The Origin of Yen Carry Trade starts from way back in 1990
In 1990 The Bank of Japan had managed to burst bubbles in the Japanese stock and real estate market, by raising interest rates. This brought the economic growth to a standstill.
After bursting the bubbles by raising interest rates, the Bank of Japan had to start cutting interest rates and soon the rates were close to 0 percent. This meant that anyone looking to save money by investing in fixed-income investments (i.e., bonds or bank deposits) in Japan would have made next to nothing.
This led to the Japanese looking for returns outside Japan. Some housewife traders started staying up at night to trade in the European and the North American financial markets.
They borrowed money in yen at very low interest rates, converted it into foreign currencies and invested in bonds and other fixed-income instruments giving higher rates of returns than what was available in Japan.
Over a period of time, these housewives came to be known as Mrs Watanabes and, at their peak, accounted for around 30 percent of the foreign exchange market in Tokyo.
The trading strategy of the Mrs Watanabes came to be known as the yen-carry trade and was soon being adopted by some of the biggest financial institutions in the world. A lot of the money that came into the United States during the dot-com bubble came through the yen-carry trade.
It was called the carry trade because investors made the carry, that is, the difference between the returns they made on their investment (in bonds, or even in stocks, for that matter) and the interest they paid on their borrowings in yen.
The strategy worked as long as the yen did not appreciate against other currencies, primarily the US dollar. Let’s try and understand this in some detail. In January 1995, one dollar was worth around 100 yen. At this point of time one Mrs Watanabe decided to invest one million yen in a dollar-denominated asset paying a fixed interest rate of 5 percent per year.
She borrowed this money in yen at the rate of 1 percent per year. The first thing she needed to do was to convert her yen into dollars. At $1 = 100 yen, she got $10,000 for her million yen, assuming for the ease of calculating that there was no costs of conversion.
This was invested at an interest rate of 5%. At the end of one year, in January 1996, $10,000 had grown to $10,500. Mrs Watanabe decided to convert this money back into yen. At that point, one dollar was worth 106 yen.
She got around 1.11 million yen ($10,500 x 106) or a return of 11 percent. She also needed to pay the interest of 1 percent on the borrowed money. Hence, her overall return was 10 percent. Her 5 percent return in dollar terms had been converted into a 10 percent return in yen terms because the yen had lost value against the dollar.
But let’s say that instead of depreciating against the dollar, as the yen actually did, it instead appreciated. Let’s further assume that in January 1996 one dollar was worth 95.5 yen. At this rate, the $10,500 that Mrs Watanabe got at the end of the year would have been worth 1 million yen ($10,500 x 95.5) when converted back into yen.
Hence, Mrs Watanabe would have ended up with the same amount that she had started with. This would have meant an overall loss, given that she had to pay an interest of 1 percent on the money she had borrowed in yen.
Coming to Current Scenario Yen Carry Trade
Shinzo Abe was elected the prime minister of Japan in December 2012. His immediate priority was to create some inflation in Japan in order to get consumer spending going again. The Bank of Japan cooperated with Abe on this, and decided to print as much money as would be required to get inflation to 2%. This policy came to be referred as “Abenomics”.
In April 2013, the Bank of Japan decided to print $1.4 trillion and use it to buy bonds, and hence, pump that money into the financial system. The size of the Japanese economy is around $5 trillion. Hence, as a proportion of the size of Japan’s economy, this money printing effort was twice the size of the Federal Reserve’s third round of money printing, more commonly referred to as the third round of quantitative easing or QE-III. This QE lead Japenese Stock to move at 10 year high in a decade.
In early November 2012, before Shinzo Abe took over as the prime minister of Japan, one dollar was worth 79.4 yen. Since then, the yen has constantly fallen against the dollar and now trading at 117.
Also in November 2104 Bank of Japan has again committed more stimulus in economy and Yen can very well go towards 135.
With the yen expected to depreciate further against the dollar, it will lead to big institutional investors increasing their yen carry trades in the days to come. This will mean money will be borrowed in yen, and invested in financial markets all over the world.
Some of this money will find its way into the stock and the bond market in India and it will keep driving market higher till it do not reach a sky high valuation.