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).
National central banks play an important role in the foreign exchange markets. They try to control the money supply, inflation, and/or interest rates and often have official or unofficial target rates for their currencies. They can use their often substantial foreign exchange reserves to stabilize the market. Nevertheless, the effectiveness of central bank "stabilizing speculation" is doubtful because central banks do not go bankrupt if they make large losses as other traders would. There is also no convincing evidence that they actually make a profit from trading.
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.
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.
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Factors like interest rates, trade flows, tourism, economic strength and geopolitical risk affect supply and demand for currencies, which creates daily volatility in the forex markets. An opportunity exists to profit from changes that may increase or reduce one currency's value compared to another. A forecast that one currency will weaken is essentially the same as assuming that the other currency in the pair will strengthen because currencies are traded as pairs.
If you've been researching Forex trading, you might have seen the term 'Forex CFDs' at some point. There are two ways to trade Forex: using CFDs or spot Forex (also known as margin). Spot Forex involves buying and selling the actual currency. For example, you might purchase a certain amount of Pound Sterling for Euros, and then, once the value of the Pound increases, you may then exchange your Euros for Pounds again, receiving more money back compared with what you originally spent on the purchase.
Once Nixon abolished the gold standard, the dollar's value quickly plummeted. The dollar index was established to give companies the ability to hedge this risk. Someone created the U.S. Dollar Index to give them a tradeable platform. Soon, banks, hedge funds, and some speculative traders entered the market. They were more interested in chasing profit than in hedging risks.