The foreign exchange market (forex, FX, or currency market) is a global decentralized market for the trading of currencies. In terms of volume of trading, it is by far the largest market in the world. The main participants in this market are the larger international banks. Financial centres around the world function as anchors of trading between a wide range of multiple types of buyers and sellers around the clock, with the exception of weekends. The foreign exchange market determines the relative values of different currencies.
The foreign exchange market works through financial institutions, and it operates on several levels. Behind the scenes banks turn to a smaller number of financial firms known as “dealers,” who are actively involved in large quantities of foreign exchange trading. Most foreign exchange dealers are banks, so this behind-the-scenes market is sometimes called the “interbank market”, although a few insurance companies and other kinds of financial firms are involved. Trades between foreign exchange dealers can be very large, involving hundreds of millions of dollars. Because of the sovereignty issue when involving two currencies, forex has little (if any) supervisory entity regulating its actions.
The foreign exchange market assists international trade and investments by enabling currency conversion. For example, it permits a business in the United States to import goods from the European Union member states, especially Eurozone members, and pay Euros, even though its income is in United States dollars. It also supports direct speculation and evaluation relative to the value of currencies, and the carry trade, speculation based on the interest rate differential between two currencies.
In a typical foreign exchange transaction, a party purchases some quantity of one currency by paying for some quantity of another currency. The modern foreign exchange market began forming during the 1970s after three decades of government restrictions on foreign exchange transactions (the Bretton Woods system of monetary management established the rules for commercial and financial relations among the world's major industrial states after World War II), when countries gradually switched to floating exchange rates from the previous exchange rate regime, which remained fixed as per the Bretton Woods system.
The foreign exchange market is unique because of the following characteristics:
- its huge trading volume representing the largest asset class in the world leading to high liquidity;
- its geographical dispersion;
- its continuous operation: 24 hours a day except weekends, i.e., trading from 22:00 GMT on Sunday (Sydney) until 22:00 GMT Friday (New York);
- the variety of factors that affect exchange rates;
- the low margins of relative profit compared with other markets of fixed income; and
- the use of leverage to enhance profit and loss margins and with respect to account size.
As such, it has been referred to as the market closest to the ideal of perfect competition, notwithstanding currency intervention by central banks.
According to the Bank for International Settlements, the preliminary global results from the 2013 Triennial Central Bank Survey of Foreign Exchange and OTC Derivatives Markets Activity show that trading in foreign exchange markets averaged $5.3 trillion per day in April 2013. This is up from $4.0 trillion in April 2010 and $3.3 trillion in April 2007. Foreign exchange swaps were the most actively traded instruments in April 2013, at $2.2 trillion per day, followed by spot trading at $2.0 trillion. According to the Bank for International Settlements, as of April 2010, average daily turnover in global foreign exchange markets is estimated at $3.98 trillion, a growth of approximately 20% over the $3.21 trillion daily volume as of April 2007. Some firms specializing on foreign exchange market had put the average daily turnover in excess of US$4 trillion. The $3.98 trillion break-down is as follows:
- $1.490 trillion in spot transactions
- $475 billion in outright forwards
- $1.765 trillion in foreign exchange swaps
- $43 billion currency swaps
- $207 billion in options and other products
Currency trading and exchange first occurred in ancient times. Money-changing people, people helping others to change money and also taking a commission or charging a fee were living in the times of the Talmudic writings (Biblical times). These people (sometimes called "kollybistẻs") used city-stalls, at feast times the temples Court of the Gentiles instead. Money-changers were also in more recent ancient times silver-smiths and/or gold-smiths.
During the 4th century, the Byzantine government kept a monopoly on the exchange of currency.
Papyri PCZ I 59021 (c.259/8 BC), shows the occurrences of exchange of coinage within Egypt.
Currency and exchange was also a vital and crucial element of trade during the ancient world so that people could buy and sell items like food, pottery and raw materials. If a Greek coin held more gold than an Egyptian coin due to its size or content, then a merchant could barter fewer Greek gold coins for more Egyptian ones, or for more material goods. This is why, at some point in their history, most world currencies in circulation today had a value fixed to a specific quantity of a recognized standard like silver and gold.
