What is Forex trading?

An overview of the foreign exchange (Forex) market

The Forex market is a nonstop cash market where currencies of nations are traded, typically via brokers. Foreign currencies are constantly and simultaneously bought and sold across local and global markets and traders' investments increase or decrease in value based upon currency movements. Foreign exchange market conditions can change at any time in response to real-time events.

The main enticements of currency dealing to private investors and attractions for short-term Forex trading are:

24-hour trading, 5 days a week with nonstop access to global Forex dealers.
An enormous liquid market making it easy to trade most currencies.
Volatile markets offering profit opportunities.
Standard instruments for controlling risk exposure.
The ability to profit in rising or falling markets.
Leveraged trading with low margin requirements.
Many options for zero commission trading.

Forex trading

The investor's goal in Forex trading is to profit from foreign currency movements. Forex trading or currency trading is always done in currency pairs. For example, the exchange rate of EUR/USD on Aug 26th, 2003 was 1.0857. This number is also referred to as a "Forex rate" or just "rate" for short. If the investor had bought 1000 euros on that date, he would have paid 1085.70 U.S. dollars. One year later, the Forex rate was 1.2083, which means that the value of the euro (the numerator of the EUR/USD ratio) increased in relation to the U.S. dollar. The investor could now sell the 1000 euros in order to receive 1208.30 dollars. Therefore, the investor would have USD 122.60 more than what he had started one year earlier. However, to know if the investor made a good investment, one needs to compare this investment option to alternative investments. At the very minimum, the return on investment (ROI) should be compared to the return on a "risk-free" investment. One example of a risk-free investment is long-term U.S. government bonds since there is practically no chance for a default, i.e. the U.S. government going bankrupt or being unable or unwilling to pay its debt obligation.

When trading currencies, trade only when you expect the currency you are buying to increase in value relative to the currency you are selling. If the currency you are buying does increase in value, you must sell back the other currency in order to lock in a profit. An open trade (also called an open position) is a trade in which a trader has bought or sold a particular currency pair and has not yet sold or bought back the equivalent amount to close the position.

However, it is estimated that anywhere from 70%-90% of the FX market is speculative. In other words, 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.

Exchange rate

Because currencies are traded in pairs and exchanged one against the other when traded, the rate at which they are exchanged is called the exchange rate. The majority of the currencies are traded against the US dollar (USD). The four next-most traded currencies are the euro (EUR), the Japanese yen (JPY), the British pound sterling (GBP) and the Swiss franc (CHF). These five currencies make up the majority of the market and are called the major currencies or "the Majors". Some sources also include the Australian dollar (AUD) within the group of major currencies.

The first currency in the exchange pair is referred to as the base currency and the second currency as the counter or quote currency. The counter or quote currency is thus the numerator in the ratio, and the base currency is the denominator. The value of the base currency (denominator) is always 1. Therefore, the exchange rate tells a buyer how much of the counter or quote currency must be paid to obtain one unit of the base currency. The exchange rate also tells a seller how much is received in the counter or quote currency when selling one unit of the base currency. For example, an exchange rate for EUR/USD of 1.2083 specifies to the buyer of euros that 1.2083 USD must be paid to obtain 1 euro.

At any given point, time and place, if an investor buys any currency and immediately sells it - and no change in the exchange rate has occurred - the investor will lose money. The reason for this is that the bid price, which represents how much will be received in the counter or quote currency when selling one unit of the base currency, is always lower than the ask price, which represents how much must be paid in the counter or quote currency when buying one unit of the base currency. For instance, the EUR/USD bid/ask currency rates at your bank may be 1.2015/1.3015, representing a spread of 1000 pips (also called points, one pip = 0.0001), which is very high in comparison to the bid/ask currency rates that online Forex investors commonly encounter, such as 1.2015/1.2020, with a spread of 5 pips. In general, smaller spreads are better for Forex investors since even they require a smaller movement in exchange rates in order to profit from a trade.

Margin

Banks and/or online trading providers need collateral to ensure that the investor can pay in case of a loss. The collateral is called the margin and is also known as minimum security in Forex markets. In practice, it is a deposit to the trader's account that is intended to cover any currency trading losses in the future.

Margin enables private investors to trade in markets that have high minimum units of trading by allowing traders to hold a much larger position than their account value. Margin trading also enhances the rate of profit, but has the tendency to inflate rates of loss, on top of systemic risk.

Leveraged financing

Leveraged financing, i.e., the use of credit, such as a trade purchased on a margin, is very common in Forex. The loan/leveraged in the margined account is collateralized by your initial deposit. This may result in being able to control USD 100,000 for as little as USD 1,000.

Five ways private investors can trade in Forex directly or indirectly:

The spot market
Forwards and futures
Options
Contracts for difference
Spread betting

A spot transaction

A spot transaction is a straightforward exchange of one currency for another. The spot rate is the current market price, also called the benchmark price. Spot transactions do not require immediate settlement, or payment "on the spot." The settlement date, or "value date," is the second business day after the "deal date" (or "trade date") on which the transaction is agreed to by the two traders. The two-day period provides time to confirm the agreement and arrange the clearing and necessary debiting and crediting of bank accounts in various international locations.

Risks

Although Forex trading can lead to very profitable results, there are risks involved: exchange rate risks, interest rate risks, credit risks, and country risks. Approximately 80% of all currency transactions last a period of seven days or less, while more than 40% last fewer than two days. Given the extremely short lifespan of the typical trade, technical indicators heavily influence entry, exit and order placement decisions.
FOREIGN EXCHANGE MARKET 

A 24-hour market in which currencies are traded in cash, which is known as a spot market. There is no central, standard trading center, such as, a stock exchange. Instead, trade is conducted "over-the-counter" via an international network of dealers. Until recently, the forex market was confined to larger traders: major, international commercial and investment banks; international corporations; international money brokers; currency traders. When the United States went off the gold standard in 1971, investors immediately recognized new opportunities for making profits. Every year, more companies start up that cater to smaller institutions and investors so they may participate in spot forex trading.   Warning:  You should never invest any amount of money you cannot afford to lose.
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