Foreign Exchange (ForEex) trading is simply the exchanging of one currency for another – Each Forex trade can theoretically be viewed as a ‘spread ‘ trade where to buy one currency you must sell another. Convention dictates that currencies are measured in units per 1 USD. For example, 1 USD is worth approximately 125 JPY (Japanese Yen) or 1 USD is worth approximately 1.5000 CHF (Swiss Francs). As a result, when USD/JPY appreciates in value, it is the USD that has appreciated in value relative to the JPY and not vice-versa. Position-wise, to own or be ‘Long’ USDJPY means that you are long the USD and concurrently short the JPY. USD, therefore, is the default ‘lead’ currency.
About Foreign Exchange Market
The Foreign Exchange market, also referred to as the “Forex” or “FX” market, is the largest financial market in the world, with a daily average turnover of well over US$1 trillion — 30 times larger than the combined volume of all U.S. equity markets. “Foreign Exchange” is the simultaneous buying of one currency and selling of another. There are two reasons to buy and sell currencies. About 5% of daily turnover is from companies and governments that buy or sell products and services in a foreign country or must convert profits made in foreign currencies into their domestic currency. The other 95% is trading for profit, or speculation. For speculators, the best trading opportunities are with the most commonly traded (and therefore most liquid) currencies, called “the Majors.” Today, more than 85% of all daily transactions involve trading of the Majors, which include the US Dollar, Japanese Yen, Euro, British Pound, Swiss Franc, Canadian Dollar and Australian Dollar.
A true 24-hour market, Forex trading begins each day in Sydney, and moves around the globe as the business day begins in each financial center, first to Tokyo, London, and New York. Unlike any other financial market, investors can respond to currency fluctuations caused by economic, social and political events at the time they occur – day or night. The FX market is considered an Over The Counter (OTC) or ‘interbank’ market, due to the fact that transactions are conducted between two counterparts over the telephone or via an electronic network. Forex Trading is not centralized on an exchange, as with the stock and futures markets. The foreign exchange market is not a “market” in the traditional sense. There is no centralized location for trading as there is in futures or stocks. Trading occurs over the telephone and on computer terminals at thousands of locations worldwide.
Foreign Exchange is also the world’s largest and deepest market. Daily market turnover has skyrocketed from approximately 5 billion USD in 1977 to a staggering 1.5 trillion US dollars today; even more on an active day. Most foreign exchange activity consists of the spot business between the US dollar and the six major currencies (Japanese Yen, Euro, British Pound, Swiss Franc, Canadian Dollar and Australian Dollar) The FOREX market is so large and is controlled by so many participants that no one player, governments included, can directly control the direction of the market, which is why the FOREX market is the most exciting market in the world. Central banks, private banks, international corporations, money managers and speculators all deal in FOREX trading.
Benefits of Trading Spot FX
LIQUIDITY: FOREX investors never have to worry about being “stuck” in a position due to a lack of market interest. In this US$1.5 trillion dollar per day market, major international banks are always willing to provide both a bid (buying) and ask (selling) price. Liquidity is a powerful attraction to any investor as it suggests the freedom to open or close a position at will. Because the market is highly liquid, most trades can be executed at a single market price. This avoids the problem of slippage found in futures and other exchange-traded instruments where only limited quantities can be traded at one time at a given price. The six major currencies (JPY, EUR, CHF, GBP, CAD & AUD) are generally considered to be the most liquid.
LEVERAGE: FOREX investors are permitted to trade foreign currencies on a highly leveraged basis – up to 100 times their investment with some brokers. An investment of US $10,000 would permit one to trade up to US $1,000,000 worth of any particular currency.
HOURS: A substantial attraction for participants in the FOREX market is that it is open 24 hours per day. An individual can react to news when it breaks, rather than waiting for the opening bell when everyone else has the same information, as is the case in many markets. This may enable market participants to take positions before an important piece of information is fully factored into the exchange rate. High liquidity and 24 hour trading allow market participants to exit or open a new position regardless of the hour.
SIZE FLEXIBILITY: FOREX investors have greater flexibility with respect to their desired trade quantity. With most FOREX Brokers you can trade ANY DESIRED AMOUNT over $25,000 USD, specifically tailored to your needs or risk tolerance. Size or quantity flexibility can be especially useful to corporate treasurers who need to hedge a future cash flow or portfolio managers who need to hedge foreign equity exposure.
