Introduction to forex trading
Description of the Forex
The Forex market, established in 1971, was created when floating exchange rates began to materialize. The Forex market is not centralized, like in currency futures or stock markets. Trading occurs over computers and telephones at thousands of locations worldwide.
The Foreign Exchange market, commonly referred as FOREX, is where banks, investors and speculators exchange one currency to another. The largest foreign exchange activity retains the spot exchange (i.e.., immediate) between five major currencies: US Dollar, British Pound, Japanese Yen, Eurodollar and the Swiss Franc. It is also the largest financial market in the world. In comparison, the US stock market may trade $10 billion in one day, whereas the Forex market will trade up to $2 trillion in one single day. The Forex market is an opened 24 hours a day market where the primary market for currencies is the 24-hour Interbank market. This market follows the sun around the world, moving from the major banking centres of the United States to Australia and New Zealand to the Far East, to Europe and finally back to the Unites States.
Until now, professional traders from major international commercial and investment banks have dominated the FX market. Other market participants range from large multinational corporations, global money managers, registered dealers, international money brokers, and futures and options traders, to private speculators.
There are three main reasons to participate in the FX market. One is to facilitate an actual transaction, whereby international corporations convert profits made in foreign currencies into their domestic currency. Corporate treasurers and money managers also enter the FX market in order to hedge against unwanted exposure to future price movements in the currency market. The third and more popular reason is speculation for profit. In fact, today it is estimated that less than 5% of all trading on the FX market is actually facilitating a true commercial transaction.
The FX market is considered an Over The Counter (OTC) or ?Interbank? market, due to the fact that transactions are conducted between two counterparts over the telephone or via an electronic network. Trading is not centralized on an exchange, as with the stock and futures markets. A true 24-hour market, Forex trading begins each day in Sydney, and moves around the globe as the business day begins in each financial center, first to Tokyo, London, and New York. Unlike any other financial market, investors can respond to currency fluctuations caused by economic, social and political events at the time they occur - day or night.
History of the Forex
Money, in one form or another, has been used by man for centuries. At first it was mainly Gold or Silver coins. Goods were traded against other goods or against gold. So, the price of gold became a reference point. But as the trading of goods grew between nations, moving quantities of gold around places to settle payments of trade became cumbersome, risky and time consuming. Therefore, a system was sought by which the payment of trades could be settled in the seller?s local currency. But how much of buyer?s local currency should be equal to the seller?s local currency?
The answer was simple. The strength of a country?s currency depended on the amount of gold reserves the country maintained. So, if country A?s gold reserves are double the gold reserves of country B, country A?s currency will be twice in value when exchanged with the currency of country B. This became to be known as The Gold Standard. Around 1880, The Gold Standard was accepted and used worldwide.
During the first WORLD WAR, in order to fulfill the enormous financing needs, paper money was created in quantities that far exceeded the gold reserves. The currencies lost their standard parities and caused a gross distortion in the country?s standing in terms of its foreign liabilities and assets.
After the end of the second WORLD WAR the western allied powers attempted to solve the problem at the Bretton Woods Conference in New Hampshire in 1944. In the first three weeks of July 1944, delegates from 45 nations gathered at the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. The delegates met to discuss the postwar recovery of Europe as well as a number of monetary issues, such as unstable exchange rates and protectionist trade policies.
During the 1930s, many of the world?s major economies had unstable currency exchange rates. As well, many nations used restrictive trade policies. In the early 1940s, the United States and Great Britain developed proposals for the creation of new international financial institutions that would stabilize exchange rates and boost international trade. There was also a recognized need to organize a recovery of Europe in the hopes of avoiding the problems that arose after the First World War.
The delegates at Bretton Woods reached an agreement known as the Bretton Woods Agreement to establish a postwar international monetary system of convertible currencies, fixed exchange rates and free trade. To facilitate these objectives, the agreement created two international institutions: the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (the World Bank). The intention was to provide economic aid for reconstruction of postwar Europe. An initial loan of $250 million to France in 1947 was the World Bank?s first act.
