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.
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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.
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In the futures market, futures contracts are bought and sold based upon a standard size and settlement date on public commodities markets, such as the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. In the U.S., the National Futures Association regulates the futures market. Futures contracts have specific details, including the number of units being traded, delivery and settlement dates, and minimum price increments that cannot be customized. The exchange acts as a counterpart to the trader, providing clearance and settlement.
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.
A spot transaction is a two-day delivery transaction (except in the case of trades between the US dollar, Canadian dollar, Turkish lira, euro and Russian ruble, which settle the next business day), as opposed to the futures contracts, which are usually three months. This trade represents a “direct exchange” between two currencies, has the shortest time frame, involves cash rather than a contract, and interest is not included in the agreed-upon transaction. Spot trading is one of the most common types of forex trading. Often, a forex broker will charge a small fee to the client to roll-over the expiring transaction into a new identical transaction for a continuation of the trade. This roll-over fee is known as the "swap" fee.
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.
Factors like interest rates, trade flows, tourism, economic strength, and geopolitical risk affect supply and demand for currencies, which creates daily volatility in the forex markets. An opportunity exists to profit from changes that may increase or reduce one currency's value compared to another. A forecast that one currency will weaken is essentially the same as assuming that the other currency in the pair will strengthen because currencies are traded as pairs.
Foreign exchange trading increased by 20% between April 2007 and April 2010 and has more than doubled since 2004. The increase in turnover is due to a number of factors: the growing importance of foreign exchange as an asset class, the increased trading activity of high-frequency traders, and the emergence of retail investors as an important market segment. The growth of electronic execution and the diverse selection of execution venues has lowered transaction costs, increased market liquidity, and attracted greater participation from many customer types. In particular, electronic trading via online portals has made it easier for retail traders to trade in the foreign exchange market. By 2010, retail trading was estimated to account for up to 10% of spot turnover, or $150 billion per day (see below: Retail foreign exchange traders).
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From a historical standpoint, foreign exchange trading was largely limited to governments, large companies, and hedge funds. But in today's world, trading currencies is as easy as a click of a mouse. Accessibility is not an issue, which means anyone can do it. Many investment firms, banks, and retail forex brokers offer the chance for individuals to open accounts and to trade currencies.
Leveraged trading in foreign currency or off-exchange products on margin carries significant risk and may not be suitable for all investors. We advise you to carefully consider whether trading is appropriate for you based on your personal circumstances. Forex trading involves risk. Losses can exceed deposits. We recommend that you seek independent advice and ensure you fully understand the risks involved before trading.
The most common type of forward transaction is the foreign exchange swap. In a swap, two parties exchange currencies for a certain length of time and agree to reverse the transaction at a later date. These are not standardized contracts and are not traded through an exchange. A deposit is often required in order to hold the position open until the transaction is completed.
Unlike a stock market, the foreign exchange market is divided into levels of access. At the top is the interbank foreign exchange market, which is made up of the largest commercial banks and securities dealers. Within the interbank market, spreads, which are the difference between the bid and ask prices, are razor sharp and not known to players outside the inner circle. The difference between the bid and ask prices widens (for example from 0 to 1 pip to 1–2 pips for currencies such as the EUR) as you go down the levels of access. 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 interbank market accounts for 51% of all transactions. From there, 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 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.
Currency carry trade refers to the act of borrowing one currency that has a low interest rate in order to purchase another with a higher interest rate. A large difference in rates can be highly profitable for the trader, especially if high leverage is used. However, with all levered investments this is a double edged sword, and large exchange rate price fluctuations can suddenly swing trades into huge losses.
In developed nations, state control of foreign exchange trading ended in 1973 when complete floating and relatively free market conditions of modern times began. Other sources claim that the first time a currency pair was traded by U.S. retail customers was during 1982, with additional currency pairs becoming available by the next year.
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.