Carry trade is a strategy used by some traders who invest in currency markets to take advantage of differences in interest rates. In a carry trade, an investor buys or borrows a security or asset at a low interest rate, and then uses it to invest in another security or asset that provides a higher rate of return.
Carry trades have some clear uses in the foreign exchange market, or “forex” market. Given that they can be used to drive returns, they can be important for investors of all stripes to understand.
What Is a Carry Trade?
In a carry trade, forex traders borrow money at a low interest rate in order to invest it in an asset with a higher rate of return. In the forex markets, the currency carry trade is a bet that one foreign currency will hold or increase its value relative to another currency.
Of course, this investing strategy hinges on whether or not interest rates and exchange rates are in the traders’ favor. The wider the exchange rate between two currencies, the better the potential returns for the investor.
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Even so, a carry trade strategy can be a relatively simple way to increase an investor’s returns, assuming they understand the difference in interest rates. In that way, it’s similar to understanding “spread trading” as they relate to stocks.
💡 Quick Tip: The best stock trading app? That’s a personal preference, of course. Generally speaking, though, a great app is one with an intuitive interface and powerful features to help make trades quickly and easily.
How Do You Execute a Carry Trade?
Executing a carry trade can seem nebulous without an example. Here’s a runthrough.
Carry Trade Example
Imagine that the U.S. dollar has a 1% interest rate, but the British pound has a 2% interest rate. A trader could take 100 U.S. dollars, and then invest that 100 dollars into the equivalent number of pounds (according to the exchange rate), and earn a higher return in interest. The discrepancy in interest rates allows traders to take advantage and earn higher returns.
This is a rather simplistic carry trade example, professional traders and investors can engage in complex carry trade strategies, and even employ the use of a carry trade formula to help them figure out expected returns, and whether the strategy is worth pursuing in a given situation.
Rather than simply buying one currency with another, traders often execute a carry trade that involves borrowing money in one currency and using it to purchase assets in another currency. In this scenario, traders want to borrow the money at the lowest possible interest rate, and do so using a weak or declining currency.
That can create higher profits when they close the deal and pay back the borrowed money. In general, carry trade is a short-term strategy, rather than one focused on the long-term.
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Is a Carry Trade Risky?
The concept of a carry trade is simple, but in practice, it can involve investment risk.
Most notably, there’s the risk that the currency or asset a trader is investing in (the British pounds in our previous example) could lose value. That could put a damper on a trader’s expected returns, as it would eat away at the gains the difference in interest rates could provide. Currency prices tend to be very volatile, and something as mundane as a monthly jobs report released by a government can cause big price changes.
The greater the degree of leverage an investor uses to execute a carry trade, the higher the potential returns — and the larger the risk. In addition to currency risk, the carry trade is subject to interest rate risk. Given the risks, carry trades in the currency markets may not be the most appropriate strategy for investors with a low tolerance for risk.
💡 Quick Tip: When you’re actively investing in stocks, it’s important to ask what types of fees you might have to pay. For example, brokers may charge a flat fee for trading stocks, or require some commission for every trade. Taking the time to manage investment costs can be beneficial over the long term.
Carry trades are one way for investors or traders to generate returns, although the approach involves some risks that aren’t present in other types of investment strategies. While the carry trade concept is straightforward, it can quickly get complex when institutional investors put it in place.
Carry trades can be advanced trading tools or strategies. For that reason, they may not be appropriate for all investors or traders. If you feel like you’re in over your head, it may be a good idea to speak with a financial professional for guidance, or to do some more homework to further your understanding.
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