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.
For traders—especially those with limited funds—day trading or swing trading in small amounts is easier in the forex market than other markets. For those with longer-term horizons and larger funds, long-term fundamentals-based trading or a carry trade can be profitable. A focus on understanding the macroeconomic fundamentals driving currency values and experience with technical analysis will help new forex traders to become more profitable.
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.
Investment management firms (who typically manage large accounts on behalf of customers such as pension funds and endowments) use the foreign exchange market to facilitate transactions in foreign securities. For example, an investment manager bearing an international equity portfolio needs to purchase and sell several pairs of foreign currencies to pay for foreign securities purchases.
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.