Currencies are traded on the Foreign Exchange market, also known as Forex. This is a decentralized market that spans the globe and is considered the largest by trading volume and the most liquid worldwide. Exchange rates fluctuate continuously due to the ever changing market forces of supply and demand. Forex traders buy a currency pair if they think the exchange rate will rise and sell it if they think the opposite will happen. The Forex market remains open around the world for 24 hours a day with the exception of weekends.
The foreign exchange market assists international trade and investments by enabling currency conversion. For example, it permits a business in the United States to import goods from European Union member states, especially Eurozone members, and pay Euros, even though its income is in United States dollars. It also supports direct speculation and evaluation relative to the value of currencies and the carry trade speculation, based on the differential interest rate between two currencies.
Both types of contracts are binding and are typically settled for cash at the exchange in question upon expiry, although contracts can also be bought and sold before they expire. The forwards and futures markets can offer protection against risk when trading currencies. Usually, big international corporations use these markets in order to hedge against future exchange rate fluctuations, but speculators take part in these markets as well.
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 as other traders would. There is also no convincing evidence that they actually make a profit from trading.
All exchange rates are susceptible to political instability and anticipations about the new ruling party. Political upheaval and instability can have a negative impact on a nation's economy. For example, destabilization of coalition governments in Pakistan and Thailand can negatively affect the value of their currencies. Similarly, in a country experiencing financial difficulties, the rise of a political faction that is perceived to be fiscally responsible can have the opposite effect. Also, events in one country in a region may spur positive/negative interest in a neighboring country and, in the process, affect its currency.
Unlike stock markets, which can trace their roots back centuries, the forex market as we understand it today is a truly new market. Of course, in its most basic sense—that of people converting one currency to another for financial advantage—forex has been around since nations began minting currencies. But the modern forex markets are a modern invention. After the accord at Bretton Woods in 1971, more major currencies were allowed to float freely against one another. The values of individual currencies vary, which has given rise to the need for foreign exchange services and trading.