What Is a Yen ETF?
The term yen ETF refers to an exchange-traded fund (ETF) that tracks the relative value of the Japanese yen (JPY) in the foreign exchange (forex) market. This is done against a single currency or against a basket of other currencies. This is achieved by investing primarily in yen-backed assets, including short-term debt instruments and bonds, or simply holding the spot currency in interest-bearing accounts. Investing in a yen ETF gives investors exposure and access to the yen without the need for forex accounts.
- A yen ETF tracks the relative value of Japan’s currency against a basket of other currencies or a single currency.
- The ETF invests in futures contracts, debt securities, money market funds, and cash deposits, all primarily held in yen.
- Some yen ETFs match the current income earned on the yen assets with a dividend yield while others use that income to pay the expenses of managing the ETF.
- There are also leveraged yen ETFs that give 2x long or short exposure to the USD/JPY movements.
- The yen has historically been considered a safe haven, meaning it is sought after by investors in times of heightened geopolitical risk.
How Yen ETFs Work
Buying and selling foreign currencies was traditionally a complicated process that involved opening up a foreign exchange account. It was a privilege generally reserved for experienced traders with expert knowledge. But ETFs helped change that, making the forex market more accessible to the average investor.
Currency ETFs are pre-packaged investments tasked with tracking specific currencies in the same way that regular ETFs seek to replicate the performance of an index. Like stocks, these vehicles trade on a stock exchange and their prices fluctuate throughout the day as traders buy and sell them.
Yen ETFs track the performance of Japan's currency relative to a single currency (like the U.S. dollar or euro) or against a basket of currencies. Like other currency ETFs, these investments give investors easy and affordable access to trade currencies during the trading day. They also allow investors to diversify their portfolios and can be used to benefit from arbitrage opportunities or to hedge against major economic events.
The portfolios of yen ETFs usually include yen-denominated futures contracts, debt securities, money market funds, and cash deposits. These funds generate income for investors through the performance of the yen against other currencies as well as through interest generated by some securities in the portfolio. Some yen ETFs match the current income earned on the yen assets with a dividend yield. Others use that income to pay the expenses of managing the ETF.
There are three JPY ETFs that trade in the United States as per VettaFi (formerly ETF Database).
Investors who hold yen ETFs (or any other currency ETF for that matter) should keep tabs on all major economic data that affect their investments. This includes the release of gross domestic product (GDP), retail sales, industrial production, inflation, trade balances, employment figures, interest rates, including scheduled meetings of the central bank, and the daily news flow when investing in currencies.
Interest rates, inflation, and the country's equity market performance should also be taken into account when evaluating the relative attractiveness of a foreign currency. When it comes to Japan and yen traders, very low inflation and low interest rates make the currency historically attractive as a carry trade. These low interest rates make it relatively cheap to borrow in yen to fund risk-taking in other currencies that carry higher interest rates.
The Tankan survey is also something that investors may want to consider. Tankan, which is an economic survey of Japanese businesses, is published by the Bank of Japan (BOJ) every quarter. It is used to formulate monetary policy and, as a result, often moves trading in Japanese stock and currency.
Most of the movement in currency markets is dictated by interest rates, inflation, a country's economic conditions, and its political stability.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Yen ETFs
There are several obvious benefits and drawbacks to investing in yen ETFs—some of which also apply to other currency ETFs as well.
Investing in foreign currencies enables investors to protect themselves in case their own currency declines in value. Over the years, many have opted for the yen, which is the third-most widely traded currency globally behind the U.S. dollar and the euro. It is also the most widely traded currency in Asia.
The yen is sometimes used to provide diversification, as it frequently trades inversely to other major currencies in relation to the U.S. dollar. The currency is often used as a reserve currency in international transactions and has even developed a reputation as a safe haven.
Another factor to consider is that Japan is the world’s largest creditor. There’s also a popular belief among traders that investors there tend to dump foreign holdings and bring their money back home in times of hardship, bolstering demand for the yen and, subsequently, its valuation.
Some investors consider currency ETFs risky. That's because macroeconomic events affect currency values around the world, even in stable nations such as Japan. Unpredictable natural disasters can also have a big impact, an example being the Fukushima disaster in 2011, which caused a surge in the value of the yen, followed by a recession.
A handful of analysts have questioned the Japanese yen’s safe-haven status, pointing to the following issues:
- Japan's trade deficits
- Local asset managers buying higher-yielding foreign assets
- Japanese companies running out of decent options to deploy capital at home
The yen has also lost some of its luster as a popular carry trade as low-interest rates become commonplace among major economies.
These observations serve as a reminder that forex trading is not a market for the unprepared. Traders must be knowledgeable about major foreign currencies and stay abreast of not only the current economic stats for a country but also the underpinnings of the respective economies and the special factors that can influence the currencies, such as commodity movement or interest rate changes.
Protects against declines in the home currency
Allows investors to diversify
Japan is world's largest creditor
Yen is susceptible to macroeconomic risks
Questionable safe-haven status
Lost luster as popular carry trade
Examples of Yen ETFs
The most popular yen ETF is the Invesco CurrencyShares Japanese Yen Trust (FXY) with $144.6 million in assets under management (AUM) as of June 30, 2022. FXY was launched in February 2007 and seeks to mirror the price and performance of the yen relative to the USD. It does this by holding yen on deposit. The fund has an expense ratio of 0.40%.
Investors looking to add yen ETFs to their portfolios have a couple of other options, too. Alternatives include the ProShares Ultra Yen ETF (YCL) and ProShares UltraShort Yen ETF (YCS). One thing to note, though, is that these two are leveraged ETFs, with the latter being an inverse ETF.
How Can I Invest in Yen?
As an ordinary investor, Japanese Yen ETFs are the easiest way to gain access to the yen.
What Is the Main ETF That Trades the Japanese Yen?
The Invesco CurrencyShares Japanese Yen Trust (FXY) is the most common yen ETF which holds physical yen in its account. ProShares also offers two yen ETFs—the ProShares Ultra Yen ETF (YCL) and ProShares UltraShort Yen ETF (YCS). These two options, though, are levered. YCL provides 2x long exposure and the YCS provides 2x inverse exposure to the yen.
How Do I Invest in the Nikkei?
American investors can invest in the Nikkei 225 index, Japan's primary equity index, via an ETF. These include:
- iShares MSCI Japan ETF (EWJ)
- JPMorgan BetaBuilders Japan ETF (BBJP)
- WisdomTree Japan Hedged Equity Fund (DXJ)
- Franklin FTSE Japan ETF (FLJP)
- iShares Currency Hedged MSCI Japan ETF (HEWJ)
- WisdomTree Japan SmallCap Dividend Fund (DFJ)
- The Xtrackers MSCI Japan Hedged Equity ETF (DBJP)
- The iShares JPX-Nikkei 400 ETF (JPXN)