‘Forex’ is short for foreign exchange, also known as FX or the currency market. It is the world’s largest form of exchange, trading around $4 trillion every day, and it is open to major institutions and individual investors alike.
The aim of forex trading is simple. Just like any other form of speculation, you want to buy a currency at one price and sell it at higher price (or sell a currency at one price and buy it at a lower price) in order to make a profit.
Some confusion can arise as the price of one currency is always, of course, determined in another currency. For instance, the price of one British pound could be measured as, say, two US dollars, if the exchange rate between GBP and USD is 2 exactly.
In forex trading terms this value for the British pound would be represented as a price of 2.0000 for the forex pair GBP/USD. Currencies are grouped into pairs to show the exchange rate between the two currencies; in other words, the price of the first currency in the second currency.
Some commonly traded forex pairs (known as ‘major’ pairs) are EUR/USD, USD/JPY and EUR/GBP, but it is also possible to trade many minor currencies (also known as ‘exotics’) such as the Mexican peso (MXN), the Polish zloty (PLN) or the Norwegian krone (NOK). As these currencies are not so frequently traded the market is less liquid and so the trading spread may be wider.
Forex trading spread
Like any other trading price, the spread for a forex pair consists of a bid price at which you can sell (the lower end of the spread) and an offer price at which you can buy (the higher end of the spread). It is important to note, however, for each forex pair, which way round you are trading.
When buying, the spread always reflects the price for buying the first currency of the forex pair with the second. So an offer price of 1.3000 for EUR/USD means that it will cost you $1.30 to buy €1. You would buy if you think that the price of the euro against the dollar is going to rise, that is, if you think you will later be able to sell your €1 for more than $1.30.
When selling, the spread gives you the price for selling the first currency for the second. So a bid price of 1.3000 for EUR/USD means that you can sell €1 for $1.30. You would sell if you think that the price of the euro is going to fall against the dollar, so you can buy back your €1 for less than the $1.30 you originally paid for it.
Calculating your profit
Take another example. Suppose the spread for EUR/GBP is 0.8414-0.8415. If you think the price of the euro is going to rise against the pound you would buy euros at the offer price of 0.8415 per euro. Say in this case you buy €10,000 at a cost to you of £8415.
The spread for EUR/GBP rises to 0.8532-0.8533 and you decide to sell your euros back into pounds at the bid price of 0.8532. The €10,000 you previously bought is now therefore sold for £8532. Your profit on this transaction is £8532 minus the original cost of buying the euros (£8415) which is £117. Note that your profit is always determined in the second currency of the forex pair.
Alternatively, suppose in the first instance you think the price of the euro is going to fall, and you decide to sell €10,000 at the original bid price of 0.8414, for £8414.
In this case you are right and the spread for EUR/GBP falls to 0.8312-0.8313. You decide to buy back your €10,000 at the offer price of 0.8313, a cost of £8313. The cost of buying back the euros is £111 less than you originally sold the euros for, so this is your profit on the transaction. Again your profit is determined in the second currency of the forex pair.
Spread betting or CFD trading
Intertrader provides two different vehicles for trading forex: spread betting and CFDs. Both of these products allow you to speculate on the movements of currency markets without making a physical trade, but they operate in slightly different ways.
With spread betting you stake a certain amount (in your account currency) per pip movement in the price of the forex pair. So for instance you might buy (or sell) £10 per pip on USD/JPY, to make £10 for every pip the US dollar rises (or falls) against the Japanese yen. Forex traders have been using spread betting to capitalise on short-term movements for many years now.
With CFDs you buy or sell contracts representing a given size of trade. So you might decide to buy 1 contract of GBP/USD, which (with Intertrader) represents a trade of £10,000. Your profit or loss is calculated in the second currency, in this case US dollars, and then converted (if necessary) into your account currency.
Either way you don’t have to provide the full currency value to open your position. Instead you put down a margin deposit, which is a fraction of the full value. And you don’t actually buy or sell any currency: you are opening a speculative position on the change in value of the forex pair. Your profit or loss is realised when you close your position by selling or buying.