SETTLEMENT FLEXIBILITY: This concept, a corollary to point # 4, allows you to trade for various settlement dates or ‘maturities’ out to 1 year further allowing you to tailor your trades or hedges to your specific needs. This feature of trading FOREX differs from futures where settle dates are relegated to 4 ‘expirations’ per year, and can also be quite useful to corporate treasurers and portfolio managers.
NEVER A ‘BEAR’ MARKET: Another advantage of the FOREX market is that there is no ‘bear’ market, per se. Currencies are traded in pairs, for example US dollar vs. yen or US dollar vs. Swiss franc. Every position involves the selling of one currency and the buying of another. If one believes the Swiss franc will appreciate against the dollar, one can sell dollars and buy Swiss francs. Or if one holds the opposite belief, one can buy dollars for Swiss francs. The potential for profit exists as long as there is movement in the exchange rate or price. One side of the pair is always gaining, and provided the investor picks the right side, a potential for profit ALWAYS exists.
FREE AND FAIR FLOW OF INFORMATION: Ever notice in the stock market that a certain stock is suddenly down 5% or more but you have absolutely no idea what caused such a quick spike? Usually, it’s not until the next morning when you read it in the newspaper that you find out that earnings forecasts have been revised downward; or that an insider at a particular company has resigned; or that some other influential piece of information was released that you were not privy to. Imagine how much money you could have saved had you known this vital information at the same time as all other market ‘insiders.’ – Or how much you could even have earned in profit by acting in a timely manner… Imagine a market where there is little or no ‘inside information’ and all pertinent, market-moving news is released publicly to everybody in the world at the same time… Welcome to the foreign exchange market.
Cash FX vs. Currency Futures
As an investor it is important for you to understand the differences between cash FOREX and currency futures. In currency futures, the contract size is predetermined. With FOREX (SPOT FX), you may trade any desired amount typically above $100,000 USD The futures market closes at the end of the business day (similar to the stock market) If important data is released overseas while the U.S. futures markets is closed, the next day’s opening might sustain large gaps with potential for large losses if the direction of the move is against your position. The Spot FOREX market runs continuously on a 24-hour basis from 7:00 am New Zealand time Monday morning to 5:00 pm New York Time Friday evening. Dealers in every major FX trading center (Sydney, Tokyo, Hong Kong/Singapore, London, Geneva and New York/Toronto) ensure a smooth transition as liquidity migrates from one time zone to the next. Furthermore, currency futures trade in non-USD denominated currency amounts only whereas in spot FOREX, an investor can trade either in currency denominations, or in the more conventionally quoted USD amounts. The currency futures pit, even during Regular IMM (International Money Market) hours suffers from sporadic lulls in liquidity and constant price gaps. The spot FOREX market offers constant liquidity and market depth much more consistently than Futures. With IMM futures one is limited in the currency pairs he can trade – Most currency futures are traded only versus the USD – With spot forex, (as with MoneyTec Trader) one may trade foreign currencies vs. USD or vs. each other on a ‘cross’ basis as well – ex: EURJPY, GBPJPY, CHFJPY, EURGBP and AUDNZD.
Who Are Forex Market Participants?
The interbank market caters for both the majority of commercial turnover as well as enormous amounts of speculative trading every day. It is not uncommon for a large bank to trade billions of dollars on a daily basis. Some of this trading activity is undertaken on behalf of customers, but a large amount of trading is also conducted by proprietary desks, where dealers are trading to make the bank profits. The interbank market has become increasingly competitive in the last couple of years and the god-like status of top foreign exchange traders has suffered as the equity guys are back in charge again. A large part of the banks’ trading with each other is taking place on electronic brooking systems that have negatively affected the traditional foreign exchange brokers.
Until recently, the foreign exchange brokers were doing large amounts of business, facilitating interbank trading and matching anonymous counterparts for comparatively small fees. Today, however, a lot of this business is moving onto more efficient electronic systems that are functioning as a closed circuit for banks only. Still, the broker box providing the opportunity to listen in on the ongoing interbank trading is seen in most trading rooms, but turnover is noticeably smaller than just a year or two ago.
