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Are Currency Carry Trade ETFs Working?

Posted in Currency Trading, Equity Premium

Is the currency carry trade, as implemented by exchange-traded funds/notes (ETF/ETN), attractive? To investigate, we consider two currency carry trade ETF/ETNs, one live (with low trading volume) and one essentially dead:

  • PowerShares DB G10 Currency Harvest Fund (DBV) - tracks changes in the Deutsche Bank G10 Currency Future Harvest Index. This index consists of futures contracts on certain G10 currencies with up to 2:1 leverage to exploit the tendency that currencies with relatively high interest rates tend to appreciate relative to currencies with relatively low interest rates, reconstituted annually in November.
  • iPath Optimized Currency Carry (ICITF) - provides exposure to the Barclays Optimized Currency Carry Index, which reflects the total return of a strategy that holds high-yielding G10 currencies financed by borrowing low-yielding G10 currencies. This fund stopped trading about July 2018, but an indicative value is still available.

We focus on monthly return statistics, plus compound annual growth rates (CAGR) and maximum drawdowns (MaxDD). For reference (not benchmarking), we compare results to those for SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) and iShares Barclays 20+ Year Treasury Bond (TLT). Using monthly total returns for the two currency carry trade products, SPY and TLT as available through September 2019, we find that:

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