Wednesday, April 18, 2007
“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”
- John Maynard Keynes
The above quotation is one of Keynes’ most famous, and is a maxim that Macro Man tries to live by. While it is important not to flip-flop with every incoming piece of information, it is nevertheless vital to investment success not to remain wedded to a preconceived notion when the underlying circumstances change. Many a successful trade has been ruined by failing to recognize a change in circumstance and therefore staying in too long.
A couple of months ago, Macro Man wrote a series of articles on the yen carry trade, or lack thereof. He maintained then, and maintains now, that the size of the yen carry trade is nothing like it was in 1998, and that doomcasts of a similar catastrophic drop are wide of the mark.
That having been said, Macro Man is starting to get a little concerned. While the period immediately after the February G7 saw a flush out of what few legitimate carry trades were out there, the last six or seven weeks has seen a sharp sell-off in the yen against a broad range of currencies. Looking at the yen versus 4 popular carry currencies (USD, NZD, AUD, TRY), it is now weaker in nominal terms against all but the dollar when compared to the point when Macro Man first addressed the subject. In carry-adjusted terms, of course, the yen’s weakness has been even more pronounced.
What is different now, compared to a couple of months ago, is that ownership of the carry position seems to be deeper amongst the fund management community. Yen weakness at the end of 2006 and early 2007 was driven, in Macro Man’s view, by Japanese household demand for foreign currency assets. Macro Man would characterize this as an asset allocation shift rather than a carry trade, per se. What’s curious to note is that investment trust sales over the past couple of months have been heavily skewed towards equities rather than foreign bonds/cash plus type products. It seems as if the NZD/JPY uridashi with spot at 88.50 is not terribly appealing to Mrs. Kobayashi. Similarly, one of Macro Man’s favoured flow measures suggests that Japanese institutional selling of yen has yet to re-accelerate in the new fiscal year.
So who or what has driven the yen so weak against high yielding foreign currencies? The answer, it would appear, is that gaijin fund managers have finally and aggressively been sucked into the trade. Macro Man was fairly startled to see the latest Russell/Mellon survey from Deutsche Bank: the median yen position has moved aggressively short over the last couple of months, taking the yen short to its largest in four years.
Macro Man is currently short yen in the beta portfolio and more or less flat equity delta, given the short SPM7 calls in the alpha portfolio. On the basis of positioning, at least, he appears to be exposed where he needs protection and flat where the chances of a short covering rally remain. While this doesn’t necessarily require immediate action, Macro Man is now thinking about shifting his hedge profile to fit the evident market positioning.