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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.
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The term CFD stands for 'Contract For Difference', and it is a contract used to represent the movement in the prices of financial instruments. In terms of Forex, this means that rather than purchasing and selling large amounts of currency, you can profit on price movements without owning the asset itself. Along with Forex, CFDs are also available on shares, indices, bonds, commodities and cryptocurrencies. In every case, they allow you to trade on the price movements of these instruments without having to purchase them.
The main participants in this market are the larger international banks. Financial centers around the world function as anchors of trading between a wide range of multiple types of buyers and sellers around the clock, with the exception of weekends. Since currencies are always traded in pairs, the foreign exchange market does not set a currency's absolute value but rather determines its relative value by setting the market price of one currency if paid for with another. Ex: US$1 is worth X CAD, or CHF, or JPY, etc.
The foreign exchange market is an over-the-counter (OTC) marketplace that determines the exchange rate for global currencies. Participants are able to buy, sell, exchange and speculate on currencies. Foreign exchange markets are made up of banks, forex dealers, commercial companies, central banks, investment management firms, hedge funds, retail forex dealers and investors.
It should be noted that there is no central marketplace for the Forex market; trading is instead said to be conducted ‘over the counter’; it’s not like stocks where there is a central marketplace with all orders processed like the NYSE. Forex is a product quoted by all the major banks, and not all banks will have the exact same price. Now, the broker platforms take all theses feeds from the different banks and the quotes we see from our broker are an approximate average of them. It’s the broker who is effectively transacting the trade and taking the other side of it…they ‘make the market’ for you. When you buy a currency pair…your broker is selling it to you, not ‘another trader’.
Knowing how the industry is mapped out is important, because the collective combination of all participants creates the market you trade in. The relative weight of the trading party to the market is measured by how much money that party manages – from billion dollar hedge funds and investment banks, to private traders with a few thousand dollars in action.
During the 15th century, the Medici family were required to open banks at foreign locations in order to exchange currencies to act on behalf of textile merchants. To facilitate trade, the bank created the nostro (from Italian, this translates to "ours") account book which contained two columned entries showing amounts of foreign and local currencies; information pertaining to the keeping of an account with a foreign bank. During the 17th (or 18th) century, Amsterdam maintained an active Forex market. In 1704, foreign exchange took place between agents acting in the interests of the Kingdom of England and the County of Holland.
Governments / Central banks – A country’s central bank can play an important role in the foreign exchange markets. They can cause an increase or decrease in the value of their nation’s currency by trying to control money supply, inflation, and (or) interest rates. They can use their substantial foreign exchange reserves to try and stabilize the market.
Forex is a portmanteau of foreign currency and exchange. Foreign exchange is the process of changing one currency into another currency for a variety of reasons, usually for commerce, trading, or tourism. According to a recent triennial report from the Bank for International Settlements (a global bank for national central banks), the average was more than $5.1 trillion in daily forex trading volume.