FOREX (abbr. from Foreign Exchange) in the broad sense – an aggregate of exchange operations between large banks and other financial institutions like pension funds, insurance companies and transnational corporations. The needs to carry out such exchanges can be different – banks and companies keep reserves in different currencies for their operational needs, hedge funds buy and sell currencies to earn on fluctuations of exchange rates.
The daily volume of transactions on Forex market is incredibly high – about $5.3 trillion per day in April 2013. It greatly exceeds the turnover on stock markets – for example daily trading value of biggest stock exchange NYSE averaged only $169 billions in 2013.
Let’s take a glance on some useful statistics related to Forex market:
As we can notice, USD and EURO represent most traded currencies in the world with about 3/4 of daily trading volume.
US and European banks seems to be the biggest currency traders.
Daily trading volume has been steadily growing throughout the given period with a dip in 2001 caused by financial crisis in 1998.
So, when we hear something like “Euro became weaker against Dollar” or “Japanese Yen appreciated against Australian Dollar” it invites reasonable question: What makes exchange rates fluctuate? To answer this question lets consider the state as a big company and national currency as its share. As logic suggests the better company performance the more value receives its shares. So basically, changes in exchange rates reflect how one company (country) outdo in performance other company (other country).
There are tons of domestic circumstances that leave impact on a country’s economy. By and large we can divide them in two categories: Internal and External. All of them in their underlying principle contain the theory of Supply and Demand. Macroeconomic changes, geopolitical events, natural disasters can be referred to domestic factors, while changes in commodity prices (especially energy), increasing or decreasing supply or demand for certain goods can be considered as external.
Here are two schemes that can help to understand the impact of both internal and external factors on national currency:
Russian Central bank decides to increase interest rate for Ruble => borrowing costs of Ruble increase (money “become more expensive”) => Russians borrow less and spend less, Foreign Investors tend to buy Ruble as it ensures more return => Amount of this currency on forex market decrease (thus the demand for it increase) => the value of Ruble increase.
China Oil consumption fall => Supply doesn’t change so world market gets oversupplied with Oil=> Price on Oil declines => Oil return for exporters like Russia drops => Russian economy deteriorates => Ruble becomes cheaper.
Of course these two basic examples demonstrate clearly how currencies are affected by certain circumstances and describe fluctuations in their plain way, but given that the number of factors can reach thousands or millions its impossible to predict how the exchange rate will change in next 5 minutes (obviously current computational capacities are not enough to collect and analyze all information that may have impact on certain currency). Its essential to know that important economic and political events form only long-term trends in exchange rates – the wave that can form weeks or months or even years, consisting of numerous smaller waves.
Alright, seems we’ve dealt with a notion of exchange rate fluctuations. Let’s take a look under the hood.
As you may already have guessed, forex market operates 24/5 (banks don’t work during weekends). 24/5 means that exchange rates are continuously floating from Monday to Friday. The continuity is achieved by Trading sessions, which times of operations overlap each other. Look at the picture below to get a clue on how trading sessions work:
London session is considered biggest by trading volume, second is New-York session. Asian and Australian sessions feature with lowered trading activity (amount of transactions). The overlap of London and New-York session is considered to be most active time of trading. In trading terms it means “time of best market liquidity”.
That’s it for today. In next article we’ll get insight into how retail forex trading works and how access to biggest market in the world can be served to any trading newbie.