The FOREX market consists of Currency Pairs. For example, the GBPUSD currency pair (the "pound-dollar") represents the ratio of the Great British Pound vs. the United States Dollar.
A value for this pair might be $1.4213 which says that 1 GBP (called the 'base currency') is worth $1.4213 USD, i.e. as an American you'd have to pay $1.42USD to buy something a British citizen would only pay the equivalent of $1.00USD for. That just means that it's going to cost an American $.42 more per dollar spent in Britain.
Though there are over a dozen actively traded currency pairs (and many more 'cross' and hybrid specialty pairs), there are only 6 'major' FOREX currency pairs: EURUSD, USDJPY, GBPUSD, USDCHF, AUDUSD, and USDCAD.
The majors are singled out because they represent the most active economies in the world. Their markets are huge in comparison to say an exotic pair like the EURTRY, which is the Euro vs. the Turkish Lira.
As a trader, you want markets that are huge and offer liquidity and low spreads, not small and highly volatile markets where there is huge risk. Those smaller markets exist, however, because of the trade relationships between those countries. In the EURTRY example, the pair exists because there is enough commerce flowing between those two countries that currency conversion needs to be seamless.
Foreign Currency Trading, FOREX, involves two currencies, for example, the Euro (EUR) and the U.S. Dollar (USD). This currency pair is expressed as EURUSD. It represents the rate at which one currency (the base currency, or EUR here) will be exchanged for another (the quote or counter currency, or USD here).
Note that the base currency is always 1 because this will compare 1 unit of that currency with the value of the other. Thus, in our example, if the value of EURUSD is 1.3255, then 1 EUR will buy about $1.33 USD. In this case, the USD is weaker than the EUR by $.33 because 1 EUR will purchase $.33 more USD. If 1 EUR purchased 1 USD, that would be called parity, an even exchange rate.
Let's say you have a company based in the U.S. that buys pens from Europe. With the EURUSD at 1.3255, it means that if the pen is selling for 1 EUR, you'll have to pay $1.33 for it. So, that's fine because you know you can turn that around and sell it here for $1.63 and make $.30. But what happens if EURUSD goes to 1.5255? That means each pen will now cost you $1.53. Your profit is now only $.10 and that won't even cover your rent. You thus don't want the value of EURUSD to go up, i.e. you don't want to see the EUR get 'stronger' because the pens will cost you more.
If the EUR goes up, it means that its comparison value to the dollar goes up, which means that the dollar is getting weaker. You don't want the dollar to get weaker, just like you might not want your stock to go down. Same thing. If you're afraid that your stock will go down, or if you're just looking at that stock and think that it's going to go down, what do you do? You sell your stock to protect it, or you short the stock, which means if it goes down you can buy it back for cheaper and realize a profit.
And so to protect yourself from the EUR getting stronger in relation to the USD getting weaker you would create some kind of currency hedging strategy to lock in your desired exchange rate of 1.3255. That's what you'd do as a hedger.
As a trader, you'd look at the price action and postulate as to if you thought the EUR was going to get stronger or weaker in relation to the USD. If you thought the EUR was going to continue to strengthen, you'd buy the EURUSD pair at 1.3255; if you thought EUR was going to weaken, you'd sell EURUSD at 1.3255.
There is no EURUSD certificate like you would have a stock certificate. EURUSD doesn't exist until one person comes into the market thinking the price will rise and offers to buy and another person feels the price is going to fall and sells to that buyer. One of them is going to be wrong. That's why FOREX is a zero sum game because you have two parties taking opposite sides of the transaction. And what is being bought and sold? Price. Just price.
There are many markets that can be traded: stocks, options, commodities, indexes, currencies, old tires, baseball cards, etc. So what would be the main reasons which would compel someone to trade the currency market over any of the others?
I'll only list the main reasons why you might favor trading currencies because you can find this information discussed in detail anywhere.
