During the 15th century, the Medici family were required to open banks at foreign locations in order to exchange currencies to act on behalf of textile merchants. To facilitate trade, the bank created the nostro (from Italian, this translates to "ours") account book which contained two columned entries showing amounts of foreign and local currencies; information pertaining to the keeping of an account with a foreign bank. During the 17th (or 18th) century, Amsterdam maintained an active Forex market. In 1704, foreign exchange took place between agents acting in the interests of the Kingdom of England and the County of Holland.
Despite being able to trade 24 hours a day, 5 days a week, you shouldn’t (Forex trading is not quite 24.7). You should only trade a forex pair when it’s active, and when you’ve got enough volume. Trading forex at weekends will see small volume. Take GBP/USD for example, there are specific hours where you have enough volatility to create profits that are likely to negate the bid price spread and commission costs.
These cover the bulk of countries outside Europe. Forex brokers catering for India, Hong Kong, Qatar etc are likely to have regulation in one of the above, rather than every country they support. Some brands are regulated across the globe (one is even regulated in 5 continents). Some bodies issue licenses, and others have a register of legal firms.
Inflation levels and trends: Typically a currency will lose value if there is a high level of inflation in the country or if inflation levels are perceived to be rising. This is because inflation erodes purchasing power, thus demand, for that particular currency. However, a currency may sometimes strengthen when inflation rises because of expectations that the central bank will raise short-term interest rates to combat rising inflation.
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.
Just like stocks, you can trade currency based on what you think its value is (or where it's headed). But the big difference with forex is that you can trade up or down just as easily. If you think a currency will increase in value, you can buy it. If you think it will decrease, you can sell it. With a market this large, finding a buyer when you're selling and a seller when you're buying is much easier than in in other markets. Maybe you hear on the news that China is devaluing its currency to draw more foreign business into its country. If you think that trend will continue, you could make a forex trade by selling the Chinese currency against another currency, say, the US dollar. The more the Chinese currency devalues against the US dollar, the higher your profits. If the Chinese currency increases in value while you have your sell position open, then your losses increase and you want to get out of the trade.
The broker basically resets the positions and provides either a credit or debit for the interest rate differential between the two currencies in the pairs being held. The trade carries on and the trader doesn't need to deliver or settle the transaction. When the trade is closed the trader realizes their profit or loss based on their original transaction price and the price they closed the trade at. The rollover credits or debits could either add to this gain or detract from it.
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.