Up until World War I, currencies were pegged to precious metals, such as gold and silver. But the system collapsed and was replaced by the Bretton Woods agreement after the second world war. That agreement resulted in the creation of three international organizations to facilitate economic activity across the globe. They were the International Monetary Fund (IMF), General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD). The new system also replaced gold with the US dollar as peg for international currencies. The US government promised to back up dollar supplies with equivalent gold reserves.
Hedge funds – Somewhere around 70 to 90% of all foreign exchange transactions are speculative in nature. This means, the person or institutions that bought or sold the currency has no plan of actually taking delivery of the currency; instead, the transaction was executed with sole intention of speculating on the price movement of that particular currency. Retail speculators (you and I) are small cheese compared to the big hedge funds that control and speculate with billions of dollars of equity each day in the currency markets.
The second tier is the over-the-counter market. That's where companies and individuals trade. The OTC has become very popular since there are now many companies that offer online trading platforms. New traders, starting with limited capital, need to know more about forex trading. It’s risky because the forex industry is not highly regulated and provides substantial leverage.
Economic numbers: While economic numbers can certainly reflect economic policy, some reports and numbers take on a talisman-like effect: the number itself becomes important to market psychology and may have an immediate impact on short-term market moves. "What to watch" can change over time. In recent years, for example, money supply, employment, trade balance figures and inflation numbers have all taken turns in the spotlight.
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The need to exchange currencies is the primary reason why the forex market is the largest, most liquid financial market in the world. It dwarfs other markets in size, even the stock market, with an average traded value of around U.S. $2,000 billion per day. (The total volume changes all the time, but as of August 2012, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) reported that the forex market traded in excess of U.S. $4.9 trillion per day.)