There is no unified or centrally cleared market for the majority of trades, and there is very little cross-border regulation. Due to the over-the-counter (OTC) nature of currency markets, there are rather a number of interconnected marketplaces, where different currencies instruments are traded. This implies that there is not a single exchange rate but rather a number of different rates (prices), depending on what bank or market maker is trading, and where it is. In practice, the rates are quite close due to arbitrage. Due to London's dominance in the market, a particular currency's quoted price is usually the London market price. Major trading exchanges include Electronic Broking Services (EBS) and Thomson Reuters Dealing, while major banks also offer trading systems. A joint venture of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Reuters, called Fxmarketspace opened in 2007 and aspired but failed to the role of a central market clearing mechanism.
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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.
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.