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Mon, Aug 27, 2007 - Page 10 News List

Japanese could take time to give up on yen shorting


"Mrs Watanabe," the metaphorical Japanese housewife and new queen of global currency markets, may have suffered big losses in the recent credit turmoil, but she hasn't stopped selling the yen just yet.

The sharp appreciation of the yen earlier this month prompted many observers to herald the demise of carry trades, which have exploded in popularity among Japanese betting billions on their own currency falling.

"I think the yen carry trade is pretty much over," Mark Cutis, chief investment officer at Japan's Shinsei Bank, told reporters.

"These are trades that everybody knew in our business were going to come unstuck at some point. And they just did," he said.

The yen carry trade has paid off handsomely in recent years for many Japanese -- from housewives to businessmen and even grey-haired pensioners -- resulting in a boom in foreign exchange margin trading.

By selling low-yielding currencies such as the yen and buying high-return currencies such as the Australian and New Zealand dollars, they were able to make hefty profits to supplement their meagre bank account returns.

However, they can also be left with much bigger losses than their deposits, which appears to have been the case for many this month.

But so far reports of the death of carry trade appear to be premature, said James Gow, managing director of margin trading firm FXOnline Japan.

"Our Japanese customers are still shorting [selling] the yen," he said.

More than two-thirds of them in fact.

"We find that customers tend to stick to their guns. Particularly because the yen had such a long period of weakening over 18 months or two years," he said.

High-yielding currencies such as the British pound and the Australian and New Zealand dollars rebounded against the yen last week as investors regained some of their appetite for risk.

The renewed selling of the yen came despite the fact that many Japanese engaged in this high-risk pursuit appear to have been badly hit in the recent market turmoil caused by fears of a credit crunch.

"There must be people who made huge losses and it wouldn't be a surprise if their loss was larger than the amount they had invested," said Masaaki Saito, deputy general manager of online forex trading firm Gaitame.com.

The problem is that amid high volatility, "carry trade doesn't work," JP Morgan currency strategist Tohru Sasaki said.

"Profit from the carry trade is actually really small if markets are very volatile," he said.

Yen short, or sell, positions through margin trading stood at ¥7 trillion [US$60.2 billion] just before "the collapse of the yen carry trade," he said.

Then, as global share prices tumbled and the dollar fell from ¥118 to below ¥112, Japanese retail investors bought back ¥3.8 trillion in just one week -- more than the value of Japan's second-quarter trade surplus, he said.

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