A forex or currency futures contract is an agreement between two parties to deliver a set amount of currency at a set date, called the expiry, in the future. Futures contracts are traded on an exchange for set values of currency and with set expiry dates. Unlike a forward, the terms of a futures contract are non-negotiable. A profit is made on the difference between the prices the contract was bought and sold at. Most speculators don't hold futures contracts until expiration, as that would require they deliver/settle the currency the contract represents. Instead, speculators buy and sell the contracts prior to expiration, realizing their profits or losses on their transactions.
The logistics of forex day trading are almost identical to every other market. However, there is one crucial difference worth highlighting. When you’re day trading in forex you’re buying a currency, while selling another at the same time. Hence that is why the currencies are marketed in pairs. So, the exchange rate pricing you see from your forex trading account represents the purchase price between the two currencies.
A spot market deal is for immediate delivery, which is defined as two business days for most currency pairs. The major exception is the purchase or sale of USD/CAD, which is settled in one business day. The business day calculation excludes Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays in either currency of the traded pair. During the Christmas and Easter season, some spot trades can take as long as six days to settle. Funds are exchanged on the settlement date, not the transaction date.
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.
The profit you made on the above theoretical trade depends on how much of the currency you purchased. If you bought 1,000 units in USD (called a micro lot) each pip is worth $0.10, so you would calculate your profit as (50 pips x $0.10) = $5 for a 50 pip gain. If you bought a 10,000 unit (mini lot), then each pip is worth $1, so your profit ends up being $50. If you bought a 100,000 unit (standard lot) each pip is worth $10, so your profit is $500.
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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.