Currency trading was very difficult for individual investors prior to the internet. Most currency traders were large multinational corporations, hedge funds or high-net-worth individuals because forex trading required a lot of capital. With help from the internet, a retail market aimed at individual traders has emerged, providing easy access to the foreign exchange markets, either through the banks themselves or brokers making a secondary market. Most online brokers or dealers offer very high leverage to individual traders who can control a large trade with a small account balance.
One way to deal with the foreign exchange risk is to engage in a forward transaction. In this transaction, money does not actually change hands until some agreed upon future date. A buyer and seller agree on an exchange rate for any date in the future, and the transaction occurs on that date, regardless of what the market rates are then. The duration of the trade can be one day, a few days, months or years. Usually the date is decided by both parties. Then the forward contract is negotiated and agreed upon by both parties.
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.
U.S. President, Richard Nixon is credited with ending the Bretton Woods Accord and fixed rates of exchange, eventually resulting in a free-floating currency system. After the Accord ended in 1971, the Smithsonian Agreement allowed rates to fluctuate by up to ±2%. In 1961–62, the volume of foreign operations by the U.S. Federal Reserve was relatively low. Those involved in controlling exchange rates found the boundaries of the Agreement were not realistic and so ceased this[clarification needed] in March 1973, when sometime afterward[clarification needed] none of the major currencies were maintained with a capacity for conversion to gold,[clarification needed] organizations relied instead on reserves of currency. From 1970 to 1973, the volume of trading in the market increased three-fold. At some time (according to Gandolfo during February–March 1973) some of the markets were "split", and a two-tier currency market[clarification needed] was subsequently introduced, with dual currency rates. This was abolished in March 1974.
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Currencies are traded against one another in pairs. Each currency pair thus constitutes an individual trading product and is traditionally noted XXXYYY or XXX/YYY, where XXX and YYY are the ISO 4217 international three-letter code of the currencies involved. The first currency (XXX) is the base currency that is quoted relative to the second currency (YYY), called the counter currency (or quote currency). For instance, the quotation EURUSD (EUR/USD) 1.5465 is the price of the Euro expressed in US dollars, meaning 1 euro = 1.5465 dollars. The market convention is to quote most exchange rates against the USD with the US dollar as the base currency (e.g. USDJPY, USDCAD, USDCHF). The exceptions are the British pound (GBP), Australian dollar (AUD), the New Zealand dollar (NZD) and the euro (EUR) where the USD is the counter currency (e.g. GBPUSD, AUDUSD, NZDUSD, EURUSD).
Big news comes in and then the market starts to spike or plummets rapidly. At this point it may be tempting to jump on the easy-money train, however, doing so without a disciplined trading plan behind you can be just as damaging as gambling before the news comes out. This is because illiquidity and sharp price movements mean a trade can quickly translate into significant losses as large swings take place or ‘whipsaw’.
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).
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.