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 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.
Despite being able to trade 24 hours a day, 5 days a week, you shouldn’t (Forex trading is not quite 24.7). You should only trade a forex pair when it’s active, and when you’ve got enough volume. Trading forex at weekends will see small volume. Take GBP/USD for example, there are specific hours where you have enough volatility to create profits that are likely to negate the bid price spread and commission costs.
Currencies are traded as pairs, and the movement of currency pairs measure the value of one currency against another. For instance, the EURUSD currency pair measures the value of the Euro against the US dollar. When the value of the pair increases, this means the value of the Euro has increased against the value of the US dollar. When the value of the pair decreases, this means the value of the US dollar has increased (or the value of the Euro has fallen).
Big news comes in and then the market starts to spike or plummets rapidly. At this point it may be tempting to jump on the easy-money train, however, doing so without a disciplined trading plan behind you can be just as damaging as gambling before the news comes out. This is because illiquidity and sharp price movements mean a trade can quickly translate into significant losses as large swings take place or ‘whipsaw’.
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Traders know the news events that will move the market, yet the direction is not known in advance. Therefore, a trader may even be fairly confident that a news announcement, for instance that the Federal Reserve will or will not raise interest rates, will impact markets. Even then, traders cannot predict how the market will react to this expected news. Other factors such additional statements, figures or forward looking indications provided by news announcements can also make market movements extremely illogical.
The foreign exchange market is unique for several reasons, mainly because of its size. Trading volume in the forex market is generally very large. As an example, trading in foreign exchange markets averaged $5.1 trillion per day in April 2016, according to the Bank for International Settlements, which is owned by 60 central banks and is used to work in monetary and financial responsibility.
Forex banks, ECNs, and prime brokers offer NDF contracts, which are derivatives that have no real deliver-ability. NDFs are popular for currencies with restrictions such as the Argentinian peso. In fact, a forex hedger can only hedge such risks with NDFs, as currencies such as the Argentinian peso cannot be traded on open markets like major currencies.
Once a pattern emerges, this is known as a Forex indicator because it indicates that there is the potential to make a profitable trade. While there are a range of resources available online for learning about the best Forex indicators, your trading software should ideally have a range of built-in indicators that you can use for your trading, as is the case with MetaTrader 5's indicators. You can learn more about technical analysis in our Introduction to Technical Analysis article.
One way to deal with the foreign exchange risk is to engage in a forward transaction. In this transaction, money does not actually change hands until some agreed upon future date. A buyer and seller agree on an exchange rate for any date in the future, and the transaction occurs on that date, regardless of what the market rates are then. The duration of the trade can be one day, a few days, months or years. Usually the date is decided by both parties. Then the forward contract is negotiated and agreed upon by both parties.
It's important to consider whether a Forex broker and their trading platform will suit your trading style. For example, you might be interested in following a Forex scalping strategy, which involves making a high volume of small profits on small currency movements. In this case, you would need to ensure that any potential broker has minimum distance between the market price and your stop-loss and take-profit.
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.
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Breakout trading refers to heavy and volatile price movement through support and resistance levels. Breakout trading is also a form of scalping, when trades are typically closed randomly or around the next pivot point. The previous day's high and low are two very important pivot points, for this is the definitive point wherein buyers or sellers come in the day before. Watch the market to either test and reverse off these points, or push through and show signs of continuation.
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.