What is Forex Trading?

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Contributor, Benzinga
May 20, 2024
verified by Jay and Julie Hawk

Forex, short for the foreign exchange market, refers to the decentralized global market where currencies are traded. It involves buying one currency while simultaneously selling another, with the aim of making a profit from fluctuations in exchange rates.

The foreign exchange market has become the world’s largest financial market. The Bank for International Settlements stated that global forex trading in 2022 averaged over $7.5 trillion each day.

If you are curious about what is forex trading and whether it might be suitable for you, then you have come to the right place. Read on for more information about the forex market and how to get started as a forex trader.

Disclosure: CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. 69% of retail investor accounts lose money when trading CFDs with this provider. You should consider whether you understand how CFDs work and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.

How Does Forex Trading Work?

Forex trading involves the buying and selling of currencies with the goal of making a profit. Here's a detailed breakdown of how it works:

1. Currency Pairs

Forex trading always involves two currencies, known as a currency pair. The first currency in the pair is the base currency, and the second is the quote currency. You are exchanging one currency for another with hopes of profiting off the difference in the exchange rate. For example, in the pair EUR/USD:

  • EUR is the base currency
  • USD is the quote currency

2. Exchange Rate

The exchange rate represents how much of the quote currency you need to buy one unit of the base currency. For example, if EUR/USD is 1.20, it means 1 Euro is equivalent to 1.20 US Dollars.

3. Buying and Selling

  • Buying (Going long): You buy the base currency and sell the quote currency, betting that the base currency will strengthen against the quote currency.
  • Selling (Going short): You sell the base currency and buy the quote currency, betting that the base currency will weaken against the quote currency.

4. Leverage

Leverage allows traders to control a large position with a relatively small amount of money. For example, with a leverage ratio of 100:1, you can control $100,000 with just $1,000. While leverage can amplify profits, it also increases the risk of significant losses.

5. Bid and Ask Prices

  • Bid price: The price at which the market (or broker) will buy the base currency from you.
  • Ask price: The price at which the market (or broker) will sell the base currency to you.
  • Spread: The difference between the bid and ask prices, which represents the broker's profit.

6. Market Orders and Limit Orders

  • Market order: An order to buy or sell a currency pair at the current market price.
  • Limit order: An order to buy or sell a currency pair at a specified price or better.

7. Trading Sessions

The forex market operates 24 hours a day, 5 days a week, with four major trading sessions: Sydney, Tokyo, London, and New York. This allows for continuous trading and overlapping sessions where trading activity can be more intense.

8. Technical and Fundamental Analysis

  • Technical analysis: Analyzing price charts and using indicators (e.g., moving averages, RSI) to predict future price movements.
  • Fundamental analysis: Evaluating economic indicators, news events and geopolitical developments to forecast currency movements.

9. Risk Management

Effective risk management involves setting stop-loss orders to limit potential losses and take-profit orders to lock in profits. Traders should also determine their risk tolerance and not risk more than they can afford to lose.

10. Choosing a Broker

Selecting a reputable broker is crucial to keep your money safe. It's important the broker not only meets you trading needs but is properly regulated. Factors to consider include:

  • Regulation by a trusted authority such as the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) in the U.S. or Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in the U.K.
  • Competitive spreads and fees.
  • Quality of trading platform.
  • Customer support.

Example of a Forex Trade

Suppose you believe that the Euro will strengthen against the US Dollar. You decide to buy EUR/USD at 1.2000:

  • You buy 10,000 Euros, costing you $12,000.
  • If the price rises to 1.2100, you sell your Euros at this higher rate:
  • You now get $12,100 back (10,000 Euros * 1.2100).
  • Your profit is $100 (excluding any fees or spreads).

Forex trading can be highly profitable but also carries significant risks. Education, practice and effective risk management are key to success in the forex market.

What are the Forex Market Hours?

The forex market trades 24 hours during the trading week that stretches from the Sydney open at 5 p.m. NY time on Sunday until the New York close at 5 p.m. NY time on Friday. The global forex market also has a series of trading sessions that overlap sequentially with each other.

