The foreign exchange market – also called forex, FX, or currency market – was one of the original financial markets formed to bring structure to the burgeoning global economy. In terms of trading volume it is, by far, the largest financial market in the world. Aside from providing a venue for the buying, selling, exchanging and speculation of currencies, the forex market also enables currency conversion for international trade settlements and investments. According to the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), which is owned by central banks, trading in foreign exchange markets averaged $5.1 trillion per day in April 2016.
Before you make your first trade, it's important to consider how to effectively manage your risk in the Forex market. As we've already discussed, trading Forex CFDs gives you the opportunity to trade using leverage, meaning you can use a relatively small deposit to access a larger portion of the market (up to 500 times the value of your account balance, if you're a Professional client). This then multiplies your potential profits to the same extent. However, it also multiplies your potential losses.
Currencies are traded against one another in pairs. Each currency pair thus constitutes an individual trading product and is traditionally noted XXXYYY or XXX/YYY, where XXX and YYY are the ISO 4217 international three-letter code of the currencies involved. The first currency (XXX) is the base currency that is quoted relative to the second currency (YYY), called the counter currency (or quote currency). For instance, the quotation EURUSD (EUR/USD) 1.5465 is the price of the Euro expressed in US dollars, meaning 1 euro = 1.5465 dollars. The market convention is to quote most exchange rates against the USD with the US dollar as the base currency (e.g. USDJPY, USDCAD, USDCHF). The exceptions are the British pound (GBP), Australian dollar (AUD), the New Zealand dollar (NZD) and the euro (EUR) where the USD is the counter currency (e.g. GBPUSD, AUDUSD, NZDUSD, EURUSD).
A spot transaction is a two-day delivery transaction (except in the case of trades between the US dollar, Canadian dollar, Turkish lira, euro and Russian ruble, which settle the next business day), as opposed to the futures contracts, which are usually three months. This trade represents a “direct exchange” between two currencies, has the shortest time frame, involves cash rather than a contract, and interest is not included in the agreed-upon transaction. Spot trading is one of the most common types of forex trading. Often, a forex broker will charge a small fee to the client to roll-over the expiring transaction into a new identical transaction for a continuation of the trade. This roll-over fee is known as the "swap" fee.
When trading Forex, you'll see that both 'Bid' and 'Ask' prices are quoted. The bid price is the price at which you can buy the currency, while the ask price is the price at which you can sell it. If you are purchasing a currency in a trade, this is known as a long trade, and the hope is that the currency pair will increase in value, so that you can sell it at a higher price and make a profit on the difference.
In the context of the foreign exchange market, traders liquidate their positions in various currencies to take up positions in safe-haven currencies, such as the US dollar. Sometimes, the choice of a safe haven currency is more of a choice based on prevailing sentiments rather than one of economic statistics. An example would be the financial crisis of 2008. The value of equities across the world fell while the US dollar strengthened (see Fig.1). This happened despite the strong focus of the crisis in the US.
In return for executing your buy and sell orders, forex brokers will either take a commission per trade or a spread. A spread is the difference between the bid price and ask price for the trade. The asking price is the lowest price that a currency pair will be offered for sale and the bidding price is always lower. When forex brokers successfully execute a buy with the lower bid, they will take that difference — the spread — as payment.
Now you know the what, the why, and the how of Forex trading. The next step to to create a trading strategy. For beginner traders, the ideal scenario is to follow a simple and effective strategy, which will allow you to confirm what works and what doesn't work, without too many variables confusing things. Fortunately, banks, corporations, investors, and speculators have all been trading the markets for decades, which means there is already a wide range of Forex trading strategies to choose from. These include:
Scalping is a higher frequency form of trading, wherein traders focus on lower time frames, trying to profit from the market's volatility. Very often, traders make 15-30 scalps per day, whereas the profit is usually between 5-15 pips. The risk with scalping is usually 2-5% per trade, but bear in mind that if you cross 5% of your risk threshold, your account will be in a danger zone.