Medieval and later
During the 15th century, the Medici family were required to open banks at foreign locations in order to exchange currencies to act on behalf of textile merchants. To facilitate trade the bank created the nostro (from Italian translated – "ours") account book which contained two columned entries showing amounts of foreign and local currencies, information pertaining to the keeping of an account with a foreign bank. During the 17th (or 18th ) century, Amsterdam maintained an active forex market. During 1704 foreign exchange took place between agents acting in the interests of the nations of England and Holland.
Alex. Brown & Sons traded foreign currencies exchange sometime about 1850 and was a leading participant in this within U.S.A. During 1880, J.M. do Espírito Santo de Silva (Banco Espírito Santo) applied for and was given permission to begin to engage in a foreign exchange trading business.
The year 1880 is considered by at least one source to be the beginning of modern foreign exchange, significant for the fact of the beginning of the gold standard during the year.
Prior to the first world war there was a much more limited control of international trade. Motivated by the outset of war, countries abandoned the gold standard monetary system.
Modern to post-modern
From 1899 to 1913, holdings of countries' foreign exchange increased at an annual rate of 10.8%, while holdings of gold increased at an annual rate of 6.3% between 1903 and 1913.
At the time of the closing of the year 1913, nearly half of the world's foreign exchange was conducted using the Pound sterling. The number of foreign banks operating within the boundaries of London increased in the years from 1860 to 1913 from 3 to 71. In 1902 there were altogether two London foreign exchange brokers. During the earliest years of the 20th century, trade was most active in Paris, New York and Berlin, while Britain remained largely uninvolved in trade until 1914. Between 1919 and 1922, the employment of foreign exchange brokers within London increased to 17, in 1924 there were 40 firms operating for the purposes of exchange. During the 1920s the occurrence of trade in London resembled more the modern manifestation, by 1928 forex trade was integral to the financial functioning of the city. Continental exchange controls, plus other factors, in Europe and Latin America, hampered any attempt at wholesale prosperity from trade for those of 1930's London.
During the 1920s, the Kleinwort family were known to be the leaders of the foreign exchange market; while Japheth, Montagu & Co., and Seligman still warrant recognition as significant FX traders.
After WWII, the Bretton Woods Accord was signed allowing currencies to fluctuate within a range of 1% to the currencies par. In Japan the law was changed during 1954 by the Foreign Exchange Bank Law, so, the Bank of Tokyo was to become, because of this, the centre of foreign exchange by September of that year. Between 1954 and 1959 Japanese law was made to allow the inclusion of many more Occidental currencies in Japanese forex.
U.S. President Richard Nixon is credited with ending the Bretton Woods Accord and fixed rates of exchange, eventually bringing about a free-floating currency system. After the ceasing of the enactment of the "Bretton Woods Accord" during 1971, the Smithsonian Agreement allowed trading to range to 2%. During 1961–62, the amount of foreign operations by the U.S. Federal Reserve was relatively low. Those involved in controlling exchange rates found the boundaries of the Agreement were not realistic and so ceased this in March 1973, when sometime afterward none of the major currencies were maintained with a capacity for conversion to gold, organisations relied instead on reserves of currency. During 1970 to 1973 the amount of trades occurring in the market increased three-fold. At some time (according to Gandolfo during February–March 1973) some of the markets' were "split", so a two tier currency market was subsequently introduced, with dual currency rates. This was abolished during March 1974.
Reuters introduced during June 1973 computer monitors, replacing the telephones and telex used previously for trading quotes.
Due to the ultimate ineffectiveness of the Bretton Woods Accord and the European Joint Float the forex markets were forced to close sometime during 1972 and March 1973. The very largest of all purchases of dollars in the history of 1976 was when the West German government achieved an almost 3 billion dollar acquisition (a figure given as 2.75 billion in total by The Statesman: Volume 18 1974), this event indicated the impossibility of the balancing of exchange stabilities by the measures of control used at the time and the monetary system and the foreign exchange markets in "West" Germany and other countries within Europe closed for two weeks (during February and, or, March 1973. Giersch, Paqué, & Schmieding state closed after purchase of "7.5 million Dmarks" Brawley states "... Exchange markets had to be closed. When they re-opened ... March 1 " that is a large purchase occurred after the close).
