noted earlier we also have systems that leave us with varying amounts of discretion. Some of the systems are only used to alert us of a potential trade. We then go in and look to see if we feel it is worth doing. For instance one of our systems is designed to highlight potential option trades across several different indexes. Its main variable is volatility. While we could possibly use it as a stand alone system at this point in time we think it is better used to highlight potential opportunities.

So how do we use it? We update it every week and most weeks it will show us a few different areas worth looking at. We than go in and research those potential trades to assess the situation. If the right conditions are present and we can see a catalyst we will then go in and put on the trade. If not we will continue monitoring the situation in case it changes. While we only put on about a third of the trades that it presents us we feel it is an invaluable tool because it highlights many situations that we would otherwise miss. To sum it up in one sentence it highlights promising situations. That is but one example of using a systematic process in our trading.

In summary using systematic processes in trading allow us to cover more asset classes and more countries. It allows us to spot more opportunities and to more consistently achieve above average and less correlated returns.

Happy Trading,

The Macro Trader