July 2019

US Equity Tail Risk and Currency Risk Premia

Zhenzhen Fan, Juan M. Londono, and Xiao Xiao


We find that a US equity tail risk factor constructed from out-of-the-money S&P 500 put option prices explains the cross-sectional variation of currency excess returns. Currencies highly exposed to this factor offer a low currency risk premium because they appreciate when US tail risk increases. In a reduced-form model, we show that country-specific tail risk factors are priced in the cross section of currency returns only if they contain a global risk component. Motivated by the intuition from the model and by our empirical results, we construct a novel proxy for a global tail risk factor by buying currencies with high US equity tail beta and shorting currencies with low US tail beta. This factor, along with the dollar risk factor, explains a large portion of the cross-sectional variation in the currency carry and momentum portfolios and outperforms other models widely used in the literature.

Keywords: Equity tail risk; Global tail risk; Currency returns; Carry trade; Currency momentum

DOI: https://doi.org/10.17016/IFDP.2019.1253

PDF: Full Paper

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Last Update: January 09, 2020