The year 1973 marks the point to which nation-state, banking trade and controlled foreign exchange ended and complete floating, relatively free conditions of a market characteristic of the situation in contemporary times began (according to one source), although another states the first time a currency pair were given as an option for U.S.A. traders to purchase was during 1982, with additional currencies available by the next year.
On 1 January 1981, as part of changes beginning during 1978, the People's Bank of China allowed certain domestic "enterprises" to participate in foreign exchange trading. Sometime during 1981, the South Korean government ended forex controls and allowed free trade to occur for the first time. During 1988 the countries government accepted the IMF quota for international trade.
Intervention by European banks especially the Bundesbank influenced the forex market, on February the 27th 1985 particularly. The greatest proportion of all trades world-wide during 1987 were within the United Kingdom, slightly over one quarter, with the U.S. of America the nation with the second most places involved in trading.
During 1991 the republic of Iran changed international agreements with some countries from oil-barter to foreign exchange.
Market size and liquidity
The foreign exchange market is the most liquid financial market in the world. Traders include large banks, central banks, institutional investors, currency speculators, corporations, governments, other financial institutions, and retail investors. The average daily turnover in the global foreign exchange and related markets is continuously growing. According to the 2010 Triennial Central Bank Survey, coordinated by the Bank for International Settlements, average daily turnover was US$3.98 trillion in April 2010 (vs $1.7 trillion in 1998). Of this $3.98 trillion, $1.5 trillion was spot transactions and $2.5 trillion was traded in outright forwards, swaps and other derivatives.
In April 2010, trading in the United Kingdom accounted for 36.7% of the total, making it by far the most important centre for foreign exchange trading. Trading in the United States accounted for 17.9% and Japan accounted for 6.2%.
In April 2013, for the first time, Singapore surpassed Japan in average daily foreign-exchange trading volume with $383 billion per day. So the rank became: the United Kingdom (41%), the United States (19%), Singapore (5.7)%, Japan (5.6%) and Hong Kong (4.1%).
Turnover of exchange-traded foreign exchange futures and options have grown rapidly in recent years, reaching $166 billion in April 2010 (double the turnover recorded in April 2007). Exchange-traded currency derivatives represent 4% of OTC foreign exchange turnover. Foreign exchange futures contracts were introduced in 1972 at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and are actively traded relative to most other futures contracts.
Most developed countries permit the trading of derivative products (like futures and options on futures) on their exchanges. All these developed countries already have fully convertible capital accounts. Some governments of emerging markets do not allow foreign exchange derivative products on their exchanges because they have capital controls. The use of derivatives is growing in many emerging economies. Countries such as Korea, South Africa, and India have established currency futures exchanges, despite having some capital controls.
Foreign exchange trading increased by 20% between April 2007 and April 2010 and has more than doubled since 2004. The increase in turnover is due to a number of factors: the growing importance of foreign exchange as an asset class, the increased trading activity of high-frequency traders, and the emergence of retail investors as an important market segment. The growth of electronic execution and the diverse selection of execution venues has lowered transaction costs, increased market liquidity, and attracted greater participation from many customer types. In particular, electronic trading via online portals has made it easier for retail traders to trade in the foreign exchange market. By 2010, retail trading is estimated to account for up to 10% of spot turnover, or $150 billion per day (see below: Retail foreign exchange traders).
Foreign exchange is an over-the-counter market where brokers/dealers negotiate directly with one another, so there is no central exchange or clearing house. The biggest geographic trading center is the United Kingdom, primarily London, which according to TheCityUK estimates has increased its share of global turnover in traditional transactions from 34.6% in April 2007 to 36.7% in April 2010. Due to London's dominance in the market, a particular currency's quoted price is usually the London market price. For instance, when the International Monetary Fund calculates the value of its special drawing rights every day, they use the London market prices at noon that day.
