For trading purposes, the first currency listed in the pair is always the directional currency on a forex price chart. If you pull up a chart of the EUR/USD, and the price is moving higher, it means the EUR is moving higher relative to the USD. If the price on the chart is falling, then the EUR is declining in value relative to the USD. The attached chart shows this.
Investment management firms (who typically manage large accounts on behalf of customers such as pension funds and endowments) use the foreign exchange market to facilitate transactions in foreign securities. For example, an investment manager bearing an international equity portfolio needs to purchase and sell several pairs of foreign currencies to pay for foreign securities purchases.
Once Nixon abolished the gold standard, the dollar's value quickly plummeted. The dollar index was established to give companies the ability to hedge this risk. Someone created the U.S. Dollar Index to give them a tradeable platform. Soon, banks, hedge funds, and some speculative traders entered the market. They were more interested in chasing profit than in hedging risks.
Non-bank foreign exchange companies offer currency exchange and international payments to private individuals and companies. These are also known as "foreign exchange brokers" but are distinct in that they do not offer speculative trading but rather currency exchange with payments (i.e., there is usually a physical delivery of currency to a bank account).
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The international governance regime is a complex and multilayered bricolage of institutions, with private institutions playing an important role; witness the large role for private institutions, such as credit rating agencies, in guiding the markets. Also, banks remain the major players in the market and are supervised by the national monetary authorities. These national monetary authorities follow the international guidelines promulgated by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, which is part of the BIS. Capital adequacy requirements are to protect principals against credit risk, market risk, and settlement risk. Crucially, the risk management, certainly within the leading international banks, has become to a large extent a matter for internal setting and monitoring.
More specifically, the spot market is where currencies are bought and sold according to the current price. That price, determined by supply and demand, is a reflection of many things, including current interest rates, economic performance, sentiment towards ongoing political situations (both locally and internationally), as well as the perception of the future performance of one currency against another. When a deal is finalized, this is known as a "spot deal". It is a bilateral transaction by which one party delivers an agreed-upon currency amount to the counter party and receives a specified amount of another currency at the agreed-upon exchange rate value. After a position is closed, the settlement is in cash. Although the spot market is commonly known as one that deals with transactions in the present (rather than the future), these trades actually take two days for settlement.