Sunday, August 31, 2008

Carry Trading Thoughts

Today's post is basically a bit of mental exercise concerning accumulating carry trades. If you are looking for serious advice, this post probably isn't it.

Anyway, for the two or three people that do follow along, you know that I like carry trading. For today's exercise, let's consider the GBPJPY. Looking at the five year chart on Google finance we can see an absolute range of approximately 7000 pips. The GBPJPY price went from somewhere near 180.00 all the way up to 250.00 at it's high.

That's a lot of pips!

Looking closer, we can see that from the highs last summer we have retraced almost 5000 pips.

Now, I know that there is a lot of turmoil in US, UK and world markets, but I don't forsee the GBP being wiped out any time soon. I'd like to accumulate GBP but I don't want to simply buy it on the way down as I have no idea how far down the currency might travel before finally deciding to fight back.

Let's think. How can I take advantage of another future uptrend without risking a lot of capital before it happens? How can I take serious advantage of such a future uptrend if I don't currently have much capital myself? Obviously, I need to find a way to minimize my risk and take advantage of a future trend with house money.

What if I execute some type of sneaky manual gridding strategy. I'm going to design this so that I never have much actual capital at risk while not have to sit on the sidelines if things go my way. Curious? So am I, as I haven't worked through the details yet myself.

Since I trade with Oanda let's consider some very low capital trading. We'll create limit orders above the current market value. These can only be tripped if the market moves up. Given the current bid price of about 198.20 let's consider the following order list...

- buy 10 at 198.30
- buy 10 at 198.35
- buy 10 at 198.40
- buy 10 at 198.45
- buy 10 at 198.50
- buy 10 at 198.55
- buy 10 at 198.60
- buy 10 at 198.65
- buy 10 at 198.70
- buy 10 at 198.75

There, that's ten trades. We'll have a total of 100 units of GBPJPY if the pair moves up to 198.75 at some point. I know this isn't very impressive. I also know that the price is likely to drop too -- it never moves in a straight line. So how do we handle these issues?

First, let's realize that you'd have to have a tiny account to worry about any size of price move while holding onto a mere 100 or 200 units of currency. So, having this level of capital at risk is not a problem. Hey, don't laugh, we aren't done yet!

To keep our risk limited, let's set a stop loss on our lowest priced trades. We'll set it 11 pips above our purchase price and leave only 100 units of currency at risk at any point in time. At 11 pips we'll grab a penny per stop loss tripped potentially see 9 positions left underwater. Keep in mind that over time we could leave multiple sets of 9 positions underwater whenever the price rises for a while prior to the GBPJPY hitting what will become a regional low.

Thinking out loud some more, if we leave 10 underwater sets above us on the way down we'll be sitting on approximately 1000 units. Let's say they average 5000 pips underwater -- which leaves a LOT of room for continued deterioration. We'd be looking at a capital drawdown of less than 500 dollars. At the same time, this is a carry pair, so we would be earning some offsetting interest during this period of being underwater.

Okay, so I am probably looking at a fairly safe idea. I don't expect another 5000 pips of descent, but it's also possible that I can leave more than 1000 units underwater if prices start to whipsaw. I'm comfortable. Now, am I interested? Let's take a look at the behavior on the way up.

Here's an aggregate accumulation of positions during an uptrend...

198.30 - 199.25 ... 200 units
199.30 - 200.25 ... 200 units
200.30 - 201.25 ... 200 units
201.30 - 202.25 ... 200 units
202.30 - 203.25 ... 200 units

Hmm, this doesn't seem to be a large enough accumulation to really sink my teeth into an uptrend. Can I fix it? Maybe. What if we execute trades with larger and larger sizes? Is this somewhat reminiscent of a Martingale strategy?

buy 10 at 198.30
buy 11 at 198.35
buy 12 at 198.40
buy 13 at 198.45
buy 14 at 198.50
buy 15 at 198.55
buy 16 at 198.60
buy 17 at 198.65
buy 18 at 198.70
buy 19 at 198.75
buy 20 at 198.80
buy 22 at 198.85
buy 24 at 198.90
buy 26 at 198.95
buy 28 at 199.00
buy 30 at 199.05
buy 33 at 199.10
buy 36 at 199.15
buy 39 at 199.20
buy 42 at 199.25

Well, this certainly grows a lot faster. We would have 435 units open after about 100 pips of movement. This is going to increase our risk quite a bit. There is always a tradeoff. You simply cannot increase rewards without increasing risks. While I'm not going to do a lengthy detailed analysis of varying rates of growing trade sizes, you can certainly see that our larger riskier trades happen at higher and higher prices. That doesn't feel right.

Another way to look at this is that the probability of making a losing trade increases as the price rises. Eventually the price of the currency pair will hit a regional top and any trades made near that point must be losers. Let's look for a strategy that doesn't require increasing risk with increasing prices. I still want to make a future GBPJPY recovery work for me!

What if I'm willing to add additional funds to my account? I generally have no problem putting about 10% of my net asset value into active carry trades. It would take a tremendous move to cause a margin call if you only use a small amount at any point in time. With a $450 capital infusion I'd be willing to use $45 of margin. Let's see a grid based on getting this money into the market.

- buy 125 at 198.30
- buy 125 at 198.40
- buy 125 at 198.50
- buy 125 at 198.60
- buy 125 at 198.70
- buy 125 at 198.80
- buy 125 at 198.90
- buy 125 at 199.00
- buy 125 at 199.10
- buy 125 at 199.20

Okay, we get 1250 pips out of a 100 point move. If the market doesn't go up then our grid will adjust and move downward. If the grid is activated but then the market immediately drops we have sunk our cash infusion into a reasonable carry trade. Assuming another cash infusion in the following month we can continue to lay out upward grids above the current price.

By putting in fresh capital, and expecting further fresh capital, we can get comfortable pushing our capital into positions at a relatively rapid pace. What happens if the market starts to follow an overall upward trend? Following along from where the grid above left off we get...

- buy 125 at 199.30; place stop loss at 198.40 for our trade at 198.30
- buy 125 at 199.40; place stop loss at 198.50 for our trade at 198.40
- buy 125 at 199.50; place stop loss at 198.60 for our trade at 198.50

Okay, our overall risk isn't increasing. Each time we open a new trade we protect the capital behind the trade which is currently most profitable. We are accumulating more and more open positions without increasing trade size.

However, there is every possibility that it may takes months of capital infusions and a fairly sizable carry trade position before the market turns around to any degree. What if it takes years before the GBPJPY makes any attempt at serious recovery?

Anyway, as I said at the beginning, this is just a mental exercise. I don't think that very many people trade with a carry accumulation mindset. I suspect that many traders are looking at the swings in price and trying to get in on them... as they are huge in magnitude compared to shaving some interest from the market over larger time periods.

I've had some luck trading price movements myself... but I like the lure of building up some type of income stream over time.

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