Unlike a stock market, the foreign exchange market is divided into levels of access. At the top is the interbank market, which is made up of the largest commercial banks and securities dealers. Within the interbank market, spreads, which are the difference between the bid and ask prices, are razor sharp and not known to players outside the inner circle. The difference between the bid and ask prices widens (for example from 0 to 1 pip to 1–2 pips for a currencies such as the EUR) as you go down the levels of access. This is due to volume. If a trader can guarantee large numbers of transactions for large amounts, they can demand a smaller difference between the bid and ask price, which is referred to as a better spread. The levels of access that make up the foreign exchange market are determined by the size of the "line" (the amount of money with which they are trading). The top-tier interbank market accounts for 39% of all transactions. From there, smaller banks, followed by large multi-national corporations (which need to hedge risk and pay employees in different countries), large hedge funds, and even some of the retail market makers. According to Galati and Melvin, “Pension funds, insurance companies, mutual funds, and other institutional investors have played an increasingly important role in financial markets in general, and in FX markets in particular, since the early 2000s.” (2004) In addition, he notes, “Hedge funds have grown markedly over the 2001–2004 period in terms of both number and overall size”. Central banks also participate in the foreign exchange market to align currencies to their economic needs.
An important part of the foreign exchange market comes from the financial activities of companies seeking foreign exchange to pay for goods or services. Commercial companies often trade fairly small amounts compared to those of banks or speculators, and their trades often have little short-term impact on market rates. Nevertheless, trade flows are an important factor in the long-term direction of a currency's exchange rate. Some multinational corporations (MNCs) can have an unpredictable impact when very large positions are covered due to exposures that are not widely known by other market participants.
National central banks play an important role in the foreign exchange markets. They try to control the money supply, inflation, and/or interest rates and often have official or unofficial target rates for their currencies. They can use their often substantial foreign exchange reserves to stabilize the market. Nevertheless, the effectiveness of central bank "stabilizing speculation" is doubtful because central banks do not go bankrupt if they make large losses, like other traders would, and there is no convincing evidence that they do make a profit trading.
Foreign exchange fixing
Foreign exchange fixing is the daily monetary exchange rate fixed by the national bank of each country. The idea is that central banks use the fixing time and exchange rate to evaluate behavior of their currency. Fixing exchange rates reflects the real value of equilibrium in the market. Banks, dealers and traders use fixing rates as a trend indicator.
The mere expectation or rumor of a central bank foreign exchange intervention might be enough to stabilize a currency, but aggressive intervention might be used several times each year in countries with a dirty float currency regime. Central banks do not always achieve their objectives. The combined resources of the market can easily overwhelm any central bank. Several scenarios of this nature were seen in the 1992–93 European Exchange Rate Mechanism collapse, and in more recent times in Asia.
Hedge funds as speculators
About 70% to 90% of the foreign exchange transactions conducted are speculative. This means the person or institution that bought or sold the currency has no plan to actually take delivery of the currency in the end; rather, they were solely speculating on the movement of that particular currency. Since 1996, Hedge funds have gained a reputation for aggressive currency speculation. They control billions of dollars of equity and may borrow billions more, and thus may overwhelm intervention by central banks to support almost any currency, if the economic fundamentals are in the hedge funds' favor.
Investment management firms
Investment management firms (who typically manage large accounts on behalf of customers such as pension funds and endowments) use the foreign exchange market to facilitate transactions in foreign securities. For example, an investment manager bearing an international equity portfolio needs to purchase and sell several pairs of foreign currencies to pay for foreign securities purchases.
Some investment management firms also have more speculative specialist currency overlay operations, which manage clients' currency exposures with the aim of generating profits as well as limiting risk. While the number of this type of specialist firms is quite small, many have a large value of assets under management and, hence, can generate large trades.