To use an extreme example, imagine holding an account balance of 2,000 EUR and putting all of that on a single trade. If the trade goes badly, you will have lost your entire investment, and because the Forex market can move very quickly, losses can also happen very quickly. This is where risk management is essential - to help you minimise losses and protect any profits you do make. The key areas to consider when managing your Forex trading risk are trading psychology, and money management.
Once a pattern emerges, this is known as a Forex indicator because it indicates that there is the potential to make a profitable trade. While there are a range of resources available online for learning about the best Forex indicators, your trading software should ideally have a range of built-in indicators that you can use for your trading, as is the case with MetaTrader 5's indicators. You can learn more about technical analysis in our Introduction to Technical Analysis article.
Hedge funds – Somewhere around 70 to 90% of all foreign exchange transactions are speculative in nature. This means, the person or institutions that bought or sold the currency has no plan of actually taking delivery of the currency; instead, the transaction was executed with sole intention of speculating on the price movement of that particular currency. Retail speculators (you and I) are small cheese compared to the big hedge funds that control and speculate with billions of dollars of equity each day in the currency markets.
Stay calm: As exciting as trading can be, it is still stressful work. There will be a lot of setbacks on your way to the top. Emotions can force your hand to open a trade too early and/or close it too late. The main cause of stress for beginners in trading is the fact that some Forex trades will end in loss no matter what – it's just the way the market is. Just remember that war is not won with a single battle. Rather, it is overall performance that counts.
These cover the bulk of countries outside Europe. Forex brokers catering for India, Hong Kong, Qatar etc are likely to have regulation in one of the above, rather than every country they support. Some brands are regulated across the globe (one is even regulated in 5 continents). Some bodies issue licenses, and others have a register of legal firms.
Second, since trades don't take place on a traditional exchange, you won't find the same fees or commissions that you would on another market. Next, there's no cut-off as to when you can and cannot trade. Because the market is open 24 hours a day, you can trade at any time of day. Finally, because it's such a liquid market, you can get in and out whenever you want and you can buy as much currency as you can afford.
Day trading can take place in any market, but is commonly referred to in the context of either the Forex trading market or the stock trading market. In order to be successful as a Forex day trader, you need to have a decent amount of capital, and a good amount of knowledge of the market behind you. However, having this doesn't necessarily guarantee success. This is especially true when 'invisible hands' are at work, and when the prices fluctuate enormously during intraday Forex trading.
A forward trade is any trade that settles further in the future than spot. The forward price is a combination of the spot rate plus or minus forward points that represent the interest rate differential between the two currencies. Most have a maturity less than a year in the future but longer is possible. Like with a spot, the price is set on the transaction date, but money is exchanged on the maturity date.
If you're day trading a currency pair like the GBP/USD, you can risk $50 on each trade, and each pip of movement is worth $10 with a standard lot (100,000 units worth of currency). Therefore you can take a position of one standard lot with a 5-pip stop-loss order, which will keep the risk of loss to $50 on the trade. That also means a winning trade is worth $80 (8 pips x $10).
The yellow boxes above highlight some examples of bullish harami long setups and bearish harami short setups. In this instance, the five setups occur over one trading day. Some days may have more, some days may have less. It is also noticeable that there are some winning setups, some losing setups and one that - if an order was placed for the setup - did not trigger the entry price.
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Traders can also make short trades (also known as sell trades), where they sell a Forex CFD at the ask price and, once the price drops, buy it at a lower bid price, and profit on the difference. In this case, if the GBP/USD ask price was 1.32265, and the trade closed at the price of 1.31203, the difference would be 0.01062, or 106.2 pips (which would amount to 1,062 USD in profit).
Some investment management firms also have more speculative specialist currency overlay operations, which manage clients' currency exposures with the aim of generating profits as well as limiting risk. While the number of this type of specialist firms is quite small, many have a large value of assets under management and can, therefore, generate large trades.