Under the Bretton Woods Exchange System, the currencies of participating nations could be converted into the US dollar at a fixed rate, and foreign central banks could convert the US dollar into gold at a fixed rate. In other words, the US dollar replaced the then dominant British Pound and the parities of the world?s leading currencies were pegged against the US Dollar.
The Bretton Woods Agreement was also aimed at preventing currency competition and promoting monetary co-operation among nations. Under the Bretton Woods system, the IMF member countries agreed to a system of exchange rates that could be adjusted within defined parities with the US dollar or, with the agreement of the IMF, changed to correct a fundamental disequilibrium in the balance of payments. The per value system remained in use from 1946 until the early 1970s.
The United States, under President Nixon, retaliated in 1971 by devaluing the dollar and forcing realignment of currencies with the dollar. The leading European economies tried to counter the US move by aligning their currencies in narrow band and then float collectively against the US dollar.
Fortunately, this currency war did not last long and by the first half of the 1970?s leading world economies gave up the fixed exchange rate system for good and floated their currencies in the open market. The idea was to let the market decide the value of a given currency based on the demand and supply of the currency and the economic health of the currency?s nation. This market is popularly known as the International Monetary Market or IMM. This IMM is not a single entity. It is the collection of all financial institutions that have any interest in foreign currencies, all over the world. Banks, Brokerages, Fund Managers, Government Central Banks and sometimes individuals, are just a few examples.
This is very much the present system of exchange of foreign currencies. Although the currency?s value is dependent on the market forces, the central banks still try to keep their currency in a predefined (and highly confidential) fluctuation band. They accomplish this by taking one or more of various steps.
The International Trade Organization that had been planned in the Bretton Woods Agreement could not be realized in the form initially envisaged - the US Congress would not endorse it. Instead, it was created later, in 1947, in the form of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which was signed by the US and 23 other countries including Canada. The GATT would later become known as the World Trade Organization. In recent years, the two international institutions created at Bretton Woods the World Bank and the IMF have faced a major challenge in helping debtor nations to get back on stable financial footing.
A major catalyst to the acceleration of Forex trading was the rapid development of the Eurodollar market; where US dollars are deposited in banks outside the US. Similarly, Euromarkets are those where assets are deposited outside the currency of origin. The Eurodollar market first came into being in the 1950s when Russia?s oil revenue - all in dollars - was deposited outside the US in fear of being frozen by US regulators. That gave rise to a vast offshore pool of dollars outside the control of US authorities. The US government imposed laws to restrict dollar lending to foreigners. Euromarkets were particularly attractive because they had far less regulations and offered higher yields. From the late 1980s onwards, US companies began to borrow offshore, finding Euromarkets a beneficial center for holding excess liquidity, providing short-term loans and financing imports and exports.
London was, and remains the principal offshore market. In the 1980s, it became the key center in the Eurodollar market when British banks began lending dollars as an alternative to pounds in order to maintain their leading position in global finance. London?s convenient geographical location (operating during Asian and American markets) is also instrumental in preserving its dominance in the Euromarket.
Important dates in the Forex History
Early 20th Century
Only in the 20th century paper money start regular circulation. This happened by force of legislation, the efforts of central banks to manage money supplies, and government control of gold supplies.
Within a country, this fiat money is as good as any other form. Internationally, it is not. International trade has always demanded a money standard accepted everywhere.
Gold and silver provided such a standard for centuries. An official Gold Standard regulated the value of money for about a century, prior to the start of World War I in 1914.
The dollar has been perceived as more of a has-been, due to the Stock Market Crash and the subsequent Great Depression.
The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) was established in Basel, Switzerland. Its goals were to oversee the financial efforts of the newly independent countries, along with providing monetary relief to countries with temporary balance of payments difficulties.
The Great Depression, combined with the suspension of Gold Standard, created a serious diminution in foreign exchange dealings.
World War II
Before World War II, currencies around the world were quoted against the British Pound. World War II crashed the Pound. The only country unscarred by the war was the US. The US dollar became the prominent currency of the entire world.
The United National Monetary and Financial Conference at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire discussed the financial future of the post-war world. The major Western Industrialized nations agreed to a ?pegging? of the US Dollar, which in turn was pegged at $35.00 to the troy ounce of gold. The future was designed to be stable, in part due to the tight governmental controls on currency values. The US dollar became the world?s reserve currency.
