What is Currency Markets?

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The currency market includes the Foreign Currency Market and the Euro-currency Market. The Foreign Currency Market is virtual. There is no one central physical location that is the foreign currency market. It exists in the dealing rooms of various central banks, large international banks, and some large corporations. The dealing rooms are connected via telephone, computer, and fax. Some countries co-locate their dealing rooms in one center. The Euro-currency Market is where borrowing and lending of currency takes place. Interest rates for the various currencies are set in this market.

Trading on the Foreign Exchange Market establishes rates of exchange for currency. Exchange rates are constantly fluctuating on the forex market. As demand rises and falls for particular currencies, their exchange rates adjust accordingly. Instantaneous rate quotes are available from a service provided by Reuters. A rate of exchange for currencies is the ratio at which one currency is exchanged for another.

The foreign exchange market has no regulation, no restrictions or overseeing board. Should there be a world monetary crisis in this market; there is no mechanism to stop trading. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York publishes guidelines for Foreign Exchange trading. In their "Guidelines for Foreign Exchange Trading", they outline 50 best practices for trading on the forex market.

Spot Exchange

The spot exchange is the simplest contract. A spot exchange contract identifies two parties, the currency they are buying or selling and the currency they expect to receive in exchange. The currencies are exchanged at the prevailing spot rate at the time of the contract. The spot rate is constantly fluctuating. When a spot exchange is agreed upon, the contract is defined to be executed immediately. In reality, a series of confirmations occurs between the two parties. Documentation is sent and received from both parties detailing the exchange rate agreed upon and the amounts of currency involved. The funds actually move between banks two days after the spot transaction is agreed upon.

Forward Exchange

The forward exchange contract is similar to the spot exchange. However, the time period of the contract is significantly longer. These contracts use a forward exchange rate that differs from the spot rate. The difference between the forward rate and the spot rate reflects the difference in interest rates between the two currencies. This prevents an opportunity for arbitrage. If the rates did not differ, there would be a profit difference in the currencies. That is, investing in one currency for a year and then selling it should be the same profit or loss as setting up a forward contract at the forward rate one year in the future. Investing in one currency would be more profitable than investing in the other. Thus there would exist an opportunity for arbitrage. Forward exchange contracts are settled at a specified date in the future. The parties exchange funds at this date. Forward contracts are typically custom written between the party needing currency and the bank, or between banks.

Currency Futures and Swap Transactions

Currency futures are standardized forward contracts. The amounts of currency, time to expiry, and exchange rates are standardized. The standardized expiry times are specific dates in March, June, September, and December. These futures are traded on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME). Futures give the buyer an option of setting up a contract to exchange currency in the future. This contract can be purchased on an exchange, rather than custom negotiated with a bank like a forward contract.

A currency swap is an agreement to two exchanges in currency, one a spot and one a forward. An immediate spot exchange is executed, followed later by a reverse exchange. The two exchanges occur at different exchange rates. It is the difference in the two exchange rates that determines the swap price. There is also something called a currency swap. This is a method to exchange an income stream of one currency for another.

Currency Options

A currency option gives the holder the right, but not the obligation, either to buy (call) from the option writer, or to sell (put) to the option writer, a stated quantity of one currency in exchange for another at a fixed rate of exchange, called the strike price. The options can be American, which allows an option to be exercised until a fixed day, called the day of expiry, or European, which allows exercise only on the day of expiry, not before. The option holder pays a premium to the option writer for the option.

The option differs from other currency contracts in that the holder has a choice, or option, of whether they will exercise it or not. If exchange rates are more favorable than the rate guaranteed by the option when the holder needs to exchange currency, they can choose to exchange the currency on the spot exchange rather than use the option. They lose only the option premium. Options allow holders to limit their risk of exposure to adverse changes in the exchange rates.

Hedging

It is also common for currency options to be used to hedge cash positions. Companies are not typically in the business of gambling with their profits on deals. It is in the company's best interest to lock in an exchange rate they can count on. They are motivated to insure that their profits are as expected. Two ways they might do this are to enter forward contracts or to buy options.

They would select an exchange rate that would be acceptable but not too expensive. They might choose to buy a slightly out-of-the-money call option to cover them if the currency exchange rate falls. If it stays the same or rises, they will exchange at the spot exchange rate at the time the payment is due.
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