The last wave of country defaults and currency crises made hedge fund managers into both stars and scapegoats. But, now, almost a decade removed from the last major sovereign debt disaster in Argentina, almost any investor can wear those crowns.
During the 1997 Asian financial crisis, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad blamed speculators for causing his country's economic woes. He criticized George Soros for shorting the Ringgit, just as Soros shorted the British Pound five years before.
A myriad of financial innovations since then -- including exchange-traded funds and notes -- have democratized macro investing in currencies or sovereign debt. Sovereign risk is now as easy to buy or sell as General Motors, and likely with much better results.
A decade ago many countries in Latin American countries were in the same bankrupt predicament as those currently in distress in Europe. Now, though, Brazil's gross domestic product is poised to best the United Kingdom's for the first time. In fact, the entire region is viewed as a savvy (and safer) alternative to Europe's debt-laden countries. The Market Vectors LatAm Aggregate Bond ETF (BONO),
WisdomTree's Asia Local Debt Fund (ALD)
And while Greece's bonds have imploded, Germany's have soared, benefiting shares of DB German Bund Futures ETN (BUNL),
As with all sovereign risk trades, triggers include higher interest rates, which would drop bond prices, or a stronger U.S. dollar, which would negatively impact bonds dominated in foreign currency. And the essentials of money management -- cutting losers and letting winners run -- still apply, just as they do to stocks.—Jonathan Hoenig is managing member at Capitalistpig Hedge Fund LLC