The original demand for foreign exchange arose from merchants’ requirements for foreign currency to settle trades. However, now, as well as trade and investment requirements, foreign exchange is also bought and sold for risk management (hedging), arbitrage, and speculative gain. Therefore, financial, rather than trade, flows act as the key determinant of exchange rates; for example, interest rate differentials act as a magnet for yield-driven capital. Thus, the currency markets are often held to be a permanent and ongoing referendum on government policy decisions and the health of the economy; if the markets disapprove, they will vote with their feet and exit a currency. However, debates about the actual versus potential mobility of capital remain contested, as do those about whether exchange rate movements can best be characterized as rational, “overshooting,” or speculatively irrational.
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The mere expectation or rumor of a central bank foreign exchange intervention might be enough to stabilize the currency. However, aggressive intervention might be used several times each year in countries with a dirty float currency regime. Central banks do not always achieve their objectives. The combined resources of the market can easily overwhelm any central bank. Several scenarios of this nature were seen in the 1992–93 European Exchange Rate Mechanism collapse, and in more recent times in Asia.
The Forex market, also known as the foreign exchange market or FX, is the market in which currencies are traded. This financial market is the largest and most liquid in the world. Trading is open 24 hours a day, five days a week. To demonstrate the enormity of its volume, the New York Stock Exchange handles approximately $169 billion worth of transactions a day, while the Forex market sees over $5 trillion worth of transactions a day!
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There are many factors that can impact – or potentially impact – currency market prices. Such factors include economic and political events and announcements, interest rates, inflation levels and natural disasters – among others. There’s no sure-fire way to predict price movements, but some handy hints can be gleaned through the analytical techniques implemented and shared by trading analysts.
The increasingly asymmetric relationship between the currency markets and national governments represents a classic autonomy problem. The “trilemma” of economic policy options available to governments are laid out by the Mundell-Fleming model. The model shows that governments have to choose two of the following three policy aims: (1) domestic monetary autonomy (the ability to control the money supply and set interest rates and thus control growth); (2) exchange rate stability (the ability to reduce uncertainty through a fixed, pegged, or managed regime); and (3) capital mobility (allowing investment to move in and out of the country).
Currencies are traded on the Foreign Exchange market, also known as Forex. This is a decentralized market that spans the globe and is considered the largest by trading volume and the most liquid worldwide. Exchange rates fluctuate continuously due to the ever changing market forces of supply and demand. Forex traders buy a currency pair if they think the exchange rate will rise and sell it if they think the opposite will happen. The Forex market remains open around the world for 24 hours a day with the exception of weekends.
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.