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. In the U.S., the National Futures Association regulates the futures market. Futures contracts have specific details, including the number of units being traded, delivery and settlement dates, and minimum price increments that cannot be customized. The exchange acts as a counterpart to the trader, providing clearance and settlement.
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In the forex market currencies trade in lots, called micro, mini, and standard lots. A micro lot is 1000 worth of a given currency, a mini lot is 10,000, and a standard lot is 100,000. This is different than when you go to a bank and want $450 exchanged for your trip. When trading in the electronic forex market, trades take place in set blocks of currency, but you can trade as many blocks as you like. For example, you can trade seven micro lots (7,000) or three mini lots (30,000) or 75 standard lots (750,000), for example.
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.
The challenge is assessing which outcome is the most likely, and then opening a trade accordingly. A good starting point for this trading approach is first being aware of upcoming events that may affect the Forex market (refer to our live Forex calendar for the latest events) and second, looking at the effect similar announcements had on different currency pairs in the past. You can learn more about fundamental analysis in our Introduction to Fundamental Analysis article.
Since the market is made by each of the participating banks providing offers and bids for a particular currency, the market pricing mechanism is based on supply and demand. Because there are such large trade flows within the system, it is difficult for rogue traders to influence the price of a currency. This system helps create transparency in the market for investors with access to interbank dealing.
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:
Individual retail speculative traders constitute a growing segment of this market. Currently, they participate indirectly through brokers or banks. Retail brokers, while largely controlled and regulated in the US by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and National Futures Association, have previously been subjected to periodic foreign exchange fraud. To deal with the issue, in 2010 the NFA required its members that deal in the Forex markets to register as such (I.e., Forex CTA instead of a CTA). Those NFA members that would traditionally be subject to minimum net capital requirements, FCMs and IBs, are subject to greater minimum net capital requirements if they deal in Forex. A number of the foreign exchange brokers operate from the UK under Financial Services Authority regulations where foreign exchange trading using margin is part of the wider over-the-counter derivatives trading industry that includes contracts for difference and financial spread betting.
Many people question what a trader’s salary is. However, the truth is it varies hugely. The majority of people will struggle to turn a profit and eventually give up. On the other hand, a small minority prove not only that it is possible to turn a profit, but that you can also make huge returns. So it is possible to make money trading forex, but there are no guarantees. 75-80% of retail traders lose money.
Challenge: Banks, brokers and dealers in the forex markets allow a high amount of leverage, which means that traders can control large positions with relatively little money of their own. Leverage in the range of 100:1 is a high ratio but not uncommon in forex. A trader must understand the use of leverage and the risks that leverage introduces in an account. Extreme amounts of leverage have led to many dealers becoming insolvent unexpectedly.
The purpose of this method is to make sure no single trade or single day of trading hurts has a significant impact on the account. Therefore, a trader knows that they will not lose more in a single trade or day than they can make back on another by adopting a risk maximum that is equivalent to the average daily gain over a 30 day period. (To understand the risks involved in forex, see "Forex Leverage: A Double-Edged Sword.")
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.
Along with being able to access a wide range of financial markets, another benefit of trading CFDs is that a trader can access a much larger portion of those markets, and increase their potential profits as a result. CFD contracts provide leveraged access to the market, meaning a trader can access a much larger portion of the market than what they would be able to purchase outright.
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.