FOREX (Foreign Exchange Market)

The foreign exchange market (forex, FX, or currency market) is a worldwide decentralized over-the-counter financial market for the trading of currencies. Financial centers around the world function as anchors of trading between a wide range of different types of buyers and sellers around the clock, with the exception of weekends. The foreign exchange market determines the relative values of different currencies.

The primary purpose of the foreign exchange is to assist international trade and investment, by allowing businesses to convert one currency to another currency. For example, it permits a US business to import British goods and pay Pound Sterling, even though the business's income is in US dollars. It also supports speculation, and facilitates the carry trade, in which investors borrow low-yielding currencies and lend (invest in) high-yielding currencies, and which (it has been claimed) may lead to loss of competitiveness in some countries.

In a typical foreign exchange transaction, a party purchases a quantity of one currency by paying a quantity of another currency. The modern foreign exchange market began forming after February 1973, when countries gradually switched to floating exchange rates from the previous exchange rate regime, which remained fixed as per the Bretton Woods system.The foreign exchange market is unique because of

* its huge trading volume, leading to high liquidity;
* its geographical dispersion;
* its continuous operation: 24 hours a day except weekends, i.e. trading from 20:15 GMT on Sunday until 22:00 GMT Friday;
* the variety of factors that affect exchange rates;
* the low margins of relative profit compared with other markets of fixed income; and
* the use of leverage to enhance profit margins with respect to account size.

As such, it has been referred to as the market closest to the ideal of perfect competition, notwithstanding market manipulation by central banks.[citation needed] According to the Bank for International Settlements,[3] as of April 2010, average daily turnover in global foreign exchange markets is estimated at $3.98 trillion, a growth of approximately 20% over the $3.21 trillion daily volume as of April 2007.

The $3.98 trillion break-down is as follows:

* $1.490 trillion in spot transactions
* $475 billion in outright forwards
* $1.765 trillion in foreign exchange swaps
* $43 billion currency swaps
* $207 billion in options and other products

Market size and liquidity

The foreign exchange market is the largest and most liquid financial market in the world. Traders include large banks, central banks, currency speculators, corporations, governments, and other financial institutions. The average daily volume in the global foreign exchange and related markets is continuously growing. Daily turnover was reported to be over US$3.98 trillion in April 2010 by the Bank for International Settlements.

Of the $3.98 trillion daily global turnover, trading in London accounted for around $1.85 trillion, or 36.7% of the total, making London by far the global center for foreign exchange. In second and third places respectively, trading in New York City accounted for 17.9%, and Tokyo accounted for 6.2%. In addition to "traditional" turnover, $2.1 trillion was traded in derivatives.

Exchange-traded FX futures contracts were introduced in 1972 at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and are actively traded relative to most other futures contracts.

Several other developed countries also permit the trading of FX derivative products (like currency futures and options on currency futures) on their exchanges. All these developed countries already have fully convertible capital accounts. Most emerging countries do not permit FX derivative products on their exchanges in view of prevalent controls on the capital accounts. However, a few select emerging countries (e.g., Korea, South Africa, India—; ) have already successfully experimented with the currency futures exchanges, despite having some controls on the capital account.

FX futures volume has grown rapidly in recent years, and accounts for about 7% of the total foreign exchange market volume, according to The Wall Street Journal Europe (5/5/06, p. 20).
Top 10 currency traders
% of overall volume, May 2010 Rank Name Market share
1 Germany Deutsche Bank 18.06%
2 Switzerland UBS AG 11.30%
3 United Kingdom Barclays Capital 11.08%
4 United States Citi 7.69%
5 United Kingdom Royal Bank of Scotland 6.50%
6 United States JPMorgan 6.35%
7 United Kingdom HSBC 4.55%
8 Switzerland Credit Suisse 4.44%
9 United States Goldman Sachs 4.28%
10 United States Morgan Stanley 2.91%

Foreign exchange trading increased by over a third in the 12 months to April 2010 and has more than doubled since 2001. This is largely due to the growing importance of foreign exchange as an asset class and an increase in fund management assets, particularly of hedge funds and pension funds. The diverse selection of execution venues have made it easier for retail traders to trade in the foreign exchange market. In 2009, retail traders constituted over 5% of the whole FX market volumes (see retail trading platforms).

Because foreign exchange is an OTC market where brokers/dealers negotiate directly with one another, there is no central exchange or clearing house. The biggest geographic trading centre is the UK, primarily London, which according to TheCityUK estimates has increased its share of global turnover in traditional transactions from 34.6% in April 2007 to 36.7% in April 2010. Due to London's dominance in the market, a particular currency's quoted price is usually the London market price. For instance, when the IMF calculates the value of its SDRs every day, they use the London market prices at noon that day.