Although some forex trading happens in Wellington, New Zealand, the forex trading day fully opens with the Sydney session. The Tokyo session then follows, after which the London and then the New York trading sessions take over market operations.

Who Trades in the Foreign Exchange Market?

Various entities and individuals participate in forex trading. This includes commercial banks, central banks, hedge funds, investment firms, retail investors, multinational corporations, and individual traders. The accessibility of the market through online an online broker and platforms has made it possible for traders from all around the world to participate as a forex trader.

Governments and financial institutions also trade currencies for various purposes such as managing foreign reserves, hedging currency risks, or conducting monetary policies.

Top Benefits of Forex Trading

The forex market has a number of benefits over other financial markets that have sparked considerable interest among retail traders who can now easily participate in it. 

Easy to Understand

Currency trading is easy to understand. Each currency in a pair has a set of fundamental factors that help determine its relative value that is usually based on economic and geopolitical conditions in its issuing nation. You can also use technical analysis on the exchange rate of a currency pair to help identify trends and time your trades. 

Highly Liquid

Most of the forex market is very liquid. A trading position in a major currency pair can generally be traded out of readily and the gain or loss turned into cash without affecting its exchange rate. Although the forex market is one of the world’s most liquid markets, some currency pairs are more liquid during hours when they trade more actively. For example, the AUD/USD pair might be more liquid during the Sydney session’s hours, while the USD/JPY pair might be more liquid during the Tokyo trading session. 

Cheaper to Trade

Most FX trades are done free of commissions or fees, which can make forex considerably cheaper to trade than stocks. Since the cost of a forex trade is generally fed into the dealing spread, a broker that offers tighter spreads will usually be cheaper to trade through. 

Available 24 Hours a Day

The forex market trades around the clock. The currency market’s continual operation during those trading hours is facilitated by the opening and closing of the major global money centers. 

Decentralized Market

The over-the-counter forex market is decentralized and largely unregulated. The market opens the typical trading day fully at the Sydney open (with some less active trading done in Wellington, New Zealand). That session is followed by full trading sessions in Tokyo, London and New York that sequentially overlap with each other. This decentralization means you can get a decent forex quote to open or close a position throughout each trading day. 

Use of Leverage

In the retail forex market, leverage refers to the size of a trading position you can control with one unit of base currency placed on deposit with a broker as margin. Currency traders can use substantial leverage when trading currencies with leverage ratios ranging as high as 3000 to 1, although 500 to 1 is more common. To protect retail traders from losses, not all jurisdictions allow their residents to use such high leverage ratios when trading currencies, however. For example, the U.S. has capped retail forex trading leverage at 50:1, while the U.K. and Australia have capped retail forex trading leverage ratios at 30:1.

Risks of Forex Trading

While forex trading has many benefits, it does have its associated risks that can result in losses. The most significant risks of FX trading are detailed below.

Volatile Market

Exchange rates can and do shift sharply to discount new information that can result in trading losses if you happen to be positioned on the wrong side of the market. While the FX market is not nearly as volatile as the stock market, the volatility that does occur can increase both profits and losses. 

Too Much Leverage

Using more leverage than you can afford to can result in excessive losses than can wipe out your trading account. 

Interest Rate Risks

Sudden shifts in benchmark interest rates set by central banks can cause the value of their national currencies to move sharply, which can cause substantial trading losses. 

Transaction Risks

The risk of human error exists with just about any trading transaction you make personally. Some currency traders automate their trading plans or use automatic trading software to reduce this risk. 

Country Risks

Each currency traded in the FX market has either one country or a regional group of countries associated with it. If something traumatic happens in that country or region, it will generally adversely affect the value of the currency and can result in unexpected trading losses.

How to Start Forex Trading

To start forex trading, follow these steps:

1. Educate yourself: Begin by learning the basics of forex trading, including terminology, strategies, and analysis methods. Familiarize yourself with the global currency market and how it operates.

