Beginner’s Overview of Foreign Currency Exchange
Foreign currency exchange trading can be very rewarding, but can also be very intimidating to a beginner. To get started, you will need to know some basics: 1. What is foreign currency exchange? 2. How is it traded? 3. What are the benefits? 4. What are the risks? 5.
How can I get started? What is Foreign Currency Exchange? The Foreign currency exchange (FOREX) market is a cash (or “spot”) market for currency. Unlike the stock exchange, the FOREX market is not located on a trading floor or centralized on an exchange. Instead, it is entirely electronic within a network of banks and runs 24 hours per day Sunday evening (5:00 pm EST) through Friday evening (4:00 pm EST), excluding some holidays. The fact that it is all electronic means that you can tap into it from your computer. How is it traded? FOREX is traded in currency pairs, for example EUR/USD is the Euro base currency and the US dollar counter (or quote) currency.
There are six major pairs: EUR/USD, GBP/USD (Great Britian pound vs. US dollar), USD/JPY (US dollar vs. Japanese yen), USD/CAD (US dollar vs. Canadian dollar), AUD/USD (Australian dollar vs. US dollar), and USD/CHF (US dollar vs. Swiss Franc). Currencies are traded in dollar amounts called lots. For a “standard” account, one lot (called a standard lot) is $1,000 and controls $100,000 in currency. For example, when you place an order to buy one lot of EUR/USD, you are buying the EUR and simultaneously selling the USD. The margin you must put up to place the order is $1000 (for a standard lot).
You are going long the EUR and expecting it to strengthen against the USD. For every increase of $0.0001 in the EUR, you make one “pip” (price interest point) equivalent to $10 per lot traded. Similarly, for a “mini-account” when you place an order to sell one mini-lot (one-tenth of a standard lot) of EUR/USD, you are selling the EUR and simultaneously buying the USD. You are going short the EUR and expecting it to weaken against the USD. The margin requirement is $100.00 per mini-lot. For every decrease in the EUR of $0.0001 you make one pip equivalent to $1 per mini-lot traded. Note that unlike trading stocks, there are absolutely no restrictions on short-selling in FOREX.
Short-selling is exactly like buying – except that you’re selling of course. The pip value and amount per pip per lot differs when the USD is not the counter or quote currency. For example, when buying the USD/JPY pair with a ask price of 109.00 (meaning 1 USD equals 109.00 yen), a change in the Japanese yen of 0.01 yen is equivalent to 1 pip or $9.17 per pip per lot traded ($9.17 = $100,000 x 0.01 / 109.00).
The broker makes money off the spread which is the difference in the quotation ask and bid prices. You buy the base currency at the ask price and sell it at the bid price. Generally, the major currency pairs have relatively low spreads. The EUR/USD is commonly two to three pips and the GPD/USD is commonly four to five pips. For example, the current bid/ask price for EUR/USD is quoted at 1.2322/1.2324. This means that you can buy 1 EUR (the base currency) for $1.2324 USD (the counter-currency).
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