September 1, 2014

Over the past 15 years there have always been very compelling reasons to short Japanese Government Bonds (JGBs), but almost everyone who has attempted to make money by shorting JGBs has ended up losing money. The consistency with which bearish JGB speculators have lost money over a great many years led to the short-selling of JGBs becoming known as the “widowmaker trade” and spawned the saying: “you can’t claim to be a speculator until you’ve lost money shorting JGBs”.

As evidenced by the steady downward trend on the following chart of the 10-year JGB yield, anyone who has attempted to short the JGB since the beginning of this year has lost money. In other words, the “widowmaker trade” is still living up to its name. Moreover, with the exception of a few days during early-April of last year, the 10-year JGB yield has never been lower than it is right now.


Actually, despite the steady upward grind in price and downward grind in yield, I doubt that many speculators have lost money shorting JGBs this year. The reason is that the market for JGBs no longer functions like a real market. It has effectively been squashed by the gigantic boot of the Bank of Japan (BOJ).

Due to the BOJ’s policy of buying-up every piece of government debt it can get its hands on, the JGB is so over-priced that there are no buyers apart from the BOJ. At the same time, nobody in their right mind would bet against a high-priced investment that was being supported by a totally committed buyer with infinitely deep pockets. Consequently, for all intents and purposes the JGB market is dead.

Given the proclivity of the US monetary authorities to copy Japan’s worst policy choices, speculators who believe that they will make a fortune over the years ahead by shorting US government bonds should probably re-think their stance. After all, if a Keynesian remedy fails dismally in Japan, it can only be because the remedy wasn’t implemented aggressively enough.

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