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).
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.
This depends on how liquid the currency is, or how much of it is being bought and sold at any one time. The most liquid currency pairs are the ones with the most supply and demand in the Forex market, and this supply and demand is generated by banks, businesses, importers and exporters, and traders. Major currency pairs tend to be the most liquid, with the EUR/USD currency pair moving by 90-120 pips on an average day.
Forex trading is governed by the National Futures Association, and they routinely check brokerages for financial irregularities, hidden or overly high fees, and scams. A key point of comparison between forex brokerages is their regulatory approval status with the NFA. Because the forex market and its major players move rapidly, it’s wise to regularly check on that status via the NFA’s Status Information Center. Increased regulation (coupled with higher capital requirements) continue to force forex brokers to leave the playing field, and one side effect is that it’s increasingly easy to find the best out of a constrained number of options.
However, since the Forex market is a global market, it means there is always a part of the world that is awake and conducting business, and during these hours their currencies tend to experience the most movement. For example, currency pairs involving the US dollar experience the most movement during US business hours (16:00 to 24:00 GMT), while the Euro, Pound, Swiss Franc and other European currencies experience the most movement during European business hours, (8:00 and 16:00 GMT).
For the past 300 years, there has been some form of a foreign exchange market. For most of U.S. history, the only currency traders were multinational corporations that did business in many countries. They used forex markets to hedge their exposure to overseas currencies. They could do so because the U.S. dollar was fixed to the price of gold. According to the gold price history, gold was the only metal the United States used to back up the value of the nation’s paper currency.
Both types of contracts are binding and are typically settled for cash for the exchange in question upon expiry, although contracts can also be bought and sold before they expire. The forwards and futures markets can offer protection against risk when trading currencies. Usually, big international corporations use these markets in order to hedge against future exchange rate fluctuations, but speculators take part in these markets as well.