Retail foreign exchange traders
Individual retail speculative traders constitute a growing segment of this market with the advent of retail foreign exchange trading, both in size and importance. Currently, they participate indirectly through brokers or banks. Retail brokers, while largely controlled and regulated in the USA by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and National Futures Association, have in the past been subjected to periodic foreign exchange fraud. To deal with the issue, in 2010 the NFA required its members that deal in the Forex markets to register as such (I.e., Forex CTA instead of a CTA). Those NFA members that would traditionally be subject to minimum net capital requirements, FCMs and IBs, are subject to greater minimum net capital requirements if they deal in Forex. A number of the foreign exchange brokers operate from the UK under Financial Services Authority regulations where foreign exchange trading using margin is part of the wider over-the-counter derivatives trading industry that includes Contract for differences and financial spread betting.
There are two main types of retail FX brokers offering the opportunity for speculative currency trading: brokers and dealers or market makers. Brokers serve as an agent of the customer in the broader FX market, by seeking the best price in the market for a retail order and dealing on behalf of the retail customer. They charge a commission or mark-up in addition to the price obtained in the market. Dealers or market makers, by contrast, typically act as principal in the transaction versus the retail customer, and quote a price they are willing to deal at.
Non-bank foreign exchange companies
Non-bank foreign exchange companies offer currency exchange and international payments to private individuals and companies. These are also known as foreign exchange brokers but are distinct in that they do not offer speculative trading but rather currency exchange with payments (i.e., there is usually a physical delivery of currency to a bank account).
It is estimated that in the UK, 14% of currency transfers/payments are made via Foreign Exchange Companies. These companies' selling point is usually that they will offer better exchange rates or cheaper payments than the customer's bank. These companies differ from Money Transfer/Remittance Companies in that they generally offer higher-value services.
Money transfer/remittance companies and bureaux de changeMoney transfer companies/remittance companies perform high-volume low-value transfers generally by economic migrants back to their home country. In 2007, the Aite Group estimated that there were $369 billion of remittances (an increase of 8% on the previous year). The four largest markets (India, China, Mexico and the Philippines) receive $95 billion. The largest and best known provider is Western Union with 345,000 agents globally followed by UAE Exchange
Bureaux de change or currency transfer companies provide low value foreign exchange services for travelers. These are typically located at airports and stations or at tourist locations and allow physical notes to be exchanged from one currency to another. They access the foreign exchange markets via banks or non bank foreign exchange companies.
There is no unified or centrally cleared market for the majority of trades, and there is very little cross-border regulation. Due to the over-the-counter (OTC) nature of currency markets, there are rather a number of interconnected marketplaces, where different currencies instruments are traded. This implies that there is not a single exchange rate but rather a number of different rates (prices), depending on what bank or market maker is trading, and where it is. In practice the rates are quite close due to arbitrage. Due to London's dominance in the market, a particular currency's quoted price is usually the London market price. Major trading exchanges include Electronic Broking Services (EBS) and Thomson Reuters Dealing, while major banks also offer trading systems. A joint venture of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Reuters, called Fxmarketspace opened in 2007 and aspired but failed to the role of a central market clearing mechanism.
The main trading centers are New York City and London, though Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore are all important centers as well. Banks throughout the world participate. Currency trading happens continuously throughout the day; as the Asian trading session ends, the European session begins, followed by the North American session and then back to the Asian session, excluding weekends.
Fluctuations in exchange rates are usually caused by actual monetary flows as well as by expectations of changes in monetary flows caused by changes in gross domestic product (GDP) growth, inflation (purchasing power parity theory), interest rates (interest rate parity, Domestic Fisher effect, International Fisher effect), budget and trade deficits or surpluses, large cross-border M&A deals and other macroeconomic conditions. Major news is released publicly, often on scheduled dates, so many people have access to the same news at the same time. However, the large banks have an important advantage; they can see their customers' order flow.
Currencies are traded against one another in pairs. Each currency pair thus constitutes an individual trading product and is traditionally noted XXXYYY or XXX/YYY, where XXX and YYY are the ISO 4217 international three-letter code of the currencies involved. The first currency (XXX) is the base currency that is quoted relative to the second currency (YYY), called the counter currency (or quote currency). For instance, the quotation EURUSD (EUR/USD) 1.5465 is the price of the Euro expressed in US dollars, meaning 1 euro = 1.5465 dollars. The market convention is to quote most exchange rates against the USD with the US dollar as the base currency (e.g. USDJPY, USDCAD, USDCHF). The exceptions are the British pound (GBP), Australian dollar (AUD), the New Zealand dollar (NZD) and the euro (EUR) where the USD is the counter currency (e.g. GBPUSD, AUDUSD, NZDUSD, EURUSD).
