The foreign exchange market is where currencies are traded. Currencies are important because they enable purchase of goods and services locally and across borders. International currencies need to be exchanged in order to conduct foreign trade and business.
If we are living in the U.S. and want to buy cheese from France, either we or the company that buy the cheese from has to pay the French for the cheese in euros (EUR). This means that the U.S. importer would have to exchange the equivalent value of U.S. dollars (USD) into euros. The same goes for traveling. A French tourist in Egypt can’t pay in euros to see the pyramids because it’s not the locally accepted currency. As such, the tourist has to exchange the euros for the local currency, in this case the Egyptian pound, at the current exchange rate.
The foreign exchange (also known as FX or forex) market is a global marketplace for exchanging national currencies.
Because of the worldwide reach of trade, commerce, and finance, forex markets tend to be the largest and most liquid asset markets in the world.Currencies trade against each other as exchange rate pairs. For example, EUR/USD is a currency pair for trading euro against the US dollar.
Forex markets exist as spot (cash) markets as well as derivatives markets offering forwards, futures, options, and currency swaps.
Market participants use forex to hedge against international currency and interest rate risk, to speculate on geopolitical events, and to diversify portfolios, among several other reasons.One unique aspect of this international market is that there is no central marketplace for foreign exchange. Rather, currency trading is conducted electronically over-the-counter (OTC), which means that all transactions occur via computer networks between traders around the world, rather than on one centralized exchange. The market is open 24 hours a day, five and a half days a week, and currencies are traded worldwide in the major financial centers of London, New York, Tokyo, Zurich, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Singapore, Paris and Sydney—across almost every time zone. This means that when the trading day in the U.S. ends, the forex market begins anew in Tokyo and Hong Kong. As such, the forex market can be extremely active any time of the day, with price quotes changing constantly.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF FOREX
In its most basic sense, the forex market has been around for centuries. People have always exchanged or bartered goods and currencies to purchase goods and services. However, the forex market, as we understand it today, is a relatively modern invention.
After the accord at Bretton Woods in 1971, more currencies were allowed to float freely against one another. The values of individual currencies vary based on demand and circulation and they are monitored by foreign exchange trading services.
Commercial and investment banks conduct most of the trading in forex markets on behalf of their clients, but there are also speculative opportunities for trading one currency against another for professional and individual investors.
There are two distinct features to currencies as an asset class:
We can earn the interest rate differential between two currencies.
We can profit from changes in the exchange rate.
An investor can profit from the difference between two interest rates in two different economies by buying the currency with the higher interest rate and shorting the currency with the lower interest rate. Prior to the 2008 financial crisis, it was very common to short the Japanese yen (JPY) and buy British pounds (GBP) because the interest rate differential was very large. This strategy is sometimes referred to as a “carry trade.”
Forex trading in the spot market has always been the largest because it trades in the biggest “underlying” real asset for the forwards and futures market. Previously, volumes in the futures and forwards markets surpassed those of the spot market. However, the trading volumes for forex spot markets received a boost with the advent of electronic trading and proliferation of forex brokers. When people refer to the forex market, they usually are referring to the spot market. The forwards and futures markets tend to be more popular with companies that need to hedge their foreign exchange risks out to a specific date in the future.
FORWARD AND FUTURE MARKETS
A forward contract is a private agreement between two parties to buy a currency at a future date and at a pre-determined price in the OTC markets. A futures contract is a standardized agreement between two parties to take delivery of a currency at a future date and at a predetermined price.
Unlike the spot market, the forwards and futures markets do not trade actual currencies. Instead they deal in contracts that represent claims to a certain currency type, a specific price per unit and a future date for settlement.
In the forwards market, contracts are bought and sold OTC between two parties, who determine the terms of the agreement between themselves. In the futures market, futures contracts are bought and sold based upon a standard size and settlement date on public commodities markets, such as the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.