Unlike a stock market, the foreign exchange market is divided into levels of access. At the top is the interbank foreign exchange market, which is made up of the largest commercial banks and securities dealers. Within the interbank market, spreads, which are the difference between the bid and ask prices, are razor sharp and not known to players outside the inner circle. The difference between the bid and ask prices widens (for example from 0 to 1 pip to 1–2 pips for currencies such as the EUR) as you go down the levels of access. This is due to volume. If a trader can guarantee large numbers of transactions for large amounts, they can demand a smaller difference between the bid and ask price, which is referred to as a better spread. The levels of access that make up the foreign exchange market are determined by the size of the "line" (the amount of money with which they are trading). The top-tier interbank market accounts for 51% of all transactions. From there, smaller banks, followed by large multi-national corporations (which need to hedge risk and pay employees in different countries), large hedge funds, and even some of the retail market makers. According to Galati and Melvin, “Pension funds, insurance companies, mutual funds, and other institutional investors have played an increasingly important role in financial markets in general, and in FX markets in particular, since the early 2000s.” (2004) In addition, he notes, “Hedge funds have grown markedly over the 2001–2004 period in terms of both number and overall size”. Central banks also participate in the foreign exchange market to align currencies to their economic needs.
In 1944, the Bretton Woods Accord was signed, allowing currencies to fluctuate within a range of ±1% from the currency's par exchange rate. In Japan, the Foreign Exchange Bank Law was introduced in 1954. As a result, the Bank of Tokyo became the center of foreign exchange by September 1954. Between 1954 and 1959, Japanese law was changed to allow foreign exchange dealings in many more Western currencies.
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A foreign exchange market is a 24-hour over-the-counter (OTC) and dealers’ market, meaning that transactions are completed between two participants via telecommunications technology. The currency markets are also further divided into spot markets—which are for two-day settlements—and the forward, swap, interbank futures, and options markets. London, New York, and Tokyo dominate foreign exchange trading. The currency markets are the largest and most liquid of all the financial markets; the triennial figures from the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) put daily global turnover in the foreign exchange markets in trillions of dollars. It is sobering to consider that in the early 21st century an annual world trade’s foreign exchange is traded in just less than every five days on the currency markets, although the widespread use of hedging and exchanges into and out of vehicle currencies—as a more liquid medium of exchange—means that such measures of financial activity can be exaggerated.
Currencies are traded against one another in pairs. Each currency pair thus constitutes an individual trading product and is traditionally noted XXXYYY or XXX/YYY, where XXX and YYY are the ISO 4217 international three-letter code of the currencies involved. The first currency (XXX) is the base currency that is quoted relative to the second currency (YYY), called the counter currency (or quote currency). For instance, the quotation EURUSD (EUR/USD) 1.5465 is the price of the Euro expressed in US dollars, meaning 1 euro = 1.5465 dollars. The market convention is to quote most exchange rates against the USD with the US dollar as the base currency (e.g. USDJPY, USDCAD, USDCHF). The exceptions are the British pound (GBP), Australian dollar (AUD), the New Zealand dollar (NZD) and the euro (EUR) where the USD is the counter currency (e.g. GBPUSD, AUDUSD, NZDUSD, EURUSD).
A single pound on Monday could get you 1.19 euros. On Tuesday, 1.20 euros. This tiny change may not seem like a big deal. But think of it on a bigger scale. A large international company may need to pay overseas employees. Imagine what that could do to the bottom line if, like in the example above, simply exchanging one currency for another costs you more depending on when you do it? These few pennies add up quickly. In both cases, you—as a traveler or a business owner—may want to hold your money until the forex exchange rate is more favorable.
Starting with $500 gives some flexibility in how you can trade; $100 doesn't. If you want to day trade forex, start with at least $500. No matter what balance you start with, limit risk to 1% of your account balance on each trade. Alter the above scenarios to help determine what your position size should be based on the stop loss level you use and what type of lot (micro, mini or standard) you're trading.
In 1876, something called the gold exchange standard was implemented. Basically it said that all paper currency had to be backed by solid gold; the idea here was to stabilize world currencies by pegging them to the price of gold. It was a good idea in theory, but in reality it created boom-bust patterns which ultimately led to the demise of the gold standard.
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During the 15th century, the Medici family were required to open banks at foreign locations in order to exchange currencies to act on behalf of textile merchants. To facilitate trade, the bank created the nostro (from Italian, this translates to "ours") account book which contained two columned entries showing amounts of foreign and local currencies; information pertaining to the keeping of an account with a foreign bank. During the 17th (or 18th) century, Amsterdam maintained an active Forex market. In 1704, foreign exchange took place between agents acting in the interests of the Kingdom of England and the County of Holland.
To find out how many euros it costs to buy one U.S. dollar, flip the pair to USD/EUR. To find out this rate, divide 1 by 1.3635 (or whatever the current rate is). The result is 0.7334. It costs 0.7334 euros to buy one USD based on the current market price. The price of the currency pair constantly fluctuates, as transactions occur around the globe, 24-hours a day during the week.
A system of free-floating currencies eventually materialized and is the modern international system of currencies that has allowed the forex market to flourish into the behemoth that it has become. With no stable price mechanism (i.e., gold), national currencies consistently fluctuate in value relative to each other, creating ideal opportunities for major market participants to profit and hedge risk on the spread between currencies.
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