What is Currency Trading?

The market in which currencies are traded. 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, 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 - spanning most time zones. The practice of currency trading is also commonly referred to as foreign exchange, Forex or FX, for short.

All currency has a value relative to other currencies on the planet. Currency trading uses the purchase and sale of large quantities of currency to leverage the shifts in relative value into profit.

There are two reasons the relative value of a currency fluctuates. The first is because of a 'real' market: as outside investors or visitors wish to buy things within a country, they are forced to convert their domestic currency into the currency of the country they are buying within. Similarly, as money leaves the country, people must sell their currency for the foreign currency they will need to spend or invest abroad.

The second force for currency fluctuation is speculation. As investors feel a given currency will act strongly or weakly, they will buy or sell accordingly. This speculation can have drastic consequences on a national currency and consequently on a country's economy. During the East Asia Crisis in 1997, for example, as nations in Asia began facing economic downturns, speculators used currency trading
to realize enormous profits and in many analysts' view helped to exacerbate the problem.

Currency trading has many very real benefits over equity trading like the stock exchange. The spreads for currency trading are extremely low, making the cost to a trader very low as well. The volatility of the currency market is extremely high, which means that a trader can generate enormous return on a given exchange. The ratio of volatility to spread is approximately 500:1 for the currency trading market, as compared to 100:1 for even the most ideal of stocks.

 Why is forex so popular?

Forex trading is attractive because it offers unparalleled freedoms. A Forex trader can live almost anywhere as long as he/she is within reach of the internet. A Forex trader can work from home or office, and in some cases, even trade while traveling! A Forex trader can usually choose his/her own hours to work since the global foreign exchange market is open 24-hours a day. A Forex trader avoids many common headaches associated with running a business because there is NO inventory, NO shipping, NO billing, NO collections, NO employees, NO commuting and NO dress code. It also offers unlimited earning potential.

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Common Questions Ask About Currency Trading

How does this market differ from other markets?
Unlike the trading of stocks, futures or options, currency trading does not take place on a regulated exchange. It is not controlled by any central governing body, there are no ckearing houses to guarantee the trades and there is no arbitration panel to adjudicate disputes. All members trade with each other based upon credit agreements. Essentially, business in the largest, most liquid market in the world depends on nothing more than a metaphorical handshake.

The FX market is different from other markets in some other key ways that are sure to raise eyebrows. Think that the EUR/USD is going to spiral downward? Feel free to short the pair at will. There is no uptick rule in FX as there is in stocks. There are also no limits on the size of your position (as there are in futures); so, in theory, you could sell $100 billion worth of currency if you had the capital to do it. If your biggest Japanese client, who also happens to golf with Toshihiko Fukui, the Governor of the Bank of Japan, told you on the golf course that BOJ is planning to raise rates at its next meeting, you could go right ahead and buy as much yen as you like. No one will ever prosecute you for insider trading should your bet pay off. There is no such thing as insider trading in FX; in fact, European economic data, such as German employment figures, are often leaked days before they are officially released.

Before leaving you with the impression that FX is the Wild West of finance, we should note that this is the most liquid and fluid market in the world. It trades 24 hours a day, from 5pm EST Sunday to 4pm EST Friday, and it rarely has any gap in price. Its sheer size (it trades nearly US$2 trillion each day) and scope (from Asia to Europe to North America) makes the currency market the most accessible market in the world.

Where is the commission in FX?
Investors who trade stocks, futures or options typically use a broker who acts as an agent in the transaction. The broker takes the order to an exchange and attempts to execute it as per the customer's instructions. For providing this service, the broker is paid a commission when the customer buys and sells the tradable instrument.

The FX market does not have commissions. Unlike exchange-based markets, FX is a principals-only market. FX firms are dealers, not brokers. This is a critical distinction that all investors must understand. Unlike brokers, dealers assume market risk by serving as a counterparty to the investor's trade. They do not charge commission; instead, they make their money through the bid-ask spread.

In FX, the investor cannot attempt to buy on the bid or sell at the offer like in exchange-based markets. On the other hand, once the price clears the cost of the spread, there are no additional fees or commissions. Every single penny gain is pure profit to the investor. Nevertheless, the fact that traders must always overcome the bid/ask spread makes scalping
much more difficult in FX.