The factors affecting XXX will affect both XXXYYY and XXXZZZ. This causes positive currency correlation between XXXYYY and XXXZZZ.
On the spot market, according to the 2013 Triennial Survey, the most heavily traded bilateral currency pairs were:
- EURUSD: 24.1%
- USDJPY: 18.3%
- GBPUSD (also called cable): 8.8%
and the US currency was involved in 87.0% of transactions, followed by the euro (33.4%), the yen (23.0%), and sterling (11.8%) (see table). Volume percentages for all individual currencies should add up to 200%, as each transaction involves two currencies.
Trading in the euro has grown considerably since the currency's creation in January 1999, and how long the foreign exchange market will remain dollar-centered is open to debate. Until recently, trading the euro versus a non-European currency ZZZ would have usually involved two trades: EURUSD and USDZZZ. The exception to this is EURJPY, which is an established traded currency pair in the interbank spot market. As the dollar's value has eroded during 2008, interest in using the euro as reference currency for prices in commodities (such as oil), as well as a larger component of foreign reserves by banks, has increased dramatically. Transactions in the currencies of commodity-producing countries, such as AUD, NZD, CAD, have also increased.
Determinants of exchange rates
The following theories explain the fluctuations in exchange rates in a floating exchange rate regime (In a fixed exchange rate regime, rates are decided by its government):
- International parity conditions: Relative purchasing power parity, interest rate parity, Domestic Fisher effect, International Fisher effect. Though to some extent the above theories provide logical explanation for the fluctuations in exchange rates, yet these theories falter as they are based on challengeable assumptions (e.g., free flow of goods, services and capital) which seldom hold true in the real world.
- Balance of payments model: This model, however, focuses largely on tradable goods and services, ignoring the increasing role of global capital flows. It failed to provide any explanation for continuous appreciation of dollar during the 1980s and most part of the 1990s in face of soaring US current account deficit.
- Asset market model: views currencies as an important asset class for constructing investment portfolios. Assets prices are influenced mostly by people's willingness to hold the existing quantities of assets, which in turn depends on their expectations on the future worth of these assets. The asset market model of exchange rate determination states that “the exchange rate between two currencies represents the price that just balances the relative supplies of, and demand for, assets denominated in those currencies.”
None of the models developed so far succeed to explain exchange rates and volatility in the longer time frames. For shorter time frames (less than a few days), algorithms can be devised to predict prices. It is understood from the above models that many macroeconomic factors affect the exchange rates and in the end currency prices are a result of dual forces of demand and supply. The world's currency markets can be viewed as a huge melting pot: in a large and ever-changing mix of current events, supply and demand factors are constantly shifting, and the price of one currency in relation to another shifts accordingly. No other market encompasses (and distills) as much of what is going on in the world at any given time as foreign exchange.
Supply and demand for any given currency, and thus its value, are not influenced by any single element, but rather by several. These elements generally fall into three categories: economic factors, political conditions and market psychology.
These include: (a) economic policy, disseminated by government agencies and central banks, (b) economic conditions, generally revealed through economic reports, and other economic indicators.
- Economic policy comprises government fiscal policy (budget/spending practices) and monetary policy (the means by which a government's central bank influences the supply and "cost" of money, which is reflected by the level of interest rates).
- Government budget deficits or surpluses: The market usually reacts negatively to widening government budget deficits, and positively to narrowing budget deficits. The impact is reflected in the value of a country's currency.
- Balance of trade levels and trends: The trade flow between countries illustrates the demand for goods and services, which in turn indicates demand for a country's currency to conduct trade. Surpluses and deficits in trade of goods and services reflect the competitiveness of a nation's economy. For example, trade deficits may have a negative impact on a nation's currency.
