Foreign exchange is traded in an over-the-counter market where brokers/dealers negotiate directly with one another, so there is no central exchange or clearing house. The biggest geographic trading center is the United Kingdom, primarily London. In April 2019, trading in the United Kingdom accounted for 43.1% of the total, making it by far the most important center for foreign exchange trading in the world. Owing to London's dominance in the market, a particular currency's quoted price is usually the London market price. For instance, when the International Monetary Fund calculates the value of its special drawing rights every day, they use the London market prices at noon that day. Trading in the United States accounted for 16.5%, Singapore and Hong Kong account for 7.6% and Japan accounted for 4.5%.
Most developed countries permit the trading of derivative products (such as futures and options on futures) on their exchanges. All these developed countries already have fully convertible capital accounts. Some governments of emerging markets do not allow foreign exchange derivative products on their exchanges because they have capital controls. The use of derivatives is growing in many emerging economies. Countries such as South Korea, South Africa, and India have established currency futures exchanges, despite having some capital controls.
More specifically, the spot market is where currencies are bought and sold according to the current price. That price, determined by supply and demand, is a reflection of many things, including current interest rates, economic performance, sentiment towards ongoing political situations (both locally and internationally), as well as the perception of the future performance of one currency against another. When a deal is finalized, this is known as a "spot deal." It is a bilateral transaction by which one party delivers an agreed-upon currency amount to the counter party and receives a specified amount of another currency at the agreed-upon exchange rate value. After a position is closed, the settlement is in cash. Although the spot market is commonly known as one that deals with transactions in the present (rather than the future), these trades actually take two days for settlement.
Currency trading and exchange first occurred in ancient times. Money-changers (people helping others to change money and also taking a commission or charging a fee) were living in the Holy Land in the times of the Talmudic writings (Biblical times). These people (sometimes called "kollybistẻs") used city stalls, and at feast times the Temple's Court of the Gentiles instead. Money-changers were also the silversmiths and/or goldsmiths of more recent ancient times.
The foreign exchange market is the most liquid financial market in the world. Traders include governments and central banks, commercial banks, other institutional investors and financial institutions, currency speculators, other commercial corporations, and individuals. According to the 2019 Triennial Central Bank Survey, coordinated by the Bank for International Settlements, average daily turnover was $6.6 trillion in April 2019 (compared to $1.9 trillion in 2004). Of this $6.6 trillion, $2 trillion was spot transactions and $4.6 trillion was traded in outright forwards, swaps, and other derivatives.
The Balance does not provide tax, investment, or financial services and advice. The information is being presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance or financial circumstances of any specific investor and might not be suitable for all investors. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Investing involves risk including the possible loss of principal.
Leveraged trading in foreign currency contracts or other off-exchange products on margin carries a high level of risk and may not be suitable for everyone. We advise you to carefully consider whether trading is appropriate for you in light of your personal circumstances. You may lose more than you invest. Information on this website is general in nature. We recommend that you seek independent financial advice and ensure you fully understand the risks involved before trading. Trading through an online platform carries additional risks. Refer to our legal section.
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.