Basics of Forex Trading – Part 1
What is the forex market? Why is it a great market to trade? What is a currency pair and how it is read? What are the major terms and concepts that forex traders need to learn? These are some of the questions you will find answers to at the end of this series.
Forex trading can be an exciting and lucrative activity, but it can also be tough, especially for beginners. New market participants underestimate the importance of financial education, lack risk management skills, tend to have unrealistic expectations, and fail to control their emotions, pushing them to act irrationally and impair their performance. In addition, traders in all markets have to accept drawdowns and losses because the best strategies only work part of the time.
- The forex market is the largest and most liquid financial market in the world.
- Traders speculate on the foreign exchange through currency pairs.
- A variety of factors affect the price of a currency in relation to a second currency.
- The trader opens and closes positions through buy, sell, stop, and limit orders.
- Traders use margin and leverage to increase reward and risk.
What is the Forex Market?
The foreign exchange market, also called ‘forex’ or the ‘FX market’, is a global decentralized venue where the world’s money is exchanged through the buying and selling (short) of different currencies. This trading takes place through transactions at brokerages, over-the-counter (OTC) markets, or via the interbank system, rather than centralized exchanges.
Many types of market participants trade the forex market, including private individuals (retail traders) working from home on personal computers or on the road through mobile devices. Thousands of professionals also trade forex through funds, institutions, central banks, and commercial banks, among others.
Forex has grown into the world’s most liquid market for the following reasons:
- Its Enormous size, with trillions of dollars in daily transactions
- 24-hour access between Monday and Friday
- Wide variety of currencies and currency pairs
- All levels of volatility, from quiet price action to historic uptrends and downtrends
- Low account minimums
- Low transaction costs (commissions, spreads, fees, and interest)
Forex trading is conducted through cash-based spot markets, as well as derivatives markets that provide sophisticated access to forwards, futures, options, and currency swaps. Private individuals generally trade forex to speculate on higher or lower prices, making a profit or loss on each closed position. On the other hand, most institutional forex activity is geared towards hedging against currency and interest rate risk or to diversify large portfolios.
New traders open accounts at forex or contracts for difference (CFD) brokers, taking exposure when they speculate on currency pairs, like the Euro vs. U.S. Dollar (EUR/USD) or U.S. Dollar vs. Japanese Yen (USD/JPY). At a typical forex broker, the participant opens a buy or sell (short) position in a decentralized market and books a profit or incurs a loss on the difference between the opening and closing prices.
Exposure at a CFD broker is taken between the trader and broker, establishing a legal obligation to exchange the difference between the entry and exit price of the asset, which can be a currency pair or other financial instrument that includes stocks, bonds, and futures. Forex lot sizes are uniform regardless of currency pair while CFDs have greater size flexibility. This advantage translates into greater risk control and customization of a trader’s experience level and market strategy.
What Moves the Forex Market?
Many factors move the forex market on a daily basis. Forex traders keep 24-hour economic calendars close at hand because regularly-scheduled data releases generate the majority of currency pair rallies and declines, especially when numbers fall outside expectations projected by experts. Global shock events and political developments move currency markets as well, with an election, skirmish, or natural disaster translating into highly-volatile price action.
Reading a Forex Quote
Foreign exchange is always quoted in pairs. For example, in the EUR/USD currency pair, the Euro (EUR) is the ‘base’ currency while the U.S. Dollar (USD) is the ‘quoted’ currency. The quoted currency is always the equivalent of one base currency, so if the EUR/USD exchange rate is worth 1.1222, you will get $1.12 for €1.00.
Note how the EUR/USD currency pair has four decimals. This is typical of most currency pairs, except those including the Japanese Yen (JPY), which displays only two decimals. When a currency pair moves up or down, the change is measured in ‘Pips’, which is a one-digit movement in the last decimal of a currency pair. So, for example, when the EUR/USD rallies from $1.1222 to $1.1223, the EUR/USD has increased by one Pip.
The broker’s trading platform will display two prices in a currency pair quotation: a SELL price on the left (BID price) and a BUY price on the right (ASK price). The difference between these prices is called the ‘spread’. The spread is pocketed by the broker and is one of the main ways in which the company makes money.
A buy order that’s filled above the quoted ask or sell order that’s filled below the quoted bid incurs ‘slippage’, one of the biggest obstacles to profitable forex trading. Slippage occurs most often in volatile or active currency pairs when placing a market order.
The average daily trading volume of the forex market now exceeds 5 trillion U.S. Dollars, making it the most liquid market in the world. Liquidity refers to how easy it is for market participants to open and close positions without affecting the price of the underlying asset.
The concept of liquidity also works hand-in-hand with volatility, which measures the speed and velocity of changing buy and sell prices. The majority of forex traders love volatile markets because they provide greater opportunities to profit, especially with short-term strategies like scalping and day trading.
Forex Trading Risks
Most forex traders lose money over time. Lack of preparation, bad leveraging, weak skill sets, and emotional fatigue all take their toll, triggering losses that eventually force the trader to ‘wash out’, leaving the forex game to the next participant. The profitable minority learns how to overcome these headwinds, often spending hours building skillsets, doing research, and testing new systems and strategies.
