Unlike stock markets, which can trace their roots back centuries, the forex market as we understand it today is a truly new market. Of course, in its most basic sense - that of people converting one currency to another for financial advantage - forex has been around since nations began minting currencies. But the modern forex markets are a modern invention. After the accord at Bretton Woods in 1971, more major currencies were allowed to float freely against one another. The values of individual currencies vary, which has given rise to the need for foreign exchange services and trading.
In this view, countries may develop unsustainable economic bubbles or otherwise mishandle their national economies, and foreign exchange speculators made the inevitable collapse happen sooner. A relatively quick collapse might even be preferable to continued economic mishandling, followed by an eventual, larger, collapse. Mahathir Mohamad and other critics of speculation are viewed as trying to deflect the blame from themselves for having caused the unsustainable economic conditions.
There are actually three ways that institutions, corporations and individuals trade forex: the spot market, the forwards market and the futures market. The forex trading in the spot market always has been the largest market because it is the "underlying" real asset that the forwards and futures markets are based on. In the past, the futures market was the most popular venue for traders because it was available to individual investors for a longer period of time. However, with the advent of electronic trading and numerous forex brokers, the spot market has witnessed a huge surge in activity and now surpasses the futures market as the preferred trading market for individual investors and speculators. 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.
The value of a country's currency depends on whether it is a "free float" or "fixed float". Free floating currencies are those whose relative value is determined by free market forces, such as supply / demand relationships. A fixed float is where a country's governing body sets its currency's relative value to other currencies, often by pegging it to some standard. Free floating currencies include the U.S. Dollar, Japanese Yen and British Pound, while examples of fixed floating currencies include the Chinese Yuan and the Indian Rupee.
Being the largest, most active financial market on the globe, it is also the world's most liquid market, meaning it is easy for traders to enter into, as well as exit trades, and for the most liquid pairs, they can do so at a very low cost (even less than a single pip!). This also means that the Forex market is very volatile, creating many opportunities for traders to make a profit on both the positive and negative movements of currency pairs.
In 1876, something called the gold exchange standard was implemented. Basically it said that all paper currency had to be backed by solid gold; the idea here was to stabilize world currencies by pegging them to the price of gold. It was a good idea in theory, but in reality it created boom-bust patterns which ultimately led to the demise of the gold standard.
Inflation levels and trends: Typically a currency will lose value if there is a high level of inflation in the country or if inflation levels are perceived to be rising. This is because inflation erodes purchasing power, thus demand, for that particular currency. However, a currency may sometimes strengthen when inflation rises because of expectations that the central bank will raise short-term interest rates to combat rising inflation.
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."
The practice of taking on excessive risk does not equal excessive returns. Almost all traders who risk large amounts of capital on single trades will eventually lose in the long run. A common rule is that a trader should risk (in terms of the difference between entry and stop price) no more than 1% of capital on any single trade. Professional traders will often risk far less than 1% of capital.
Volatility is what keeps your trading activity moving. However, if you're not careful it can also completely destroy it. When volatile, the market moves sideways, which makes spreads grow and your orders slip. As a beginner Forex trader, you need to accept that once you are in the market, anything can potentially happen, and it can completely negate your strategy.
Forex is the one financial market that never sleeps, meaning you can trade at all hours of the day (or night). Unlike the world's stock exchanges, which are located in physical trading rooms like the New York Stock Exchange or the London Stock Exchange, the Forex market is known as an 'Over-the-counter market' (or OTC). This means that the trades take place directly between the parties holding the currencies, rather than being managed via an exchange.