What is Foreign Currency Exchange?
The first part of this currency trading tutorial looks at the history behind foreign currency exchange. Currencies from many different countries were backed up by gold about one hundred years ago. It was called The Gold Standard. This basically meant that to print certain amount of paper money a predetermined amount of gold was needed. Also you could walk into the bank and request that your currency bills would be converted to gold. Then you could leave the bank with the gold.
The Foreign currency exchange (FOREX) market is a cash (or “spot”) market for currency. This market emerged at the beginning of the 70′s decade. The reason was that currencies where not backed up by gold anymore. They began floating freely. Their value depended on forces of supply and demand due to economic factors, speculation, etc. This originated the Forex Market.
Historically, the FX market was available most to major banks, multinational corporations and other participants who traded in large transaction sizes and volumes. Small-scale traders including individuals like you and I, had little access to this market for such a long time. Now with the advent of the Internet and technology, FX trading is becoming an increasingly popular investment alternative for the general public.
How is it traded?
The second part of this currency trading tutorial looks at how currencies are traded. Currencies are always traded in pairs. The most popular currencies and their symbols are:
A currency can never be traded by itself, so you can’t trade a USD by itself. You always need to compare one currency with another currency to make a trade possible.
The most commonly traded currency pairs are:
EUR/USD ("Euro") Euro / US Dollar
USD/JPY ("Dollar Yen") US Dollar / Japanese Yen
GBP/USD ("Cable") British Pound / US Dollar
USD/CAD ("Dollar Canada") US Dollar / Canadian Dollar
AUD/USD ("Aussie Dollar") Australian Dollar/US Dollar
USD/CHF ("Swissy") US Dollar / Swiss Franc
EUR/JPY ("Euro Yen") Euro / Japanese Yen
The currency on the left is called the base currency. The currency on the right is the counter currency. For example, when you place an order to buy EUR/USD pair, you are actually buying the EUR and you are selling the USD. When you place an order to sell EUR/USD you are selling the EUR and you are buying the USD. Buying or selling a currency PAIR means buying or selling the base currency, and doing the opposite with the counter currency.
It might seem a little confusing, but actually it is easier to treat the currency PAIR as one item. It means when you place trades you simply sell or buy the pair. The base/counter concept is only important for fundamental analysis.
Currencies are traded in dollar amounts called lots. For a “standard” account, one lot (called a standard lot) is $1,000 and controls $100,000 in currency. For example, when you place an order to buy one lot of EUR/USD, you are buying the EUR and simultaneously selling the USD. The margin you must put up to place the order is $1000 (for a standard lot). You are going long the EUR and expecting it to strengthen against the USD. For every increase of $0.0001 in the EUR, you make one “pip” (price interest point) equivalent to $10 per lot traded.
Similarly, for a “mini-account” when you place an order to sell one mini-lot (one-tenth of a standard lot) of EUR/USD, you are selling the EUR and simultaneously buying the USD. You are going short the EUR and expecting it to weaken against the USD. The margin requirement is $100.00 per mini-lot. For every decrease in the EUR of $0.0001 you make one pip equivalent to $1 per mini-lot traded.
The broker makes money off the spread which is the difference in the quotation ask and bid prices. You buy the base currency at the ask price and sell it at the bid price. Generally, the major currency pairs have relatively low spreads. The EUR/USD is commonly two to three pips and the GPD/USD is commonly four to five pips. For example, the current bid/ask price for EUR/USD is quoted at 1.2322/1.2324. This means that you can buy 1 EUR (the base currency) for $1.2324 USD (the counter-currency). You buy at the ask price. You can sell 1 EUR for $1.2322 USD (you sell at the bid price). You will pay the broker the spread or $1.2324 – $1.2322 = $0.0002 = 2 pips. For a standard lot, the broker fee (in this example) is $10 x 2 pips = $20 per standard lot for a roundtrip trade (1 buy and matching sell or 1 sell and matching buy). For a mini-lot, the fee would be $1 x 2 pips = $2 per mini-lot for a roundtrip trade. The broker fee is automatically deducted from your account.
Obviously, if you buy (go long) a currency pair, you expect the base currency to increase in price. Your objective is to sell later at a price higher than you purchased and make a profit. On the flip side, if you sell (go short) a currency pair, you expect the base currency to decrease in price. Your objective is to buy later at a price that is lower than the price you originally sold, and thus make a profit off the difference.
To decide when to sell or buy you will need to learn technical analysis and/or fundamental analysis.
In currency trading you can make money both, when the currencies go up or down.
How can I get started?
Finally, the last part of this currency trading tutorial will show you how to get started in trading FOREX. You can easily open an online account by selecting one from many available FOREX brokers. You can, and should open a demo account to practice (and learn) for several months for free. The practice account makes simulated trades using real-time data. This is called “paper trading.” You should not trade your real account until you have proven to yourself that you can be profitable in your demo account.
Once you get started, you can trade currencies from just about anywhere. About all you need is a computer with internet access to your trading account. Many brokers also provide free charting software.
The hours of the different major national markets are as follows:
Sydney: 10 pm to 7 am UTC
Tokyo: 12 midnight to 9 am UTC
London: 8 am to 5 pm UTC
New York: 1 pm to 10 pm UTC