How Forex Works

How does the off-exchange currency market work?

The off-exchange forex market is a large, growing and liquid financial market that operates 24 hours a day. It is not a market in the traditional sense because there is no central trading location or “exchange.” Most of the trading is conducted by telephone orthrough electronic trading networks. The primary market for currencies is the “interbank market” where banks, insurance companies, large corporations and other large financial institutions manage the risks associated with fluctuations in currency rates. The true interbank market is only available to institutions that trade in large quantities and have a very high net worth. In recent years, a secondary OTC market has developed that permits retail investors to participate in forex transactions. While this secondary market does not provide the same prices as the interbank market, it does have many of the same characteristics.

How are foreign currencies quoted and priced?

Currencies are designated by three letter symbols. The standard symbols for some of the most commonly traded currencies are EUR Euros, USD United States dollar, CAD Canadian dollar, GBP British pound, JPY Japanese yen, AUD Australian dollar, and CHF Swiss franc. Forex transactions are quoted in pairs because you are buying one currency while selling another. The first currency is the base currency and the second currency is the quote currency. The price, or rate, that is quoted is the amount of the second currency required to purchase one unit of the first currency. For example, if EUR/USD has an ask price of 1.2178, you can buy one Euro for 1.2178 US dollars. Currency pairs are often quoted as bid-ask spreads. The first part of the quote is the amount of the quote currency you will receivein exchange for one unit of the base currency (the bid price) andthe second part of the quote is the amount of the quote currency you must spend for one unit of the base currency (the ask or offer price). In other words, a EUR/USD spread of 1.2170/1.2178 means that you can sell one Euro for $1.2170 and buy one Euro for $1.2178. A dealer may not quote the full exchange rate for both sides of the spread. For example, the EUR/USD spread discussed above could be quoted as 1.2170/78. The customer should understand that the first three numbers are the same for both sides of the spread.

What transaction costs will I pay?

Although dealers who are regulated by NFA must disclose their charges to retail customers, there are no rules about how a dealer charges a customer for the services the dealer provides or that limit how much the dealer can charge. Before opening an account, you should check with several dealers and compare their charges as well as their services. If you were solicited by or place your trades through someone other than the dealer, or if your account is managed by someone, you may be charged a separate amount for thethird party’s services. Some firms charge a per trade commission, while other firms charge a mark-up by widening the spread between the bid and ask prices they give their customers. In the earlier example, assume that the dealer can get a EUR/USD spread of 1.2173/75 from a bank. If the dealer widens the spread to 1.2170/78 for its customers, the dealer has marked up the spread by .0003 on each side. Some firms may charge both a commission and a mark-up. Firms may also charge a different mark-up for buying the base currency than for selling it. You should read your agreement with the dealer carefully and be sure you understand how the firm will charge you for your trades.