An exchange rate can suffer rapid changes, sometimes several times a second, so there’s a lot of action going on 24 hours a day, 5 days a week. In general, the currency exchange rate reflects the health of an economy in comparison to others. If the economies of the Eurozone are doing better than the US economy, the euro will go up compared to the dollar (EUR/USD ↑) and vice-versa.
Understanding the above concepts will help you grasp what's happening when you see a forex pair rising or falling on a chart. If you do the math on the difference in pips between two price points, it will also help you see the profit potential available from such moves. For more on starting out in forex trading, see Minimum Capital Required to Start Day Trading Forex and How Much Money Can I Make Forex Day Trading? Both these articles provide more examples of how profit is realized in the forex market, as well as introducing new concepts, such as leverage.
For example, if Company A is based in the U.S. and wishes to use the EUR/USD trading pair to buy Euros to pay employees located in Europe, they would tap the forex market. However, if the price quote rapidly changes between several hours and Company A is set to exchange a large sum of USD for EUR, then a small adverse price fluctuation could have a significant impact on their bottom line.
HIGH RISK WARNING: Foreign exchange trading carries a high level of risk that may not be suitable for all investors. Leverage creates additional risk and loss exposure. Before you decide to trade foreign exchange, carefully consider your investment objectives, experience level, and risk tolerance. You could lose some or all of your initial investment; do not invest money that you cannot afford to lose. Educate yourself on the risks associated with foreign exchange trading, and seek advice from an independent financial or tax advisor if you have any questions.
The demand for social trading services has become more prevalent as retail investors also seek to become more prudent in their broker selection following endemic fraud that many retail traders have historically faced. Regulation has also increased noticeably in forex markets over the last decade, and many smaller brokerage companies employing questionable operational practices have been removed from the market.
When you trade forex, you're effectively borrowing the first currency in the pair to buy or sell the second currency. With a US$5-trillion-a-day market, the liquidity is so deep that liquidity providers—the big banks, basically—allow you to trade with leverage. To trade with leverage, you simply set aside the required margin for your trade size. If you're trading 200:1 leverage, for example, you can trade $2,000 in the market while only setting aside $10 in margin in your trading account. For 50:1 leverage, the same trade size would still only require about £40 in margin. This gives you much more exposure, while keeping your capital investment down.
Forex trading is governed by the National Futures Association, and they routinely check brokerages for financial irregularities, hidden or overly high fees, and scams. A key point of comparison between forex brokerages is their regulatory approval status with the NFA. Because the forex market and its major players move rapidly, it’s wise to regularly check on that status via the NFA’s Status Information Center. Increased regulation (coupled with higher capital requirements) continue to force forex brokers to leave the playing field, and one side effect is that it’s increasingly easy to find the best out of a constrained number of options.
Currency and exchange were important elements of trade in the ancient world, enabling people to buy and sell items like food, pottery, and raw materials. If a Greek coin held more gold than an Egyptian coin due to its size or content, then a merchant could barter fewer Greek gold coins for more Egyptian ones, or for more material goods. This is why, at some point in their history, most world currencies in circulation today had a value fixed to a specific quantity of a recognized standard like silver and gold.
The foreign exchange market is the "place" where currencies are traded. Currencies are important to most people around the world, whether they realize it or not, because currencies need to be exchanged in order to conduct foreign trade and business. If you are living in the U.S. and want to buy cheese from France, either you or the company that you buy the cheese from has to pay the French for the cheese in euros (EUR). This means that the U.S. importer would have to exchange the equivalent value of U.S. dollars (USD) into euros. The same goes for traveling. A French tourist in Egypt can't pay in euros to see the pyramids because it's not the locally accepted currency. As such, the tourist has to exchange the euros for the local currency, in this case the Egyptian pound, at the current exchange rate.