Trade and payments across national borders require that one of the parties to the transaction contract to pay or receive funds in a foreign currency. At some stage, one party must convert domestic money into foreign money. Moreover, knowledgeable investors based in each country are aware of the opportunities of buying assets or selling debts denominated in foreign currencies when the anticipated returns are higher abroad or when the interest costs are lower. These investors also must use the foreign exchange market whenever they invest or borrow abroad.
I'd like to add that the foreign exchange market is the largest market in the world in terms of the volume of transactions. That the volume of foreign exchange trading is many times larger than the volume of international trade and investment reflects that a distinction should be made between transactions that involve only banks and those that involve banks, individuals, and firms involved in international trade and investment.
The phenomenal explosion of activity and interest in foreign exchange markets reflects in large measure a desire for self-preservation by businesses, governments, and individuals. As the international financial system has moved increasingly toward freely floating exchange rates, currency prices have become significantly more volatile. The risks of buying and selling dollars and other currencies have increased markedly in recent years. Moreover, fluctuations in the prices of foreign currencies affect domestic economic conditions, international investment, and the success or failure of government economic policies. Governments, businesses, and individuals involved in international affairs find it is more important today than ever before to understand how foreign currencies are traded and what affects their relative values.
In this work, we examine the structure, instruments, and price-determining forces of the world's currency markets.
The structure of the foreign exchange market
What is the foreign exchange?
The foreign exchange markets are among the largest markets in the world, with annual trading volume in excess of $160 trillion. The purpose of the foreign exchange markets is to bring buyers and sellers of currencies together. It is an over-the-counter market, with no central trading location and no set hours of trading. Prices and other terms of trade are determined by negotiation over the telephone or by wire, satellite, or telex. The foreign exchange market is informal in its operations: there are no special requirements for market participants, and trading conforms to an unwritten code of rules.
You know that almost every country has its own currency for domestic transactions. Trading among the residents of different countries requires an efficient exchange of national currencies. This is usually accomplished on a large scale through foreign exchange markets, located in financial centers such as London, New York, or Paris-in order of importance-where exchange rates for convertible currencies are determined. The instruments used to effect international monetary payments or transfers are called foreign exchange. Foreign exchange is the monetary means of making payments from one currency area to another. The funds available as foreign exchange include foreign coin and currency, deposits in foreign banks, and other short-term, liquid financial claims payable in foreign currencies. An international exchange rate is the price of one (foreign) currency measured in terms of another (domestic) currency. More accurately, it is the price of foreign exchange. Since exchange rates are the vehicle that translates prices measured in one currency into prices measured in another currency, changes in exchange rates affect the price and, therefore, the volume of imports and exports exchanged. In turn the domestic rate of inflation and the value of assets and liabilities of international borrowers and lenders is influenced. The exchange rate rises (falls) when the quantity demanded exceeds (is less than) the quantity supplied. Broadly speaking, the quantity of U.S. dollars supplied to foreign exchange markets is composed of the dollars spent on imports, plus the amount of funds spent or invested by U.S. residents outside the United States. The demand for U.S. dollars arises from the reverse of these transactions.
Many newspapers keep a daily record of the exchange rates in the highly organized foreign exchange market, where currencies of different nations are bought and sold. For instance, the Wall Street Journal shows the price of a currency in two ways: first the price of the other currency is given in U.S. dollars, and second the price of the U.S. dollar is quoted in units of the other currency. Pairs of prices represent reciprocals of each other. These rates refer to trading among banks, the primary marketplace for foreign currencies.
The participants of the foreign exchange markets
The foreign exchange market is extremely competitive so there are many participants, none of whom is large relative to the market.
The central institution in modern foreign exchange markets is the commercial bank. Most transactions of any size in foreign currencies represent merely an exchange of the deposits of one bank for the deposits of another bank. If an individual or business firm needs foreign currency, it contacts a bank, which in turn secures a deposit denominated in foreign money or actually takes delivery of foreign currency if the customer requires it. If the bank is a large money center institution, it may hold inventories of foreign currency just to accommodate its customers. Small banks typically do not, hold foreign currency or foreign currency-denominated deposits. Rather, they contact large correspondent banks, which in turn contact foreign exchange dealers.
The major international commercial banks act as both dealers and brokers. In their dealer role, banks maintain a net long or short position in a currency, and seek to profit from an anticipated change in the exchange rate. (A long position means their holdings of assets denominated in one currency exceed their liabilities denominated in this same currency.) In their broker function, banks compete to obtain buy and sell orders from commercial customers, such as the multinational oil companies, both to profit from the spread between the rates at which they buy foreign exchange from some customers and the rates at which they sell foreign exchange to other customers, and to sell other types of banking services to these customers.
Frequently, currency-trading banks do not deal directly with each other but rely on foreign exchange brokers. These firms are in constant communication with the exchange trading rooms of the world's major banks. Their principal function is to bring currency buyers and sellers together.
Security brokerage firms, commodity traders, insurance companies, and scores of other nonbank companies have come to play a growing role in the foreign exchange markets today. These Nonbank Financial Institutions have entered in the wake of deregulation of the financial marketplace and the lifting of some foreign controls on international investment, especially by Japan and the United Kingdom. Nonbank traders now offer a wide range of services to international investors and export-import firms, including assistance with foreign mergers, currency swaps and options, hedging foreign security offerings against exchange rate fluctuations, and providing currencies needed for purchases abroad.
In main all participants of an exchange market are usually divided on two groups. The first group of participants is called speculators; by definition, they seek to profit from anticipated changes in exchange rates. The second group of participants is known as arbitragers. Arbitrage refers to the purchase of one currency in a certain market and the sale of that currency in another market in response to differences in price between the two markets. The force of arbitrage generally keeps foreign exchange rates from getting too far out of line in different markets.