Market participants

Unlike a stock market, the foreign exchange market is divided into levels of access. At the top is the inter-bank market, which is made up of the largest commercial banks and securities dealers. Within the inter-bank market, spreads, which are the difference between the bid and ask prices, are razor sharp and usually unavailable, and not known to players outside the inner circle. The difference between the bid and ask prices widens (from 0-1 pip to 1-2 pips for some currencies such as the EUR). This is due to volume. If a trader can guarantee large numbers of transactions for large amounts, they can demand a smaller difference between the bid and ask price, which is referred to as a better spread. The levels of access that make up the foreign exchange market are determined by the size of the "line" (the amount of money with which they are trading). The top-tier inter-bank market accounts for 53% of all transactions. After that there are usually smaller banks, followed by large multi-national corporations (which need to hedge risk and pay employees in different countries), large hedge funds, and even some of the retail FX-metal market makers. According to Galati and Melvin, “Pension funds, insurance companies, mutual funds, and other institutional investors have played an increasingly important role in financial markets in general, and in FX markets in particular, since the early 2000s.” (2004) In addition, he notes, “Hedge funds have grown markedly over the 2001–2004 period in terms of both number and overall size” Central banks also participate in the foreign exchange market to align currencies to their economic needs.


The interbank market caters for both the majority of commercial turnover and large amounts of speculative trading every day. A large bank may trade billions of dollars daily. Some of this trading is undertaken on behalf of customers, but much is conducted by proprietary desks, trading for the bank's own account. Until recently, foreign exchange brokers did large amounts of business, facilitating interbank trading and matching anonymous counterparts for large fees. Today, however, much of this business has moved on to more efficient electronic systems. The broker squawk box lets traders listen in on ongoing interbank trading and is heard in most trading rooms, but turnover is noticeably smaller than just a few years ago.

Commercial companies

An important part of this market comes from the financial activities of companies seeking foreign exchange to pay for goods or services. Commercial companies often trade fairly small amounts compared to those of banks or speculators, and their trades often have little short term impact on market rates. Nevertheless, trade flows are an important factor in the long-term direction of a currency's exchange rate. Some multinational companies can have an unpredictable impact when very large positions are covered due to exposures that are not widely known by other market participants.
Central banks

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, like other traders would, and there is no convincing evidence that they do make a profit trading.

Forex Fixing

Forex fixing is the daily monetary exchange rate fixed by the national bank of each country. The idea is that central bank use the fixing time and exchange rate to evaluate behavior of their currency. Fixing exchange rates reflects the real value of equilibrium in the forex market. Banks, dealers and online foreign exchange traders use fixing rates as a trend indicator.

The mere expectation or rumor of central bank intervention might be enough to stabilize a currency, but aggressive intervention might be used several times each year in countries with a dirty float currency regime. Central banks do not always achieve their objectives. The combined resources of the market can easily overwhelm any central bank. Several scenarios of this nature were seen in the 1992–93 ERM collapse, and in more recent times in Southeast Asia.

Hedge funds as speculators

About 70% to 90%[citation needed] of the foreign exchange transactions are speculative. In other words, the person or institution that bought or sold the currency has no plan to actually take delivery of the currency in the end; rather, they were solely speculating on the movement of that particular currency. Hedge funds have gained a reputation for aggressive currency speculation since 1996. They control billions of dollars of equity and may borrow billions more, and thus may overwhelm intervention by central banks to support almost any currency, if the economic fundamentals are in the hedge funds' favor.

Investment management firms

Investment management firms (who typically manage large accounts on behalf of customers such as pension funds and endowments) use the foreign exchange market to facilitate transactions in foreign securities. For example, an investment manager bearing an international equity portfolio needs to purchase and sell several pairs of foreign currencies to pay for foreign securities purchases.

Some investment management firms also have more speculative specialist currency overlay operations, which manage clients' currency exposures with the aim of generating profits as well as limiting risk. Whilst the number of this type of specialist firms is quite small, many have a large value of assets under management (AUM), and hence can generate large trades

Retail foreign exchange brokers

Retail traders (individuals) constitute a growing segment of this market, both in size and importance. Currently, they participate indirectly through brokers or banks. Retail brokers, while largely controlled and regulated in the USA by the CFTC and NFA have in the past been subjected to periodic foreign exchange scams.[8][9] To deal with the issue, the NFA and CFTC began (as of 2009) imposing stricter requirements, particularly in relation to the amount of Net Capitalization required of its members. As a result many of the smaller, and perhaps questionable brokers are now gone.

There are two main types of retail FX brokers offering the opportunity for speculative currency trading: brokers and dealers or market makers. Brokers serve as an agent of the customer in the broader FX market, by seeking the best price in the market for a retail order and dealing on behalf of the retail customer. They charge a commission or mark-up in addition to the price obtained in the market. Dealers or market makers, by contrast, typically act as principal in the transaction versus the retail customer, and quote a price they are willing to deal at—the customer has the choice whether or not to trade at that price.

In assessing the suitability of an FX trading service, the customer should consider the ramifications of whether the service provider is acting as principal or agent. When the service provider acts as agent, the customer is generally assured of a known cost above the best inter-dealer FX rate. When the service provider acts as principal, no commission is paid, but the price offered may not be the best available in the market—since the service provider is taking the other side of the transaction, a conflict of interest may occur.


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