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Negative carry is a carry trade with a negative yield, meaning the cost of holding (carrying) the investment exceeds the yield.
How It Works
In some rare circumstances, it is prudent to purchase a low-yielding asset by using (borrowing) a high-yielding asset. Before we proceed, let us try to understand the primary motive behind such a transaction.
In finance, all investors are driven by the singular motive of generating returns. In most cases, the same is obtained by either dividends or interest income. Nevertheless, capital appreciation is also a very powerful weapon to generate returns. In the case of negative carry, the primary motive is to obtain returns via capital appreciation.
Examples of Negative Carry
A few examples, shown below, will help us understand the complicated mechanism of negative carry
1. Negative Carry in a Forex Transaction
Suppose there are two countries: Country A and Country B with currencies A and B, where both the currencies are at parity (A=B). A has a nominal interest rate of 10% with an inflation rate of 15%. B has a nominal interest rate of 5% with an inflation of 1%.
Looking at the interest rate leads us to believe there is a positive carry of 5% (10% – 5%). Purchasing power parity dictates that the currency with higher inflation should depreciate to maintain the same purchasing power. By including the tenets of purchasing power parity, it becomes obvious that A must depreciate by at least 5%, and B will appreciate by 4%.
To benefit from such a scenario, an investor will need to undertake a carry trade by borrowing money in A and use the proceeds to buy B. The payoff from the transaction would look something like this – an outflow of 10% on a notional principal of A100 and an income of 5% on a principal of B100, implying a net outflow of 5.
Thus, by holding on to the trade, the investor is losing money, i.e., there is negative carry. However, as explained above, purchasing power parity will kick in, and the principal A100 will depreciate to A95, and B100 will appreciate to B104. It implies a capital appreciation of 9 on the exchange of principals at the end of the transaction. Despite negative carry, the capital appreciation of 9 makes up for the loss in carry.
2. Negative Carry in Real Estate
Consider a real estate transaction involving a house purchased for $1 million and funded by a mortgage bearing an interest rate of 2%. Suppose the house is rented out, providing a rental yield (rental income received per year divided by the purchase price of the house) of 1.6%. It is another example of negative carry at work. A low-yielding asset is funded using a high-yielding instrument.
Again, as highlighted in the previous case, capital appreciation is a key variable that will drive investors to undertake such transactions. If the prices double in three years to $2 million from $1 million, it implies a CAGR of ~24%, which is substantially greater than the negative carry of 0.4%.
3. Negative Carry in Credit Derivatives
In the aftermath of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, it became apparent that credit derivatives could be a double-edged sword. Let us consider a credit default swap (CDS), which is an insurance policy an investor buys to guard against a fall in the ability of the debt issuer to make timely interest and principal repayments.
So, on the one hand, we got an investor who is long on the CDS. It means he/she is paying a small fee as a percentage of the outstanding debt to the issuer of the CDS with the hope that the underlying debt issuer will stop making payments. The payoff would look like the one below.
Pay 2% of the outstanding debt of $100 as a premium with the hope that the underlying issuer of debt ($100) stops making payment. There’s an outflow of 2% until the time the issuer defaults.
When the issuer defaults, the CDS holder will end up with a bounty of $100. In conclusion, by paying a mere $2, an investor is capable of earning $100. It is another illustration of negative carry at work. We are paying money to purchase an asset that only entails an outflow of $2 unless a credit event happens.
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