Trading foreign exchange on margin carries a high level of risk, and may not be suitable for everyone. Before deciding to trade foreign exchange you should carefully consider your investment objectives, level of experience, and risk appetite. Remember, you could sustain a loss of some or all of your initial investment, which means that you should not invest money that you cannot afford to lose. If you have any doubts, it is advisable to seek advice from an independent financial advisor.
From a historical standpoint, foreign exchange trading was largely limited to governments, large companies, and hedge funds. But in today's world, trading currencies is as easy as a click of a mouse. Accessibility is not an issue, which means anyone can do it. Many investment firms, banks, and retail forex brokers offer the chance for individuals to open accounts and to trade currencies.
In the forex market currencies trade in lots, called micro, mini, and standard lots. A micro lot is 1000 worth of a given currency, a mini lot is 10,000, and a standard lot is 100,000. This is different than when you go to a bank and want $450 exchanged for your trip. When trading in the electronic forex market, trades take place in set blocks of currency, but you can trade as many blocks as you like. For example, you can trade seven micro lots (7,000) or three mini lots (30,000) or 75 standard lots (750,000), for example.
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Since the market is made by each of the participating banks providing offers and bids for a particular currency, the market pricing mechanism is based on supply and demand. Because there are such large trade flows within the system, it is difficult for rogue traders to influence the price of a currency. This system helps create transparency in the market for investors with access to interbank dealing.
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Factors like interest rates, trade flows, tourism, economic strength and geopolitical risk affect supply and demand for currencies, which creates daily volatility in the forex markets. An opportunity exists to profit from changes that may increase or reduce one currency's value compared to another. A forecast that one currency will weaken is essentially the same as assuming that the other currency in the pair will strengthen because currencies are traded as pairs.
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A spot market deal is for immediate delivery, which is defined as two business days for most currency pairs. The major exception is the purchase or sale of USD/CAD, which is settled in one business day. The business day calculation excludes Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays in either currency of the traded pair. During the Christmas and Easter season, some spot trades can take as long as six days to settle. Funds are exchanged on the settlement date, not the transaction date.
Unlike stock markets, which can trace their roots back centuries, the forex market as we understand it today is a truly new market. Of course, in its most basic sense - that of people converting one currency to another for financial advantage - forex has been around since nations began minting currencies. But the modern forex markets are a modern invention. After the accord at Bretton Woods in 1971, more major currencies were allowed to float freely against one another. The values of individual currencies vary, which has given rise to the need for foreign exchange services and trading.