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Working paper

Downside risk of carry trades

Carry trades consistently generate high excess returns with high Sharp ratios, but are subject to crash risk. I take a closer look at the link between the carry trade returns and the stock market to understand the risks involved and to determine when and why currency crashes happen. Every period, I sort currencies of developed and emerging economies by their interest rates and form portfolios to diversify the idiosyncratic risk. First, I find a strong negative relationship between portfolio returns and skewness of exchange rate changes. In fact, skewness and coskewness with the stock market have a much greater explanatory power in the cross-section of excess returns than consumption and stock market betas. But separating the market beta into upside and downside betas improves the validity of the CAPM significantly. Downside beta has a much greater explanatory power than upside beta, and it correlates with coskewness almost perfectly. This means that carry trades crash exactly in the worst states of the world, when the stock market goes down. After controlling for country risk, the downside beta premium in the currency market is comparable to that in the stock market and equals 2-4 percentage points p.a. I also find that country risk proxies well for the downside beta and skewness. This suggests that there is unwinding of carry trades and a “flight to quality” when the stock market plunges, and that lower interest rate currencies serve as a “safe haven”. Finally, I estimate even higher downside betas of the top portfolios and I find an even greater explanatory power of the downside beta in the early 2000s. The growing volume of carry activities might have contributed to the closer link between the currency and the stock markets.