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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. Currencies are traded in pairs, for example Euro/US Dollar (EUR/USD) or US Dollar/Japanese Yen (USD/JPY).
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 usually 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, then London, and then New York. Unlike any other financial market, traders 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, as transactions are conducted between two counterparts over the telephone or via an electronic network. Trading is not centralized on an exchange, as it is with the stock and futures markets.
As with all financial products, FX quotes include a ‘bid’ and ‘offer’. The ‘bid’ is the price at which a dealer is willing to buy (and clients can sell) the base currency for the counter currency. The ‘ask’ is the price at which a dealer will sell (and clients can buy) the base currency for the counter currency.
The US dollar is the centerpiece of the Forex market and is normally considered the ‘base’ currency for quotes. In the “Majors,” this includes USD/JPY, USD/CHF and USD/CAD. For these currencies and many others, quotes are expressed as a unit of $1 USD per the other currency quoted in the pair. The exceptions to USD-based quoting include the Euro, British pound (also called Sterling), and Australian dollar. These currencies are quoted as dollars per foreign currency as opposed to foreign currencies per dollar.
Currency prices are affected by a variety of economic and political conditions, most significantly interest rates, inflation and political stability. Moreover, governments sometimes participate in the Forex market to influence the value of their currencies, either by flooding the market with their domestic currency in an attempt to lower the price, or conversely buying in order to raise the price. This is known as Central Bank intervention. Any of these factors, as well as large market orders, can cause volatility in currency prices. However, the size and volume of the Forex market makes it impossible for any one entity to “drive” the market for any length of time.
Currency traders make decisions using both technical factors and economic fundamentals. Technical traders use charts, trend lines, support and resistance levels, and numerous patterns and mathematical analyses to identify trading opportunities. Fundamentalists predict price movements by interpreting a wide variety of economic information, including news, government-issued indicators and reports, and even rumor.
Trading foreign currencies is a challenging and potentially profitable opportunity for educated and experienced traders. However, before deciding to participate in the Forex market, you should carefully consider your investment objectives, level of experience and risk appetite. Most important, do not invest money you cannot afford to lose.
There is considerable exposure to risk in any foreign exchange transaction. Any transaction involving currencies involves risks including, but not limited to, the potential for changing political and/or economic conditions that may substantially affect the price or liquidity of a currency.
Moreover, the leveraged nature of FX trading means that any market movement will have an equally proportional effect on your deposited funds. This may work against you as well as for you. The possibility exists that you could sustain a total loss of initial margin funds and be required to deposit additional funds to maintain your position. If you fail to meet any margin call within the time prescribed, your position will be liquidated and you will be responsible for any resulting losses. Investors may lower their exposure to risk by employing risk-reducing strategies such as ‘stop-loss’ or ‘limit’ orders.
There are also risks associated with utilizing an Internet-based deal execution software application including, but not limited to, the failure of hardware and software.