2. Choose a reliable broker: Research and select a reputable forex broker that suits your trading needs. Consider factors such as regulation, trading platforms offered, customer support and account types available. Many brokers offer a demo account so you can practice trading without risking real money.

  • Forex.com
    Best For:
    Excellent Trading Conditions and Overall Offerings
    VIEW PROS & CONS:
    securely through Forex.com's website

    CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. 69% to 77.7% of retail investor accounts lose money when trading CFDs with this provider. You should consider whether you understand how CFDs work, and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.

    The products and services available to you at FOREX.com will depend on your location and on which of its regulated entities holds your account

  • Plus500 Forex
    Best For:
    Forex and CFD Trading for Mobile Users
    VIEW PROS & CONS:
    securely through Plus500 Forex's website

3. Open a trading account: After selecting a broker, open a trading account. Provide the necessary personal information and complete the required verification process.

4. Fund your account: Deposit funds into your trading account. Determine the amount you are comfortable investing and choose a payment method supported by your broker.

5. Develop a trading plan: Create a trading plan that outlines your goals, risk tolerance, preferred trading style, and strategies. Set realistic expectations for returns and establish risk management guidelines.

6. Practice with a demo account: Most brokers offer demo accounts where you can practice trading with virtual money. Utilize this feature to gain experience and test your strategies before risking real funds.

7. Choose a trading strategy: Decide on a trading strategy that aligns with your goals and risk appetite. It can be technical analysis-based (using charts and indicators) or fundamental analysis-based (using economic news and events).

8. Start trading: Once you have practiced and gained confidence, you can start trading with real funds. Monitor the markets, analyze price movements, and execute trades based on your strategy.

9. Trading strategy: Trading currencies without a plan and a well-thought-out currency trading strategy incorporated into it is like trying to find your way to a new location without a map. Before jumping into trading forex in a live account, be sure to take plenty of time to research a suitable trading strategy, learn how to implement it and then test it thoroughly in a demo account.

10. Stay on top of your position: Once you start trading in a live account, you’ll want to stay aware of outstanding positions or orders waiting to be filled. Also, be sure to stay on top of your profit or loss numbers to make sure you can afford to keep a position and determine if you need to take prompt action to lock in profits or cut losses.

11. Manage risk: Implement risk management techniques to protect your capital. Set stop-loss orders to limit potential losses and use proper position sizing strategies.

12. Continuously learn and improve: Forex trading is a continuous learning process. Stay updated with market news and trends, attend webinars or workshops, and analyze your trading performance to identify areas for improvement.

Forex Terminology

  • Currency pair: A currency pair is the quotation of two different currencies, with one currency being bought while the other is being sold in the forex market. For example, EUR/USD represents the euro being bought and the US dollar being sold.
  • Exchange rate: The exchange rate is the price at which one currency can be exchanged for another. It is determined by factors such as supply and demand, economic indicators, and political events.
  • Bid price: The bid price is the price at which a trader is willing to sell a currency pair. It represents the highest price that a buyer is willing to pay.
  • Ask price: The ask price is the price at which a trader is willing to buy a currency pair. It represents the lowest price that a seller is willing to accept.
  • Spread: The spread is the difference between the bid price and the ask price of a currency pair. It represents the cost of trading and is measured in pips.
  • Pips: A pip is the smallest unit of measurement in the forex market and represents the fourth decimal place in most currency pairs. It is used to measure changes in exchange rates.
  • Margin: Margin is the amount of money required by a trader to open a position in the forex market. It is a form of collateral that allows traders to leverage their positions and increase potential returns.
  • Leverage: Leverage allows traders to control larger positions in the market with a smaller amount of capital. It amplifies both profits and losses, so it is important to use leverage responsibly.
  • Stop loss: A stop loss is an order placed by a trader to limit potential losses on a trade. It is an automatic instruction to close a position if the market moves against the trader beyond a certain point.

Types of Forex Markets

Heres what you need to know about the different types of forex markets.

