Another Yen / Dollar Theory

There is a quite a lot of talk about the dollar carry trade. In essence this means that dollars are being used to buy assets (other currencies) with higher yields. This is, in effect, selling the dollar. This selling causes the value of the dollar to fall relative to the currency being bought. (I’m not sure if that part is right. It doesn’t seem right that selling the dollar and buying another asset would cause the value of the dollar to fall against all other currencies, so i’m assuming…)

If the yields for holding dollar denominated assets rise (stock market indexes, or bond yields, increase) the non-dollar assets are sold to buy these now higher yielding assets. The value of the dollar rises relative to the currency being sold. (similar caveat to above)

As the dollar carry trade is currently considered to be huge (larger than the yen carry trade that proceeded it!) the effect on the value of the dollar is large. However, the stock markets in the US have been rising for some nine (plus) months, which must temper some of the possible decline in the dollar. There are also different classes of risk, meaning that some of the money flowing around might consider the equity markets too risky, and would flow into government bonds (with higher yields than US treasuries). In all likelihood, given the general trend of massive public sector borrowing, there are lots of high yielding bonds out there to buy. If holding these bonds becomes too risky, the money will flow out again, back to lower yielding, but presumably safer assets (US Treasuries, for example).

Assuming that there is some kernel of truth in the above, it makes sense that the Yen is remaining stubbornly strong against the dollar, even while everyone and their dog is predicting japanese sovereign default. Yields on japanese government debt are low (because the debt is held in Japan …that’s not really an answer, but let us just say that it is possible for the MOF to borrow cheaply, just “because”) and other yen denominated assets are not attractive (deflation; would you want to buy a shrinking pie?!) Therefore, very few of the dollars that were sold resulted in yen being bought. And conversely, as these carry trades unwind, very little yen is being sold…

Having written all that down, i’m not convinced… all it says to me is that the yen is sort of in a no-mans-land, languishing in the doldrums, while the action happens elsewhere. Perhaps it’s just that with a positive trade balance, companies are constantly having to buy yen to repatriate revenue.

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Sign of the Apocalypse?

This article in the FT (yes, come back and read that part again a little later…) has me convinced that we must be living in very, very strange times:

It has been clear for a while, at least since the first talk started about “green shoots” of recovery, that what we have to fear above all is hope. Attempts to trust that the worst is over and to stop frightening ourselves seem doomed to project us into yet worse disappointment. We are not only unhappy but – believing calm and happiness to be the norm – unhappy that we are unhappy.

We have tended to cast such gloomy messages aside. The modern bourgeois philosophy pins its hopes firmly on two great presumed ingredients of happiness, love and work. But there is vast unthinking cruelty discreetly coiled within this magnanimous assurance that everyone will discover satisfaction here. It is not that these two entities are invariably incapable of delivering fulfilment, only that they almost never do so for too long.

When an exception is misrepresented as a rule, our individual misfortunes, instead of seeming to us quasi-inevitable aspects of life, weigh down on us like particular curses. In denying the natural place reserved for longing and disaster in the human lot, the bourgeois ideology denies us the possibility of collective consolation for our fractious marriages, unexploited ambitions and exploded portfolios, and condemns us instead to solitary feelings of shame and persecution for having stubbornly failed to make more of ourselves.

We should, of course, instead remember the great pessimistic voices of history. There are two quotes I cherish for these sorts of times. One is from Seneca: “What need is there to weep over parts of life? The whole of it calls for tears.” The other is from the French moralist Chamfort: “A man should swallow a toad every morning to be sure of not meeting with anything more revolting in the day ahead.”

The mighty Financial Times opines on the need for humility, on the essential pointlessness of the human condition?! What next? A piece in Fortune extolling the virtues and quiet joys of hermitage…