For many commercial and private clients, there is a need to receive specialised foreign exchange services. There is a fair amount of non-banks offering dealing services, analysis and strategic advice to such clients. Many banks do not undertake trading for private clients at all, and do not have the necessary resources or inclination to support medium sized commercial clients adequately. The services of such brokers are more similar in nature to other investment brokers and typically provide a service-orientated approach to their clients.
Investors and Speculators
As in all other efficient markets, the speculator performs an important role taking over the risks that commercial participants do not wish to be exposed to. The boundaries of speculation are unclear, however, as many of the above mentioned participants also have speculative interests, even some of the central banks. The foreign exchange markets are popular with investors due to the large amount of leverage that can be obtained and the ease with which positions can be entered and exited 24 hours a day. Trading in a currency might be the “purest” way of taking a view on an overall local market expectation, much simpler than investing in illiquid emerging stock markets. Taking advantage of interest rate differentials is another popular strategy that can be efficiently undertaken in a market with high leverage.
The commercial companies’ international trade exposure is the backbone of the foreign exchange markets. Protection against unfavourable moves is an important reason why these markets are in existence, although it sometimes appears to be a chicken and egg situation – which came first and which produces the other? Commercial companies often trade in sizes that are insignificant to short term market moves, however, as the main currency markets can quite easily absorb hundreds of millions of dollars without any big impact. But it also clear that one of the decisive factors determining the long-term direction of a currency’s exchange rate is the overall trade flow. Some multinational companies can have an unpredictable impact when very large positions are covered, however, due to exposures that are not commonly known to the majority of market participants.
The national central banks play an important role in the foreign exchange markets. Ultimately, the central banks seek to control the money supply and often have official or unofficial target rates for their currencies. As many central banks have very substantial foreign exchange reserves, the intervention power is significant. Among the most important responsibilities of a central bank is the restoration of an orderly market in times of excessive exchange rate volatility and the control of the inflationary impact of a weakening currency. Frequently, the mere expectation of central bank intervention is sufficient to stabilise a currency, but in case of aggressive intervention the actual impact on the short term supply/demand balance can lead to the desired moves in exchange rates. It is by no means always that a central bank achieves its objectives, however. If the market participants really wants to take on a central bank, the combined resources of the market can easily overwhelm any central bank. Several scenarios of this nature were seen in the 1992-93 ERM collapse and in more recent times South East Asia.
Hedge funds have gained a reputation for aggressive currency speculation in recent years. There is no doubt that with the increasing amount of money some of these investment vehicles have under management, the size and liquidity of foreign exchange markets is very appealing. The leverage available in these market allow such fund to speculate with tens of billions at a time and the herd instinct that is very apparent in hedge fund circles means that getting Soros and friends on your back is less than pleasant for a weak currency and economy. It is unlikely, however, that such investments would be successful if the underlying investment strategy was not sound and therefore it is argued that hedge funds actually perform a beneficial service by exploiting and exposing unsustainable financial weaknesses, forcing realignment to more realistic levels.
What Influences the Market?
The primary factors that influence exchange rates are the balance of international payments for goods and services, the state of the economy, political developments as well as various other psychological factors. In addition, fundamental economic forces such as inflation and interest rates will constantly influence currency prices. In addition Central banks sometimes participate in the FOREX market by buying extremely large sums of one currency for another – this is referred to as Central Bank intervention. Central banks can also influence currency prices by changing their country’s short-term interest rate to make it relatively more or less attractive to foreigners. Any of these broad-based economic conditions can cause sudden and dramatic currency price swings. The fastest moves, however, occur usually when information is released that is unexpected by the market at large. This is a key concept because what drives the currency market in many cases is the anticipation of an economic condition rather than the condition itself.
Activities by professional currency managers, generally on behalf of a pool of funds, have also become a factor moving the market. While professional managers may behave independently and view the market from a unique perspective, most, if not all, are at least aware of important technical chart points in each major currency. As the market approaches major ‘support’ or ‘resistance’ levels, price-action becomes more technically oriented and the reactions of many managers are often predictable and similar. These market periods may also result in sudden and dramatic price swings. Traders make decisions on both technical factors and economic fundamentals. Technical traders use charts to identify trading opportunities whereas fundamentalists predict movements in exchange rates by interpreting a wide variety of data, which range from breaking news to economic reports.