  • Spot market: The spot forex market is the most popular and widely traded forex market. It involves the buying and selling of currencies at the current market price for immediate delivery. Transactions in the spot forex market are settled within two business days.
  • Forward market: In the forward forex market, contracts are traded for the buying or selling of currencies at a predetermined price and date in the future. These contracts are typically used by businesses to hedge against currency exchange rate fluctuations.
  • Forwards and futures market: The futures forex market involves trading standardized contracts for the buying or selling of currencies at a specified price and date in the future. These contracts are traded on regulated exchanges and are often used by speculators and institutional investors.
  • Options market: The options forex market consists of trading contracts that give the buyer the right, but not the obligation, to buy or sell currencies at a predetermined price and date in the future. Options provide flexibility and can be used for hedging or speculation.
  • Interbank market: The interbank forex market refers to the trading of currencies between banks and financial institutions. It is a decentralized market where large volumes of currencies are traded. The interbank market sets the exchange rates used by banks for their clients.
  • Retail market: The retail forex market is where individual investors and traders participate in forex trading. This market has grown significantly with the advancement of technology, allowing individual traders to access the forex market through online platforms and brokers.
  • Institutional market: The institutional forex market involves large financial institutions, such as banks, hedge funds, and multinational corporations, trading large volumes of currencies. Institutional players have significant market influence and can impact currency exchange rates.
  • Electronic Communication Network (ECN): ECN is a type of forex market where buyers and sellers are connected directly through a network, allowing for efficient and transparent trading. ECN forex trading platforms eliminate the need for intermediaries, providing direct access to liquidity providers.
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) market: The OTC forex market is a decentralized market where forex transactions take place directly between parties without going through a centralized exchange. OTC markets offer flexibility in terms of trading hours and allow for customized and tailored trading arrangements.
  • Emerging market: Emerging market currencies refer to the currencies of developing economies with increasing influence in the global economy. The emerging market forex market involves trading these currencies, which are often more volatile and carry higher risk compared to major currencies.

Common Forex Strategies

  • Trend following: This strategy involves identifying and trading with the prevailing market trend. Traders look for upward or downward trends and enter positions in the direction of the trend, aiming to ride the trend until it reverses.
  • Scalping: This strategy involves making quick trades, aiming to capture small price movements. Traders enter and exit trades within seconds or minutes, relying on technical indicators and short-term market fluctuations.
  • Hedging: This strategy involves opening multiple positions that offset each other's risk. Traders use hedging to protect against potential losses by opening opposite trades in correlated currency pairs or using options contracts.
  • News trading strategy: This strategy involves trading based on the immediate market reaction to major economic news releases. Traders closely monitor economic calendars and enter trades quickly to profit from sharp price movements triggered by news events.

Forex and Liquidity

Forex market liquidity refers to the ease with which a currency pair can be bought or sold without causing significant price movement. In simple terms, it is the ability of the market to accommodate large transactions without drastically impacting the exchange rate.

Here's how forex market liquidity works:

  • Participants: The forex market is decentralized and consists of various participants, including banks, financial institutions, corporations, hedge funds, and individual traders. These participants provide liquidity by constantly buying and selling currencies.
  • Tiered market: The forex market operates in a tiered structure. At the top of the hierarchy are the interbank market and large financial institutions. These participants trade in large volumes and make up the primary source of liquidity. Below them are retail traders who access the market through brokers.
  • Trading volume: The liquidity of a currency pair depends on the trading volume. Major currency pairs like EUR/USD, USD/JPY, and GBP/USD typically have higher liquidity due to their popularity and higher trading volumes. Exotic currency pairs, on the other hand, may have lower liquidity as they are traded less frequently.
  • Bid-ask spread: Forex liquidity is reflected in the bid-ask spread. The bid price is the highest price that buyers are willing to pay, while the ask price is the lowest price that sellers are willing to accept. When there is high liquidity, the bid-ask spread tends to be narrower, indicating tighter trading conditions.
  • Market depth: Liquidity is also measured by market depth, which refers to the number of buy and sell orders available at different price levels. A deep market has a significant number of orders, indicating high liquidity. Market depth can be visualized through a depth of market (DOM) or level 2 order book.
  • Liquidity providers: Market makers, such as banks and large financial institutions, play a crucial role in providing liquidity. They continuously quote bid and ask prices, allowing market participants to buy or sell currencies instantly. These liquidity providers ensure that there are always buyers and sellers in the market.
  • News and events: Market liquidity can fluctuate during news releases or significant economic events. Volatility usually increases during these periods, and liquidity may temporarily decrease as participants react to the news. It is important to consider these factors when trading, as lower liquidity can increase the risk of slippage or wider spreads.