The European Economic Community was established.
At the IMF meeting in Rio de Janeiro, the Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) were created. SDRs are international reserve assets created and allocated by the IMF to supplement the existing reserve assets.
The Smithsonian Agreement, reached in Washington, D.C., had a transitional role to the free floating markets. The ranges of currencies fluctuations relative to the US dollar were increased from 1 percent to 4.5 percent band. The range of currencies fluctuating against each other was increased up to 9 percent. As a parallel, the European Economic Community tried to move away from the US dollar block toward the Deutsche Mark block, by designing its own European Monetary System.
In the summer of 1971, President Nixon took the United States off the gold standard, and floating exchange rates began to materialize.
West Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg developed the European Joint Float. Member currencies were allowed to fluctuate within 2.25 percent band (the snake), against each other and 4.5 percent band (the tunnel) against the USD.
The Smithsonian Institution Agreement and the European Joint Float systems collapsed under heavy market pressures. Following the second major devaluation in the US dollar, the fixed-rate mechanism was totally discarded by the US Government and replaced by The Floating Rate.
The International Monetary Fund officially mandated free currency floating.
The European Monetary System was established.
January 1st, 1999, the Euro makes its official appearance within the countries members of the European Union.
January 1st, 2002, the Euro becomes the only currency and replaces all other twelve national currencies within the European Union and Monetary Market: Belgium, Germany, Greece, Spain, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Austria, Portugal and Finland.
Today, supply and demand for a particular currency, or its relative value, is the driving factors in determining exchange rates.
Decreasing obstacles and increasing opportunities, such as the fall of communism and the dramatic growth of the Asian and Latin American economies, have created new opportunities for investors.
Increasingly vast amounts of foreign currencies began flowing into other countries banks.
Players in the Forex Market
Central Banks - The national central banks play an important role in the (FOREX) markets. Ultimately, central banks seek to control the money supply and often have official or unofficial target rates for their currencies. As many central banks have very substantial foreign exchange reserves, their intervention power is significant. Among the most important responsibilities of a central bank is the restoration of an orderly market in times of excessive exchange rate volatility and the control of the inflationary impact of a weakening currency.
Frequently, the mere expectation of central bank intervention is sufficient to stabilize a currency, but in case of aggressive intervention the actual impact on the short-term supply/demand balance can lead to the desired moves in exchange rates.
If a central bank does not achieve its objectives, the market participants can take on a central bank. The combined resources of the market participants could easily overwhelm any central bank. Several scenarios of this nature were seen in the 1992-93 with the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) collapse and 1997 throughout South East Asia.
Banks - The Interbank market caters to both the majority of commercial turnover as well as enormous amounts of speculative trading. It is not uncommon for a large bank to trade billions of dollars daily. Some of this trading activity is undertaken on behalf of corporate customers, but a banks treasury room also conducts a large amount of trading, where bank dealers are taking their own positions to make the bank profits.
The Interbank market has become increasingly competitive in the last couple of years and the god-like status of top foreign exchange traders has suffered as equity traders are again back in charge. A large part of the banks? trading with each other is taking place on electronic booking systems that have negatively affected traditional foreign exchange brokers.
Interbank Brokers - Until recently, foreign exchange brokers were doing large amounts of business, facilitating Interbank trading and matching anonymous counterparts for comparatively small fees. With the increased use of the Internet, a lot of this business is moving onto more efficient electronic systems that are functioning as a closed circuit for banks only.
The traditional broker box, which lets bank traders and brokers hear market prices, is still seen in most trading rooms, but turnover is noticeably smaller than just a few years ago due to increased use of electronic booking systems.
Commercial Companies - The commercial companies? international trade exposure is the backbone of the foreign exchange markets. A multinational company has exposure in accounts receivables and payables denominated in foreign currencies. They can be protected against unfavorable moves with foreign exchange. That is why these markets are in existence. Commercial companies often trade in sizes that are insignificant to short term market moves, however, as the main currency markets can quite easily absorb hundreds of millions of dollars without any big impact. It is also clear that one of the decisive factors determining the long-term direction of a currency?s exchange rate is the overall trade flow.