Lesson 1: What does “forex” mean?

April 1, 2022

Forex – often spelled FX – is an abbreviation for “Foreign Exchange.” Fundamentally, it is similar to a stock exchange in that it is a market where one can exchange multiple currencies worldwide. According to a 2019 triennial report from the Bank for International Settlements (a global bank for national central banks), the daily trading volume for Forex reached $6.6 trillion in April 2019.

What Is the Forex Market?

The foreign exchange market is where currencies are traded. Currencies are important because they allow us to purchase goods and services locally and across borders. International currencies need to be exchanged to conduct foreign trade and business.

If you are living in the United States and want to buy cheese from France, then you or the company from which you buy the cheese must pay the French for the cheese in euros (EUR). The US importer would have to exchange the equivalent value of US dollars (USD) for euros.

You’re travelling from Australia to the United States in our scenario. You have AUD 1,000 to spend on your trip and thus visit a currency exchange to convert your Australian dollars to US dollars.

Assume the exchange rate was 1 AUD to 0.7 USD. This means that for each AUD you hand over to the currency broker, you will receive 0.7 USD in exchange. Given that you have 1,000 Australian dollars, you would obtain US$700 in this exchange.

Unfortunately, some things came up before your scheduled flight to New York, and you couldn’t go. As a result, you cancel your vacation and return to the currency dealer to exchange your US$700 for Australian dollars. To your amazement, the dealer hands you AUD 1,100 – a sum greater than the AU$1000 you had paid.

Consider the possibility that the currency broker made an error. Let us re-examine.

In this case, you made a profit of AUD 100. You originally spent AUD 1,000 to purchase US$700, but now you’re paying the same US$700 and receiving AUD 1,100 in return. That is a brief overview of Forex trading; it is not only about exchanging one currency for another but also about attempting to benefit from it.

In this instance, we profited since the US Dollar rose against the Australian Dollar while we held it. This enabled us to convert our original US$700 for more Australian Dollars than we had previously.

One unique aspect of this international market is that there is no central marketplace for foreign exchange. Instead, currency trading is conducted electronically over the counter (OTC), meaning that all transactions occur via computer networks among traders worldwide rather than on one centralized exchange.

The market is open 24 hours a day, five and a half days a week, and currencies are traded worldwide in the major financial centres of Frankfurt, Hong Kong, London, New York, Paris, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo, and Zurich—across almost every time zone.

This means that the forex market begins anew when the US trading day ends in Tokyo and Hong Kong. The forex market can be highly active anytime, with price quotes changing constantly.

A Brief History of Forex

In its most basic sense, the forex market has been around for centuries. People have always exchanged or bartered goods and currencies to purchase goods and services. However, as we understand it today, the forex market is a relatively modern invention.

After the Bretton Woods accord began to collapse in 1971, more currencies were allowed to float freely against one another. The values of individual currencies vary based on demand and circulation and are monitored by foreign exchange trading services.

Commercial and investment banks conduct most of the trading in forex markets on behalf of their clients. Still, there are also speculative opportunities for trading one currency against another for professional and individual investors.

There are two distinct features of currencies as an asset class:

  • You can earn the interest rate differential between two currencies.
  • You can profit from changes in the exchange rate.

An investor can profit from the difference between two interest rates in two different economies by buying the currency with the higher interest rate and shorting the currency with the lower interest rate. Before the 2008 financial crisis, shorting the Japanese yen (JPY) and buying British pounds (GBP) was expected because the interest rate differential was huge. This strategy is sometimes referred to as a carry trade.