To illustrate further, let's look at a typical USD/CAD (US dollar against Canadian dollar) trade. To buy or sell a 100,000 of USD/CAD without leverage would require the trader to put up $100,000 in account funds, the full value of the position. But with 50:1 leverage (or 2% margin required), for example, only $2,000 of the trader's funds would be required to open and maintain that $100,000 USD/CAD position.
The key to creating a successful carry trade strategy is not simply to pair up the currency with the highest interest rate against a currency with the lowest rate. Rather, far more important than the absolute spread itself is the direction of the spread. In order for carry trades to work best, you need to be long in a currency with an interest rate that is in the process of expanding against a currency with a stationary or contracting interest rate. This dynamic can be true if the central bank of the country that you are long in is looking to raise interest rates or if the central bank of the country that you are short in is looking to lower interest rates.
The carry trade opportunity was also seen in USD/JPY in 2005. Between January and December of that year, the currency rallied from 102 to a high of 121.40 before ending at 117.80. This is equal to an appreciation from low to high of 19%, which was far more attractive than the 2.9% return in the S&P 500 during that same year. In addition, at the time, the interest rate spread between the U.S. dollar and the Japanese yen averaged around 3.25%. Unleveraged, this means that a trader could have earned as much as 22.25% over the course of the year. Introduce 10:1 leverage, and that could be as much as 220% gain.
Financial leverage is essentially an account boost for Forex traders. With the help of forex leveraging, a trader can open orders as large as 1,000 times greater than their own capital. In other words, leverage is a way for traders to gain access to much larger volumes than they would initially be able to trade with. More and more traders are deciding to move into the FX (Forex, also known as the Foreign Exchange Market) market every day.
To trade $100,000 of currency, with a margin of 1%, an investor will only have to deposit $1,000 into her or his margin account. The leverage provided on a trade like this is 100:1. Leverage of this size is significantly larger than the 2:1 leverage commonly provided on equities and the 15:1 leverage provided in the futures market. Although 100:1 leverage may seem extremely risky, the risk is significantly less when you consider that currency prices usually change by less than 1% during intraday trading (trading within one day). If currencies fluctuated as much as equities, brokers would not be able to provide as much leverage.
Currencies are traded on the Foreign Exchange market, also known as Forex. This is a decentralized market that spans the globe and is considered the largest by trading volume and the most liquid worldwide. Exchange rates fluctuate continuously due to the ever changing market forces of supply and demand. Forex traders buy a currency pair if they think the exchange rate will rise and sell it if they think the opposite will happen. The Forex market remains open around the world for 24 hours a day with the exception of weekends.