Although the foreign exchange market is the largest traded market in the world, its reach to the retail sector pales in comparison to the Equity and Fixed Income markets. This is in large part due to a general lack of awareness of FX in the investor community, along with a lack of understanding of how and why currencies move. Adding to the mystique of this market is the lack of a physical central exchange akin to the NYSE or the CME. It is this very lack of structure that enables the FX markets to operate on a 24-hour basis, beginning the trading day in New Zealand and continuing through the time zones.
traditionally, access to the FX market was limited to the bank community that traded large blocks of currencies for commercial, hedging, or speculative purposes. The creation of firms like MS has opened the door of Forex trading to such institutions as funds and money managers, as well as to the individual retail trader. This sector of the market has grown exponentially over the past several years
For active traders and investors, foreign exchange should be no different than other investment products such as equities, commodities or fixed-income. Because of globalization in the economic world and consolidation of whole economic regions (i.e., the European Union), including currencies in a portfolio helps to diversify assets and can reduce risk.
Just like other investment alternatives, foreign exchange offers traders/investors a market where they can buy or sell an investment product. In this case it is a specific Currency Pair. The currency pair may be the Euro versus the US Dollar, the US Dollar versus the Japanese Yen, the British Pound versus the US Dollar, the Euro versus British Pound, or a number of other currency combinations.
The different currency combinations represent nothing more than the value of one currency versus the value of another. That relationship is represented by a single price. In foreign exchange, the price of a currency pair is the market’s expectations (at that time) of the value of that currency measured against another currency given the current and expected economic and political situation in the two economies. In equity terms, it is the price of the stock.
If, for example, an economy’s inflation/interest rates are low and stable, if its output is growing strongly, or if its politics are stable and expectations are for more of the same, then one can expect (in general) for that country's currency to remain strong versus a less fundamentally favorable currency.
Currencies, like equities and bonds, have pairs that are very liquid and those that are not so liquid. The liquid currencies can be characterized as those that are the most stable economically and politically. They include the countries that form the G7 - the United States, Japan, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Canada.
Since the unification of the European currencies into the EURO, the currencies that are most liquid now include the US Dollar, the Japanese Yen, the British Pound, the Euro, and the Canadian Dollar. It is estimated that activities in these currencies comprise more than 80% of the daily foreign exchange volume.
Currencies, like equities, have their own symbols that distinguish one from another. Since currencies are quoted in terms of the value of one against the value of another, a currency pair includes the "name" for both currencies, separated by a "/". The "name" is a three letter acronym. The first two letters are in most cases reserved for identification of the country. The last letter is the first letter of the unit of currency for that country.
|USD = United States Dollar|
|GBP = Great Britain Pound|
|JPY = Japanese Yen|
|CAD = Canadian Dollar|
|CHF = Confederation Helvetica (Latin for Swiss Confederation) Franc|
|NZD = New Zealand Dollar|
|AUD = Australian Dollar|
|NOK = Norwegian Krone|
|SEK = Swedish Krona|
Since the European Euro has no specific country attached to it, it goes simply by the acronym EUR.
By combining one currency, EUR, with another USD, you create a currency pair EUR/USD.
One currency in a currency pair is always dominant. It is called the Base Currency. The base currency is identified as the first currency in a currency pair. It also is the currency that remains constant when determining a currency pair's price.
The Euro is the dominant base currency against all other global currencies. As a result, currency pairs against the EUR will be identified as EUR/USD, EUR/GBP, EUR/CHF, EUR/JPY, EUR/CAD, etc. All have the EUR acronym as the first in the sequence.
The British Pound is next in the hierarchy of currency name domination. The major currency pairs versus the GBP would, therefore be identified as GBP/USD, GBP/CHF, GBP/JPY, GBP/CAD. Apart from the EUR/GBP, expect to see GBP as the first currency in a currency pair.
The USD is the next dominant base currency. USD/CAD, USD/JPY, USD/CHF would be the normal currency pair convention for the major currencies. Since the EUR and the GBP are more dominant in terms of base currencies, the dollar is quoted as EUR/USD and GBP/USD.
The base currency is ALWAYS equal to one of the currency's monetary unit of exchange (i.e., 1 Euro, 1 Pound, and 1 Dollar). When an investor buys 100,000 EUR/USD, he is said to be buying (or receiving) the EURO or the Base Currency and selling (or paying for) the USD or Counter Currency. The amount of the Base Currency he is buying is equal to 100,000 Euros. Note that this is true no matter the current exchange rate at the time. The base currency amount remains constant.
Currencies trade in fractions of a full unit. The smallest fraction is called a "pip". Currencies trade in pips because exchanges of currencies for speculative reasons are generally for large amounts. This is because of the leverage that is available when trading Foreign Exchange.
MS provides a Maximum Trading Leverage Ratio of 100 : 1 for standard accounts. At that ratio, a 100,000 EUR position would require $1,200 of Margin at an exchange rate of 1.2000. This is calculated by taking the US$ equivalent of 100,000 EUR or US$120,000 and dividing by the 100 : 1 leverage ratio.
Value in US$ = 1.20 x Par Amount of Base Currency = $120,000
To determine the value of a pip for the deal above the following calculation would be made:
Value in US$ = 1.20 x Par Amount of Base Currency = $120,000
Value in US$ + a pip = (1.20+.0001) x Par Amount of Base Currency = $120,000
In reality, you are doing both actions - buying and selling. A transaction of Buying the EUR/USD at 1.2000 is actually buying the Euro and selling the Dollars at 1.2000 cents. If the Euro increases in value in relation to the dollar, the price would increase and the investor will make money.
If for whatever reason, a trader could not execute an order using MS, a verbal order to a broker could be the following:
|"I buy 100,000 Euros and sell the dollar at the Market"|
|"I buy 500,000 EUR/USD on a 1.2100 stop"|
|"I buy 100,000 Euros vs. the Dollar at the market"|
What is required on all verbal orders is the amount, the Currency Pair, the rate and/or the type of order. Simply saying "I buy the Dollar at the Market" is not good enough as it does not say what currency the trader wants to sell.The Bid/Ask Price
Like equities, foreign exchange has a Bid price and an Ask price. The bid is where the market maker will buy. The ask is where the market maker will sell. For investors, the reverse is true. The bid price is where an investor can sell, while the ask is where an investor can buy.
The spread between the bid and the ask is called the Bid/Ask Spread or Dealing Spread. The bid/ask spread is the premium that market makers charge to provide constant liquidity to a retail client base. For example, the bid and ask might be 1.2050/1.2055. The spread is 5 pips.
Paralleling foreign exchange trading to equities, a market maker, like MS, is the equivalent of a specialist on the floor of the exchange.
A specialist is always willing and able to make a market (i.e. provide liquidity) to the market/investor. For this service, he will have a bid where he buys the stock and an offer or ask, where he will sell the stock. The bid/ask spread the specialist charges will fluctuate with the general liquidity of the underlying stock.
Dealing Spreads for the major currencies pairs on MS are 2-3 pips wide. Some less liquid currencies will be a bit wider. This reflects the relative liquidity/risk in the professional market for that particular currency pair. The dealing spreads that we quote reflect a normal market making spread given the risks we take and the costs we incur for servicing our clients' business.