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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Retail forex

In financial markets, the retail forex (retail off-exchange currency trading or retail FX) market is a subset of the larger foreign exchange market. This "market has long been plagued by swindlers preying on the gullible," according to The New York Times. Whilst there may be a number of fully regulated, reputable international companies that provide a highly transparent and honest service, it's commonly thought that about 90% of all retail FX traders lose money.
It is now possible to trade cash FX, or forex (short for Foreign Exchange (FX)) or currencies around the clock with hundreds of foreign exchange brokers through trading platforms. The reason that the business is so profitable is because in many cases brokers are taking the opposite side of the trade, and therefore turning client capital directly into broker profit as the average account loses money. Some brokers provide a matching service, charging a commission instead of taking the opposite site of the trade and "netting the spread", as it is referred to within the forex "industry."
Recently forex brokers have become increasingly regulated. Minimum capital requirements of US$20m now apply in the US, as well as stringent requirements now in Germany and the United Kingdom. Switzerland now requires forex brokers to become a bank before conducting FX brokerage business from Switzerland.
Algorythmic or machine based formula trading has become increasingly popular in the FX market,with a number of popular packages allowing the customer to program his own studies.
The most traded of the "major" currencies is the pair known as the EUR/USD, due to its size, median volatility and relatively low "spread", referring to the difference between the bid and the ask price. This is usually measured in "pips", normally 1/100 of a full point.[citation needed]
According to the October 2008 issue of e-Forex Magazine, the retail FX market is seeing continued explosive growth despite, and perhaps because of, losses in other markets like global equities in 2008.

Key Concepts Behind a Retail Forex Trade

Currency Pairs
Currency prices can only fluctuate relative to another currency, so they are traded in pairs. Two of the most common currency pairs are the EUR/USD (the price of US dollars quoted in euros) and the GBP/USD (the price of US dollars quoted in British pounds).

High Leverage
The idea of margin (leverage) and floating loss is another important trading concept and is perhaps best understood using an example. Most retail Forex market makers permit 100:1 leverage, but also, crucially, require you to have a certain amount of money in your account to protect against a critical loss point. For example, if a $100,000 position is held in EUR/USD on 100:1 leverage, the trader has to put up $1,000 to control the position. However, in the event of a declining value of your positions, Forex market makers, mindful of the fast nature of forex price swings and the amplifying effect of leverage, typically do not allow their traders to go negative and make up the difference at a later date. In order to make sure the trader does not lose more money than is held in the account, forex market makers typically employ automatic systems to close out positions when clients run out of margin (the amount of money in their account not tied to a position). If the trader has $2,000 in his account, and he is buying a $100,000 lot of EUR/USD, he has $1,000 of his $2,000 tied up in margin, with $1,000 left to allow his position to fluctuate downward without being closed out.
Typically a trader's retail forex platform will show him three important numbers associated with his account: his balance, his equity, and his margin remaining. If trader X has two positions: $100,000 long (buy) in EUR/USD, and $100,000 short (sell) in GBP/USD, and he has $10,000 in his account, his positions would look as follows: Because of the 100:1 leverage, it took him $1,000 to control each position. This means that he has used up $2,000 in his margin, out of a $10,000 account, and thus he has $8,000 of margin still available. With this margin, he can either take more positions or keep the margin relatively high to allow his current positions to be maintained in the event of downturns. If the client chooses to open a new position of $100,000, this will again take another $1,000 of his margin, leaving $7,000. He will have used up $3,000 in margin among the three positions. The other way margin will decrease is if the positions he currently has open lose money. If one of his 3 positions of $100,000 decrease by $5,000 in value (which is fairly common), he now has, of his original $7,000 in margin, only $2,000 left.
If you have a $10,000 account and only open one $100,000 position, this has committed only $1,000 of your money plus you must maintain $1,000 in margin. While this leaves $9,000 free in your account, it is possible to lose almost all of it if the speculation loses money.

Transaction Costs and Market Makers
Market makers are compensated for allowing clients to enter the market. They take part or all of the spread in all currency pairs traded. In a common example, EUR/USD, the spread is typically 3 pips (percentage in point) or 3/100 of a cent in this example. Thus prices are quoted with both bid and offer prices (e.g., Buy EUR/USD 1.4900, Sell EUR/USD 1.4903).
That difference of 3 pips is the spread and can amount to a significant amount of money. Because the typical standard lot is 100,000 units of the base currency, those 3 pips on EUR/USD translate to $30 paid by the client to the market maker. However, a pip is not always $10. A pip is 1/100th of a cent (or whatever), and the currency pairs are always purchased by buying 100,000 of the base currency.
For the pair EUR/USD, the quote currency is USD; thus, 1/100th of a cent on a pair with USD as the quote currency will always have a pip of $10. If, on the other hand, your currency pair has Swiss francs (CHF) as a quote instead of USD, then 1/100th of a cent is now worth around $9, because you are buying 100,000 of whatever in Swiss francs.

Financial Instruments
There are several types of financial instruments commonly used.
One way to deal with the Forex risk is to engage in a forward transaction. In this transaction, money does not actually change hands until some agreed upon future date. A buyer and seller agree on an exchange rate for any date in the future, and the transaction occurs on that date, regardless of what the market rates are then. The duration of the trade can be a few days, months or years.

Foreign currency futures are forward transactions with standard contract sizes and maturity dates — for example, 500,000 British pounds for next November at an agreed rate. Futures are standardized and are usually traded on an exchange created for this purpose. The average contract length is roughly 3 months. Futures contracts are usually inclusive of any interest amounts.

The most common type of forward transaction is the currency swap. In a swap, two parties exchange currencies for a certain length of time and agree to reverse the transaction at a later date. These are not contracts and are not traded through an exchange.

A spot transaction is a two-day delivery transaction for most currency pairs (but one-day for USD/CAD and some others), as opposed to the futures contracts, which are usually three months. This trade represents a “direct exchange” between two currencies, has the shortest time frame, involves cash rather than a contract; and interest is not included in the agreed-upon transaction. The data for this study come from the Spot market.

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