Financial leverage is quite different from operating leverage. Operating leverage of a business entity is calculated as a sum total of the amount of fixed costs it bears, whereby the higher the amount of fixed costs, the higher the operating leverage will be. Combine the two and we get the total leverage. So, what does leveraging mean for a business? It is the use of external funds for expansion, startup or asset acquisition. Businesses can also use leveraged equity to raise funds from existing investors.
Many traders define leverage as a credit line that a broker provides to their client. This isn't exactly true, as leverage does not have the features that are issued together with credit. First of all, when you are trading with leverage you are not expected to pay any credit back. You are simply obliged to close your position, or keep it open before it is closed by the margin call. In other words, there is no particular deadline for settling your leverage boost provided by the broker.
The bottom line is that you want to pick carry trades that benefit not only from a positive and growing yield, but that also have the potential to appreciate in value. This is important because just as currency appreciation can increase the value of your carry trade earnings, currency depreciation can erase all of your carry trade gains – and then some.
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.
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.