Understanding Currency Interest Rate Differentials

The interest rate differential has been defined as the difference in the interest rates for each of the two currencies in the currency pair. Each currency has its own interest rate, and the difference between the interest rates is the rate differential. In foreign exchange (forex) markets, the differentials or forex interest rate differentials are of interest since they affect a particular currency’s pricing. Purchasing a currency with a higher interest rate is profitable since the trader will get daily interest payments.

This forex purchase is defined as carrying trade or earning carry on the rate differential. Since 2010, changes in the economies worldwide have resulted in negative interest rates in some countries, and people are more interested in the differentials in interest rate.

For example, you plan to buy or sell the USD/JPY for 2-years. You will receive 2.68% when you try to buy the dollar or pay away 2.68% if you buy the yen and sell the dollar. This exchange differential exists because the 2-year US rate is 2.50%, and the Japanese 2-year yield is -0.18%. If you buy the US dollar and nothing happens for 2-years, you will earn 2.68%. If you buy the Japanese yen currency pair and sell the dollar and nothing happens for 2-years, you will lose 2.68%. This example is based on an interest rate differential.

Negative interest rates

Since 2014, economists have noticed a major difference in the interest rates for developed countries’ economies and the economies in emerging markets. The economies in developed countries reduced their interest rates to below zero to increase demand for products and services. On the other hand, the emerging market countries increased their interest rates, hoping to prevent instability in the economy and reduce capital outflow. For example, in February 2016, Banxico, the central bank of Mexico, decided to increase borrowing by 50 basis points in an emergency meeting. It also sold United States dollars at the applicable market rate to increase the Mexican peso demand, whose value was falling. This decision increased the difference in the interest rates of Mexico and the United States. The market interpreted this decision by the central bank as a sign of desperation or instability to prevent chaos in the global market. This is how forex interest rate differentials can change a lot of things.

Carry trade

What is carry trade?

Carry trade is a forex strategy for buying (sell) a currency pair where the first currency has a higher (lower) interest rate than the second currency. For example, if GBP has a 6% interest rate and USD has a 1% interest rate, I can buy GBPUSD and expect a bullish trend. If EUR has a 1% interest rate and a USD 5% interest rate, I can SELL EURUSD and expect a bearish trend.

Forex traders try to take advantage of the below-zero interest rates in some countries with carrying trade. The forex traders are selling currencies having negative interest rates like the euros and Japanese yen and using the money to purchase currencies with a high interest rate like the Indian rupee, Mexican peso, South African rand, or the Turkish lira. Theoretically, these trades may appear very profitable due to the substantial differentials in the countries’  interest rates. However, these may become extremely risky if the economic problems in the emerging markets continue or worsen.

Forex traders should be aware that historically, there is often a change in the spread for the currency pair, which could neutralize the forex trader’s interest due to carry trade for the forex pair. Rate differentials are usually widening because the risk is creating problems for the borrowers in the countries. New forex traders should be cautious while considering carry trade since it is fairly risky. In 2019, there have frequent fluctuations in the commodity rates, and trade disputes between the US and China have adversely affected the yield for some of the currencies having higher interest rates. Also, uncertainty about the future has led to an increase in investment, the flow of funds to countries with low or negative interest rates.



Igor has been a trader since 2007. Currently, Igor works for several prop trading companies. He is an expert in financial niche, long-term trading, and weekly technical levels. The primary field of Igor's research is the application of machine learning in algorithmic trading. Education: Computer Engineering and Ph.D. in machine learning. Igor regularly publishes trading-related videos on the Fxigor Youtube channel. To contact Igor write on: igor@forex.in.rs

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