How do currency markets work?
Unlike shares or commodities, forex trading does not take place on exchanges but directly between two parties, in an over-the-counter (OTC) market. The forex market is run by a global network of banks, spread across four major forex trading centres in different time zones: London, New York, Sydney and Tokyo. Because there is no central location, you can trade forex 24 hours a day.
There are three different types of forex market:
Spot forex market: the physical exchange of a currency pair, which takes place at the exact point the trade is settled – ie ‘on the spot’ – or within a short period of time
Forward forex market: a contract is agreed to buy or sell a set amount of a currency at a specified price, to be settled at a set date in the future or within a range of future dates
Future forex market: a contract is agreed to buy or sell a set amount of a given currency at a set price and date in the future. Unlike forwards, a futures contract is legally binding
Most traders speculating on forex prices will not plan to take delivery of the currency itself; instead they make exchange rate predictions to take advantage of price movements in the market.
What moves the forex market?
The forex market is made up of currencies from all over the world, which can make exchange rate predictions difficult as there are many factors that could contribute to price movements. However, like most financial markets, forex is primarily driven by the forces of supply and demand, and it is important to gain an understanding of the influences that drives price fluctuations here.
Supply is controlled by central banks, who can announce measures that will have a significant effect on their currency’s price. Quantitative easing, for instance, involves injecting more money into an economy, and can cause its currency’s price to drop.
Commercial banks and other investors tend to want to put their capital into economies that have a strong outlook. So, if a positive piece of news hits the markets about a certain region, it will encourage investment and increase demand for that region’s currency.
Unless there is a parallel increase in supply for the currency, the disparity between supply and demand will cause its price to increase. Similarly, a piece of negative news can cause investment to decrease and lower a currency’s price. This is why currencies tend to reflect the reported economic health of the region they represent.
Market sentiment, which is often in reaction to the news, can also play a major role in driving currency prices. If traders believe that a currency is headed in a certain direction, they will trade accordingly and may convince others to follow suit, increasing or decreasing demand.
Economic data is integral to the price movements of currencies for two reasons – it gives an indication of how an economy is performing, and it offers insight into what its central bank might do next.
Say, for example, that inflation in the eurozone has risen above the 2% level that the European Central Bank (ECB) aims to maintain. The ECB’s main policy tool to combat rising inflation is increasing European interest rates – so traders might start buying the euro in anticipation of rates going up. With more traders wanting euros, EUR/USD could see a rise in price.
Investors will try to maximise the return they can get from a market, while minimising their risk. So alongside interest rates and economic data, they might also look at credit ratings when deciding where to invest.
A country’s credit rating is an independent assessment of its likelihood of repaying its debts. A country with a high credit rating is seen as a safer area for investment than one with a low credit rating. This often comes into particular focus when credit ratings are upgraded and downgraded. A country with an upgraded credit rating can see its currency increase in price, and vice versa.
What is the spread in forex trading?
The spread is the difference between the buy and sell prices quoted for a forex pair. Like many financial markets, when you open a forex position you’ll be presented with two prices. If you want to open a long position, you trade at the buy price, which is slightly above the market price. If you want to open a short position, you trade at the sell price – slightly below the market price.
What is a lot in forex?
Currencies are traded in lots – batches of currency used to standardise forex trades. As forex tends to move in small amounts, lots tend to be very large: a standard lot is 100,000 units of the base currency. So, because individual traders won’t necessarily have 100,000 pounds (or whichever currency they’re trading) to place on every trade, almost all forex trading is leveraged.
What is leverage in forex?
Leverage is the means of gaining exposure to large amounts of currency without having to pay the full value of your trade upfront. Instead, you put down a small deposit, known as margin. When you close a leveraged position, your profit or loss is based on the full size of the trade.