- Inflation levels and trends: Typically a currency will lose value if there is a high level of inflation in the country or if inflation levels are perceived to be rising. This is because inflation erodes purchasing power, thus demand, for that particular currency. However, a currency may sometimes strengthen when inflation rises because of expectations that the central bank will raise short-term interest rates to combat rising inflation.
- Economic growth and health: Reports such as GDP, employment levels, retail sales, capacity utilization and others, detail the levels of a country's economic growth and health. Generally, the more healthy and robust a country's economy, the better its currency will perform, and the more demand for it there will be.
- Productivity of an economy: Increasing productivity in an economy should positively influence the value of its currency. Its effects are more prominent if the increase is in the traded sector.
Internal, regional, and international political conditions and events can have a profound effect on currency markets.
All exchange rates are susceptible to political instability and anticipations about the new ruling party. Political upheaval and instability can have a negative impact on a nation's economy. For example, destabilization of coalition governments in Pakistan and Thailand can negatively affect the value of their currencies. Similarly, in a country experiencing financial difficulties, the rise of a political faction that is perceived to be fiscally responsible can have the opposite effect. Also, events in one country in a region may spur positive/negative interest in a neighboring country and, in the process, affect its currency.
Market psychology and trader perceptions influence the foreign exchange market in a variety of ways:
- Flights to quality: Unsettling international events can lead to a "flight-to-quality", a type of capital flight whereby investors move their assets to a perceived "safe haven". There will be a greater demand, thus a higher price, for currencies perceived as stronger over their relatively weaker counterparts. The US dollar, Swiss franc and gold have been traditional safe havens during times of political or economic uncertainty.
- Long-term trends: Currency markets often move in visible long-term trends. Although currencies do not have an annual growing season like physical commodities, business cycles do make themselves felt. Cycle analysis looks at longer-term price trends that may rise from economic or political trends.
- "Buy the rumor, sell the fact": This market truism can apply to many currency situations. It is the tendency for the price of a currency to reflect the impact of a particular action before it occurs and, when the anticipated event comes to pass, react in exactly the opposite direction. This may also be referred to as a market being "oversold" or "overbought". To buy the rumor or sell the fact can also be an example of the cognitive bias known as anchoring, when investors focus too much on the relevance of outside events to currency prices.
- Economic numbers: While economic numbers can certainly reflect economic policy, some reports and numbers take on a talisman-like effect: the number itself becomes important to market psychology and may have an immediate impact on short-term market moves. "What to watch" can change over time. In recent years, for example, money supply, employment, trade balance figures and inflation numbers have all taken turns in the spotlight.
- Technical trading considerations: As in other markets, the accumulated price movements in a currency pair such as EUR/USD can form apparent patterns that traders may attempt to use. Many traders study price charts in order to identify such patterns.
A spot transaction is a two-day delivery transaction (except in the case of trades between the US dollar, Canadian dollar, Turkish lira, euro and Russian ruble, which settle the next business day), as opposed to the futures contracts, which are usually three months. This trade represents a “direct exchange” between two currencies, has the shortest time frame, involves cash rather than a contract, and interest is not included in the agreed-upon transaction. Spot trading is one of the most common types of Forex Trading. Often, a forex broker will charge a small fee to the client to roll-over the expiring transaction into a new identical transaction for a continuum of the trade. This roll-over fee is known as the "Swap" fee.
One way to deal with the foreign exchange risk is to engage in a forward transaction. In this transaction, money does not actually change hands until some agreed upon future date. A buyer and seller agree on an exchange rate for any date in the future, and the transaction occurs on that date, regardless of what the market rates are then. The duration of the trade can be one day, a few days, months or years. Usually the date is decided by both parties. Then the forward contract is negotiated and agreed upon by both parties.
The most common type of forward transaction is the foreign exchange swap. In a swap, two parties exchange currencies for a certain length of time and agree to reverse the transaction at a later date. These are not standardized contracts and are not traded through an exchange. A deposit is often required in order to hold the position open until the transaction is completed.
Futures are standardized forward contracts and are usually traded on an exchange created for this purpose. The average contract length is roughly 3 months. Futures contracts are usually inclusive of any interest amounts.
