NOV 18: Foreign Exchange Markets: A General Overview and Structure of the Forex Market

by David Jenyns on November 18, 2006

In the beginning countries would trade with each other using the barter system. If one nation needed lumber but had cattle, they would trade one product for another. This was pure trading.

This type of economy has many limitations, but served mankind well for many centuries. However, nations quickly saw the benefit of having a system of exchange, and while some cultures used pretty rocks, or animal teeth, precious metals quickly became established methods of exchange. God and silver were the most popular. Initially gold and silver coins were used, and in fact the name of the British standard currency, the pound sterling, came from the Hasterling region where gold coins were made, and originally meant coins of the Hasterling’s. Up until World War I most nations had central banks that supported the value of their currencies and most used gold as the standard. Paper money was printed and it legally could be exchanged for gold but this did not often happen. Since it was rarely converted, some banks and so e nations believed they no longer needed to keep reserves of gold in their vaults, as the US once did with Fort Knox. Inflation then occurred.

Near the end of World War II a conference known as Bretton woods had many nations reach an agreement on a reserve currency system based on the US dollar. The World Bank and other organizations agreed, and a fixed exchange rate system was reached. The value of the dollar was fixed on a certain amount of gold, and other currencies were fixed on value to the dollar. Currency trading after this however has evolved and currencies have grown in value, and gone down in value, leading to fluctuation.

Today traders take advantage of the fluctuation in value among currencies through the forex or foreign currency markets. It is quite common to see a trader who suspects that the value of the Euro will go up against the yen or the dollar and follow the old axiom of “buy low and sell high.” On of the ways this is done is through margin trading.

With margin trading a trader doesn’t have to have all the money in an account that is being traded. If a trader has 10,000 and works with a one percent margin, he is able to trade $100,000 in currency. This adds great leverage to the trade and makes forex trading very attractive to many who are looking for a large and quick return on their investments. Forex traders are also attracted to the low costs associated with trading since most trades are without commission. The fact that there is a 24 hour trading cycle is also attractive to many. Traders have opportunities for large profit, but they also have risk inherent. An aggressive trader may experience profit and loss swings of up to 30% in a day. This can be 30% to the good, or to the bad, so forex trading requires education and courage as well as capital. However there are no daily limits and no restrictions on trading hours other than the weekend when markets are closed. For this reason there are always opportunities. Money will always be made.

Much of the forex trading that occurs however is not with individual investors or speculators. Many commercial organizations have currency exposures that are created due to import and export activities. This is reason enough for many to engage in forex trading. However, financial institutions remain the biggest players in the forex market. Banks, brokers, mutual funds and other major financial institutions are actively involved in forex trading.

Some nations in the past have complained about hedge funds and other large institutions involved in forex trading, saying that they have intentionally devalued their currencies to make quick profits. George Soros, the famous billionaire who is involved in politics, has been accused of this practice by the government of Indonesia. Whether it is true or not, and if true whether it should or should not be done is not for this article. However, when institutions control such large amounts of money, the chance of manipulation does exist. As long as foreign currency is traded, there will be such accusations. However, the forex market remains a way to achieve substantial financial gain.

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