What is a pip?
Pip stands for "percentage in point" and is the smallest increment of trade in FX. In the FX market, prices are quoted to the fourth decimal point. For example, if a bar of soap in the drugstore was priced at $1.20, in the FX market the same bar of soap would be quoted at 1.2000. The change in that fourth decimal point is called 1 pip and is typically equal to 1/100th of 1%. Among the major currencies, the only exception to that rule is the Japanese yen. Because the Japanese yen has never been revalued since the Second World War, 1 yen is now worth approximately US$0.08; so, in the USD/JPY pair, the quotation is only taken out to two decimal points (i.e. to 1/100th of yen, as opposed to 1/1000th with other major currencies).

What are you really selling or buying in the currency market?
The short answer is "nothing". The retail FX market is purely a speculative market. No physical exchange of currencies ever takes place. All trades exist simply as computer entries and are netted out depending on market price. For dollar-denominated accounts, all profits or losses are calculated in dollars and recorded as such on the trader's account.

The primary reason the FX market exists is to facilitate the exchange of one currency into another for multinational corporations who need to trade currencies continually (for example, for payroll, payment for costs of goods and services from foreign vendors, and merger and acquisition activity). However, these day-to-day corporate needs comprise only about 20% of the market volume. Fully 80% of trades in the currency market are speculative in nature, put on by large financial institutions, multi-billion dollar hedge funds and even individuals who want to express their opinions on the economic and geopolitical events of the day.

Because currencies always trade in pairs, when a trader makes a trade he or she is always long one currency and short the other. For example, if a trader sells one standard lot (equivalent to 100,000 units) of EUR/USD, she would, in essence, have exchanged euros for dollars and would now be "short" euro and "long" dollars. To better understand this dynamic, let's use a concrete example. If you went into an electronics store and purchased a computer for $1,000, what would you be doing? You would be exchanging your dollars for a computer. You would basically be "short" $1,000 and "long" 1 computer. The store would be "long" $1,000 but now "short" 1 computer in its inventory. The exact same principle applies to the FX market, except that no physical exchange takes place. While all transactions are simply computer entries, the consequences are no less real.

Which currencies are traded?
Although some retail dealers trade exotic currencies such as the Thai baht or the Czech koruna, the majority trade the seven most liquid currency pairs in the world, which are the four majors:

EUR/USD (euro/dollar)

USD/JPY (dollar/Japanese yen)

GBP/USD (British pound/dollar)

USD/CHF (dollar/Swiss franc)

and the three commodity pairs:

AUD/USD (Australian dollar/dollar)

 USD/CAD (dollar/Canadian dollar)

NZD/USD (New Zealand dollar/dollar)

These currency pairs, along with their various combinations (such as EUR/JPY, GBP/JPY and EUR/GBP) account for more than 95% of all speculative trading in FX. Given the small number of trading instruments - only 18 pairs and crosses are actively traded - the FX market is far more concentrated than the stock market.

What is carry?
Carry is the most popular trade in the currency market, practiced by both the largest hedge funds and the smallest retail speculators. The carry trade rests on the fact that every currency in the world has an interest rate attached to it. These short-term interest rates are set by the central banks of these countries: the Federal Reserve in the U.S., the Bank of Japan in Japan and the Bank of England in the U.K.

The idea behind the carry is quite straightforward. The trader goes long the currency with a high interest rate and finances that purchase with a currency with a low interest rate. For instance, in 2005, one of the best pairings was the NZD/JPY cross. The New Zealand economy, spurred by huge commodity demand from China and a hot housing market, has seen its rates rise to 7.25% and stay there (at the time of writing), while Japanese rates have remained at 0%. A trader going long the NZD/JPY could have harvested 725 basis points in yield alone. But before you rush out and buy the next high-yield pair, be aware that when the carry trade is unwound, the declines can be rapid and severe. This process is known as carry trade liquidation and occurs when the majority of speculators decide that the carry trade may not have future potential. With every trader seeking to exit his or her position at once, bids disappear and the profits from interest rate differentials are not nearly enough to offset the capital losses. Anticipation is the key to success: the best time to position in the carry is at the beginning of the rate-tightening cycle, allowing the trader to ride the move as interest rate differentials increase.

FX Jargon
Every discipline has its own jargon, and the currency market is no different. Here are some terms to know that will make you sound like a seasoned currency trader:

Cable, sterling, pound - alternative names for the GBP

Greenback, buck - nicknames for the U.S. dollar

Swissie - nickname for the Swiss franc

Aussie - nickname for the Australian dollar

Kiwi - nickname for the New Zealand dollar

Loonie, the little dollar - nicknames for the Canadian dollar

Figure - FX term connoting a round number like 1.2000

Yard - a billion units, as in "I sold a couple of yards of sterling." 


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