Currency futures contracts are contracts specifying a standard volume of a particular currency to be exchanged on a specific settlement date. Thus the currency futures contracts are similar to forward contracts in terms of their obligation, but differ from forward contracts in the way they are traded. They are commonly used by MNCs to hedge their currency positions. In addition they are traded by speculators who hope to capitalize on their expectations of exchange rate movements.
A foreign exchange option (commonly shortened to just FX option) is a derivative where the owner has the right but not the obligation to exchange money denominated in one currency into another currency at a pre-agreed exchange rate on a specified date. The FX options market is the deepest, largest and most liquid market for options of any kind in the world.
Controversy about currency speculators and their effect on currency devaluations and national economies recurs regularly. Nevertheless, economists including Milton Friedman have argued that speculators ultimately are a stabilizing influence on the market and perform the important function of providing a market for hedgers and transferring risk from those people who don't wish to bear it, to those who do. Other economists, such as Joseph Stiglitz, consider this argument to be based more on politics and a free market philosophy than on economics.
Large hedge funds and other well capitalized "position traders" are the main professional speculators. According to some economists, individual traders could act as "noise traders" and have a more destabilizing role than larger and better informed actors. Also to be considered is the rise in foreign exchange autotrading; algorithmic, or automated, trading has increased from 2% in 2004 up to 45% in 2010.
Currency speculation is considered a highly suspect activity in many countries. While investment in traditional financial instruments like bonds or stocks often is considered to contribute positively to economic growth by providing capital, currency speculation does not; according to this view, it is simply gambling that often interferes with economic policy. For example, in 1992, currency speculation forced the Central Bank of Sweden to raise interest rates for a few days to 500% per annum, and later to devalue the krona. Mahathir Mohamad, one of the former Prime Ministers of Malaysia, is one well-known proponent of this view. He blamed the devaluation of the Malaysian ringgit in 1997 on George Soros and other speculators.
Gregory Millman reports on an opposing view, comparing speculators to "vigilantes" who simply help "enforce" international agreements and anticipate the effects of basic economic "laws" in order to profit.
In this view, countries may develop unsustainable financial bubbles or otherwise mishandle their national economies, and foreign exchange speculators made the inevitable collapse happen sooner. A relatively quick collapse might even be preferable to continued economic mishandling, followed by an eventual, larger, collapse. Mahathir Mohamad and other critics of speculation are viewed as trying to deflect the blame from themselves for having caused the unsustainable economic conditions.
Risk aversion is a kind of trading behavior exhibited by the foreign exchange market when a potentially adverse event happens which may affect market conditions. This behavior is caused when risk averse traders liquidate their positions in risky assets and shift the funds to less risky assets due to uncertainty.
In the context of the foreign exchange market, traders liquidate their positions in various currencies to take up positions in safe-haven currencies, such as the US dollar. Sometimes, the choice of a safe haven currency is more of a choice based on prevailing sentiments rather than one of economic statistics. An example would be the Financial Crisis of 2008. The value of equities across the world fell while the US dollar strengthened (see Fig.1). This happened despite the strong focus of the crisis in the USA.
Currency carry trade refers to the act of borrowing one currency that has a low interest rate in order to purchase another with a higher interest rate. A large difference in rates can be highly profitable for the trader, especially if high leverage is used. However, with all levered investments this is a double edged sword, and large exchange rate price fluctuations can suddenly swing trades into huge losses.
Forex trade alerts, often referred to as "forex signals", are trade strategies provided by either experienced traders or market analysts. These signals which are often charged a premium fee for can then be copied or replicated by a trader to his own live account. Forex signal products are packaged as either alerts delivered to a user's inbox or SMS, or can be installed to a trader's trading platforms. Algorithmic trading, whereby foreign exchange users can programme (or buy ready made software) to place trades on their behalf, according to pre-determined rules has become very popular in recent years. This means that users can set their 'Algos' to trade on their behalf, thus reducing the need to sit and monitor the markets continuously, plus it can remove the element of human emotion around executing a trade.