An Introduction to Forex
Forex or FX is the nickname for the Foreign Exchange Market in which currencies are traded or a market where participants buy, sell, and exchange trillions of dollars worth of currencies daily. The forex market is the largest, most liquid market in the world with an average traded value that exceeds $1.9 trillion per day and includes all of the currencies in the world. There is no central marketplace for currency exchange; trade is conducted over the counter. The forex market is open 24 hours a day, five days a week and currencies are traded worldwide among the major financial centers of London, New York, Tokyo, Zürich, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Singapore, Paris and Sydney. The foreign exchange market is one of the most exciting, fast-paced markets around. Until recently, forex trading in the currency market had been the domain of large financial institutions, corporations, central banks, hedge funds and extremely wealthy individuals.
The emergence of the internet has changed all of this, and now it is possible for average investors to buy and sell currencies easily with the click of a mouse through online brokerage accounts. Several countries across the world in almost every time zone participate in trade on Forex, with multiple currencies being utilized and stocks and commodities from all participating countries being offered for trade. Because there are so many nations and time zones involved, Forex does not function as a “business day” entity like most domestic stock markets. It remains open for trade 24 hours a day, 5 days a week.
Of course, these additional hours increase the risk factor intensely for those of us who are human and obviously cannot monitor our investments 24 hours a day. This means that the value of your holdings could potentially plummet overnight, while you sleep, because other countries are still trading while you are in a dream world. Again, it is like a car – there are many moving pieces under the hood, and just because you cannot see them does not mean they are not functioning.
This is one reason for several safety options, like limit orders, which we will discuss later. This is also why it is strongly recommended that your first attempts to make money on the stock market are not transactions that take place within the Foreign Exchange Market but on a standard nine-to-five domestic trading market. In our car analogy, this would be comparable to having asked someone who has never driven or even changed the oil in a car to rebuild the engine.
Daily currency fluctuations are usually very small. Most currency pairs move less than one cent per day, representing a less than 1% change in the value of the currency. This makes foreign exchange one of the least volatile financial markets around. Therefore, many currency speculators rely on the availability of enormous leverage to increase the value of potential movements. In the retail forex market, leverage can be as much as 250:1.
Higher leverage can be extremely risky, but because of round-the-clock trading and deep liquidity, foreign exchange brokers have been able to make high leverage an industry standard in order to make the movements meaningful for currency traders. Extreme liquidity and the availability of high leverage have helped to spur the market's rapid growth and made it the ideal place for many traders. Positions can be opened and closed within minutes or can be held for months. Currency prices are based on objective considerations of supply and demandand cannot be manipulated easily because the size of the market does not allow even the largest players, such as central banks, to move prices at will.
While the functionality of Forex is the same as a domestic stock exchange, the commodities and prices are more volatile, and there are additional factors to take into considerations besides the typical risks associated with a domestic market. You will have to contend with not only the value of your stocks and your currency, but also the foreign currencies involved in any trades or exchanges on Forex, as well as the inconsistencies of values of particular goods and services across international borders. It is like driving a car with a standard transmission as opposed to an automatic.
On the domestic front, the work is mostly done for you, and all you have to do is navigate, much like an automatic transmission. However, shifting gears is quite similar to having to constantly take part in the currency conversion. It can be distracting, and it certainly complicates the act of driving.
Because the financial situation of many countries is not as secure as that of the United States, this can pose a formidable problem in determining where to invest your money and what to expect next in the international market. Knowing what countries and currencies are involved in Forex can assist you by allowing you to more closely monitor the financial situation in the nations with which you will be interacting.
The History Of Forex
When foreign trade began, it was not an international trade market. It was borne out of the Bretton Woods agreement in 1944, which set forth that foreign currencies would be fixed against the dollar, which was valued at $35 per ounce of gold. This precedent was first put into practice in 1967, when a bank in Chicago refused to fund a loan to a professor in sterling pound. Of course, his intention was to sell the currency, which he felt was priced too high against the dollar, then buy it back later when the value had declined, turning a quick profit.
After 1971, when the dollar was no longer convertible to gold and the domestic market was stronger, the Bretton Woods agreement was abandoned, and the currency conversion process became more variable. This allowed for a stronger backing in the foreign markets, and the United States and Europe began a strong trade relationship. In the 1980s, the market hours and usage was extended through the use of computers and technology to include the Asian time zones as well. At this time, foreign exchange equaled about $70 billion a day. Today, about twenty years later, the trade level has skyrocketed, with trade equaling close to $1.5 trillion daily.
Originally, trading across international lines was more difficult, with several different currencies involved across Europe. Though the major players in the European market were deeply involved in and veterans of international trade by the time other markets joined in, there were more currencies to keep track of – the franc, the pound, the lira, and many more – than was reasonable. With the birth of the European Union in 1992, the wheels were set in motion to create a single currency that would be used across most of Europe, and the Euro was finally established and put into circulation in 1999.
While some countries have still not accepted the currency as their own (such as Britain, who still uses the sterling pound), the process of currency conversion has been simplified without the large number of various currencies that were previously dealt with. Instead of dozens of currencies, the main countries trade in five – U.S. dollars, Australian dollars, British pounds sterling, the Euro, and the Japanese Yen.
Today, the Foreign Exchange Market is international and worldwide. The market is open 24 hours a day, 5 days a week, to accommodate all of the time zones for all of the major players. These now include most of Europe, the United States, and Asian markets, especially Japan. Even Australia has joined the international trading markets, and since such nations are halfway around the world from some of the other top players, time zones obviously must be taken into consideration.
Another completely separate but perhaps more important concern with trading in Forex is understanding how trade works in multiple currencies. How can you compare the value of a stock across international lines if the values are expressed in two separate, non-equivalent currencies? And how do you measure gains and losses when conversion rate is constantly changing?