Forex liquidity is essential for efficient price discovery and seamless execution of trades. High liquidity ensures that traders can enter and exit positions easily, reducing transaction costs and minimizing the impact of their trades on the exchange rate.

Compare Top Forex Trading Platforms

Benzinga has compiled the comparison table below to help you take some of the guesswork out of finding a reputable online broker to let you start trading currencies quickly.

  • Plus500 Forex
    Best For:
    Forex and CFD Trading for Mobile Users
    VIEW PROS & CONS:
    securely through Plus500 Forex's website
  • Forex.com
    Best For:
    Excellent Trading Conditions and Overall Offerings
    VIEW PROS & CONS:
    securely through Forex.com's website

    CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. 69% to 77.7% of retail investor accounts lose money when trading CFDs with this provider. You should consider whether you understand how CFDs work, and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.

    The products and services available to you at FOREX.com will depend on your location and on which of its regulated entities holds your account

  • Trading.com
    Best For:
    Simple and Precise Forex Trading in the U.S.
    VIEW PROS & CONS:
    securely through Trading.com's website
  • City Index
    Best For:
    Spread Betting, CFD and Forex Traders
    VIEW PROS & CONS:
    securely through City Index's website

    CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. 69% of retail investor accounts lose money when trading CFDs with this provider. You should consider whether you understand how CFDs work, and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.

Learn to Trade Forex with A Mentor

Frequently Asked Questions

Q

Do forex traders make money?

A

Yes, forex traders have the potential to make money, but it is not guaranteed. It requires a deep understanding of the market, a solid trading strategy and the ability to manage risks effectively.

Q

Is forex trading like gambling?

A

Forex trading and gambling share similarities in terms of risk and uncertainty, but they are fundamentally different. Forex trading involves analyzing market trends, economic indicators and political events to make informed decisions, while gambling relies on chance and luck.

Q

Is forex good for beginners?

A

While the basics of forex trading may be simple to grasps, it can be risky for beginners due to its volatile nature and complex market dynamics. Beginners can benefit from starting with a demo account and getting educated on trading strategies

Q

What is forex and how does it work?

A

In forex trading you are trading a currency pair – selling one currency while simultaneously buying another. People trade currencies to make a profit from changes in their values. They buy a currency when its value is low and sell it when its value goes up.

 

 

Get a Forex Pro on Your Side

FOREX.com, registered with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), lets you trade a wide range of forex markets with low pricing and fast, quality execution on every trade. 

You can also tap into:

  • EUR/USD as low as 0.2 with fixed $5 commissions per 100,000
  • Powerful, purpose-built currency trading platforms
  • Monthly cash rebates of up to $9 per million dollars traded with FOREX.com’s Active Trader Program

Learn more about FOREX.com’s low pricing and how you can get started trading with FOREX.com.

Jay and Julie Hawk

About Jay and Julie Hawk

Jay and Julie Hawk are the married co-founders of TheFXperts, a provider of financial writing services particularly renowned for its coverage of forex-related topics. With over 40 years of collective trading expertise and more than 15 years of collaborative writing experience, the Hawks specialize in crafting insightful financial content on trading strategies, market analysis and online trading for a broad audience. While their prolific writing career includes seven books and contributions to numerous financial websites and newswires, much of their recent work was published at Benzinga.