In addition, banks around the world seek to manage sovereign and credit risk through bid and ask prices on the interbank quoting system, triggering frequent supply and demand disruptions unrelated to market-moving events or economic releases. These pose a major risk for the typical newcomer who grows complacent between scheduled market movers, failing to place stop losses, or taking too much short-term exposure for their experience level.
Ironically, the new trader’s biggest risk comes from the broker they choose. The vast interbank system is a hodgepodge of ‘regulated brokers’, offering unbiased market access, and ‘unregulated brokers’ who take advantage of customers’ lack of sophistication. These companies are easy to spot because most are domiciled (headquartered) in off-shore tax havens, rather than in the U.S., U.K., E.U., or Australia, which heavily regulate currency trading.
Unregulated brokers do the most damage when they operate a ‘dealing desk’ that takes the other side of a customer’s position and manipulate price through ‘requoting’ to trigger stops and force unexpected losses, especially in the off-hours when most active traders are asleep. It can also be difficult to get your money back when you choose to close an account at an unregulated broker.
Key Forex Trading Terms
Currency Pair: Currency pairs consist of two currencies, the base currency on the left (top) and the quoted currency on the right (bottom). EUR/USD is an example of a currency pair. When buying this pair, the trader buys the Euro and sells the U.S. Dollar. Alternatively, when selling this pair, the trader sells the Euro and buys the U.S. Dollar.
Major Pairs: Currency pairs can be sub-divided into major, cross, minor, and exotic pairs. Major pairs include the U.S. Dollar as the base or counter-currency, coupled with one of seven major currencies: EUR, CAD, GBP, CHF, JPY, AUD, and NZD. New traders focus on major pairs because they’re highly liquid and carry lower transaction costs through tighter spreads, limiting slippage.
Cross Pairs: Cross pairs consist of any two major currencies, except the U.S. Dollar. Unlike major pairs, cross pairs have higher transaction costs, higher volatility, and lower liquidity, increasing potential slippage. Examples of cross pairs include EUR/GBP, EUR/CHF, and AUD/NZD.
Exchange Rate: Exchange rate shows the price of a base currency, expressed in terms of a counter-currency (quoted currency). For example, if the EUR/USD exchange rate is 1.2500, €1.00 will cost $1.25. A rising exchange rate indicates the base currency is appreciating against the counter-currency while a falling exchange rate indicates the base currency is depreciating against the counter-currency.
Bid/Ask: Currency pairs have two exchange rates: the bid price and the ask price. The bid price identifies the current price that market participants can sell (short), while the ask price identifies the current price that market participants can buy. The bid price is always lower than the ask price and the difference between the two is called the spread.
Spread: The difference between the bid price and ask price. The spread marks one type of transaction cost for a trade and a profit source for the broker. This cost can greatly reduce profits or increase losses when engaged in high-frequency trading strategies, like scalping.
Pip: Pip refers to ‘percentage in point’, or the smallest increment that a currency pair can rise or fall in price. One pip is equal to the fourth decimal of most currency pairs. For example, if the EUR/USD ask price is quoted at 1.2542 and rallies to 1.2548, the change is equal to six pips.
Hedge: A hedge marks a forex transaction intended to offset or protect another position from positive or negative exchange rate risk. Traders, investors, and institutions apply hedging techniques to enhance profits, limit losses, or protect investments.
Margin: Brokers lend money up to a multiple of account capital, called margin, so traders can take leveraged positions. Borrowed funds incur transaction costs through overnight lending rates. For example, a 30: 1 margin allows exposure up to 30 times higher than account capital. Leveraged positions need to build profits in excess of borrowing costs or they lose money.
Leverage: Leverage allows traders to take positions in excess of account capital through broker margin lending. Taking substantial leverage is risky for new forex traders but an appropriate and required strategy for experienced forex traders.
Major Order Types
The forex trader opens a position through a buy or sell order, specifying whether to take the position ‘at the market’, or at a specified price. A market order will execute immediately at the current ask price for a buy or the current bid price for a sell. Both orders can incur slippage when prices are moving quickly, triggering trade executions at much higher or lower price levels.
A limit order can be used in place of a market order, specifying the price at which a) the limit order turns into a market order or b) the exact price of the entry. The order will be filled when the price is hit with the first technique, potentially incurring slippage, but the price can ‘skip over’ order with the second technique and never get filled. Similar limit order types, including stop and stop-loss orders, are used to open, manage, and close outstanding positions.
- Buy Stop: open a long position at the price higher than the current price or close a short position at the price lower than the current price.
- Sell Stop: open a short position at the price lower than the current price or close a long position at the price higher than the current price.
- Buy Limit: open a long position at the price lower than the current price or close a short position at the price higher than the current price.
- Sell Limit: open a short position at the price higher than the current price or close a long position at the price lower than the current price.
The forex market has grown hugely popular with new traders and has never been easier to access. Learning the basics of forex trading isn’t overly complicated but choosing the right way to trade requires self-examination, with a realistic view of personality traits, available time, long-term goals, and current income. It’s a rewarding endeavor that benefits from dedication, patience, emotional control, and a willingness to build multiple skillsets and strategies over time.