- The FOREX markets are open 24/5 vs all other markets which are only accessible during regular weekday exchange business hours. If you want, you can trade currencies in your pjs at 3:00am.
- Currency prices are based on the conditions of whole economies rather then just a single stock, or individual commodities like orange juice or gold, or muni bonds for San Jose, CA. Because of this, no one entity or any group can overtly influence or manipulate major currency pair price action for anything but the briefest of time frames.
- Rarely will you find a price gap in a currency pair even as far down as the 15 minute time frame.
- There are no lock limit move rules in the currency markets as there are, for example, in the futures and commodity markets.
- You can sell or go short anytime in the currency markets. There are no up-tick rule restrictions as there are in the stock market, for example.
- The currency markets dwarf all other markets as far as liquidity. For example, even in 2015 the whole NY Stock Exchange did $28 Billion Dollars of transactions a day, whereas the FOREX market did $5.3 TRILLION Dollars.
- In the U.S. you can trade the currency markets with as much as 50:1 leverage (i.e. about $3,000 of margin will control 1 full lot of $100,000 of currency). Overseas, if you're foolish enough, you can find 200:1 leverage. Note that 50:1 leverage is equivalent to 2% margin. In stocks, the best offer you'll get is 50%. Even real estate is pretty much 10% down, though FHA will offer 3.5% down but it'll cost you another 3.5% in closing costs, or basically 7%. But try to sell that real estate by next Tuesday, let alone right now....
Trading can make you a lot of money. A lot of money.
But, like anything else, you have to know what you’re doing or you’ll lose instead of win. And you could potentially lose all the money you’ve allocated to your trading bank.
If you spend hours and hours planting a garden, and the rodents and deer eat it all up: would you give up? No. What would you do? You’d figure out how to keep that from happening, and you’d plant again. You plant until you understand how to deal with all the risks so that you can harvest your crops. And each succeeding harvest becomes larger than the last because of that skill.
It’s the same with trading. You trade until you understand how to deal with all the risks so that you can harvest profits. And each succeeding series of profits becomes larger than the last because of that skill.
A currency pair, such as EURUSD (the Euro against the U.S. Dollar) is a ratio of the value of 1 EUR to the USD. Let’s say that this EURUSD value is 1.0500. This means that 1 EUR will buy 1.0500 Dollars, and that means that the Dollar is weaker against the Euro by five cents.
We’re only used to looking at the hundreds place, i.e. that .05 cents. But in currency trading, moving from 1.05 to 1.06 is an enormous move. Currency traders generally talk in terms of pips with 1 pip being equal to just .0001, one-ten-thousandth of a cent. That seems pretty small, but that 1 pip move equates to $10 for the trader. So, the move from 1.0500 to 1.0600 is 100 pips and is a $1,000 move for the trader.
To give you a sense for this sort of thing, a currency price may move 100 pips or so a day. But keep in mind that 100 pip move doesn’t necessarily mean 100 pips up from the start of the day to the end of the day. Sometimes it does, but more often than not, price will move all over the place for a total range of 100 pips but it might only close up 10 or 20 pips for the day, a $100 to $200 move.
If you think the value of the EUR is going to increase over the Dollar, for example, then you’d buy or go long 1 lot EURUSD. If the price goes up from 1.0500 to just 1.0501, you make $10. If the price goes up from 1.0500 to 1.0502, you make $20. Each of those moves of .0001 is called a pip, and each pip is worth $10. So, if EURUSD moves from 1.0500 to 1.0510, that’s a 10 pip move and you make $100.
Correspondingly, if you think the value of the EUR is going to decrease over the Dollar, then you’d sell or go short 1 lot EURUSD. If the price goes down from 1.0500 to just 1.0499, you make $10. If the price goes down from 1.0500 to 1.0498, you make $20. And if EURUSD moves from 1.0500 to 1.0490, that’s a 10 pip move down and you make $100.