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.
The forex market is available for trading 24 hours a day, five and one-half days per week. The Forex Market Time Converter displays "Open" or "Closed" in the Status column to indicate the current state of each global Market Center. However, just because you can trade the market any time of the day or night doesn't necessarily mean that you should. Most successful day traders understand that more trades are successful if conducted when market activity is high and that it is best to avoid times when trading is light.
The explanation isn't complicated, but at first, it may seem a little strange and requires a two-part explanation. First, remember that if it's midnight in New York when the New York forex market is closed, it's also the middle of the trading day somewhere -- in Tokyo, for instance. Also, keep in mind that forex is a worldwide market that is entirely virtual. There's no trading pit anywhere. When you enter a midnight forex trade on your laptop in New York, the trade is executed in Tokyo or in another of the several trading centers worldwide that are open when you initiate the trade.
Unlike stocks, forex trades have low, if any, commissions and fees. Even so, new forex traders are always advised to take a conservative approach and use orders, like stop-loss, to minimize losses. High leverage, which should be prudently applied, gives traders the opportunity to achieve dramatic results with far less capital than necessary for other markets. Forex trading requires training and strategy, but can be a profitable field for individuals looking for a lower risk endeavor. Learning currency trading gives traders a range of exciting new opportunities to invest in.
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The most common type of forward transaction is the foreign exchange swap. In a swap, two parties exchange currencies for a certain length of time and agree to reverse the transaction at a later date. These are not standardized contracts and are not traded through an exchange. A deposit is often required in order to hold the position open until the transaction is completed.
In the futures market, futures contracts are bought and sold based upon a standard size and settlement date on public commodities markets, such as the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. In the U.S., the National Futures Association regulates the futures market. Futures contracts have specific details, including the number of units being traded, delivery and settlement dates, and minimum price increments that cannot be customized. The exchange acts as a counterpart to the trader, providing clearance and settlement.