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What is Forex Trading?

Put simply, forex markets provide a decentralized system where currencies trade. Forex is an exchange between two currencies, known as pairs.

The most liquid and largest market in the world, the average daily volume exceeds $5 trillion. Unbelievably, this total is greater than the world’s stock markets combined.

Who trades forex?

Several players in the forex market buy and sell currencies.

Commercial banks

When businesses want to buy or sell products or services with companies in other countries, they rely on banks to help them complete the transaction.

For example, if a farmer wants to sell his soybeans to China, the farmer will sell in U.S. dollars and the buyer will pay in Chinese yuan. In the foreign exchange market:

  • The bank will sell U.S. dollars and buy Chinese yuan if it doesn’t have yuan on hand.
  • Another bank will sell the first bank’s Chinese yuan at the current exchange rate.
  • The selling bank’s profits will be the difference between the bid and the ask.

Large banks will also trade for themselves as well as for clients’ portfolios.  

Commodity buyers, sellers, and traders

When a producer sells barrels of oil, the producer may have clients in several countries. In order to complete the transactions, these sellers or buyers need to be able to trade in a common currency.  

Depending on the terms of sale, the buyers, sellers, or even banks will go into the forex market to exchange currencies for the following reasons:

  • To complete transactions with buyers or sellers in other countries.
  • To hedge risk of production in another country.
  • To pay expenses in other currencies such as labor or permitting.

Investment and hedge funds

Behind the banks, portfolio managers trade in the forex market. This collection of players trade for pension funds, high-net-worth clients (often for hedge funds). Managers who hold stocks exposed to international risks may use currencies to offset fluctuations in returns.


Based on their own analysis of the markets or governmental actions, individuals trade forex for many of the same reasons as large banks. Just like large funds, they trade currencies to offset the risk of international stock holdings.

Pros and cons of forex trading

Trading foreign currencies present its own unique sets of benefits and drawbacks.

Pros of trading forex:

  • Leverage: currency markets allow traders to control large amounts of money with very little capital. This allows traders to profit from small movements in currency pairs.
  • Liquidity: Forex markets provide the highest liquidity of any market, virtually guaranteeing a counterparty for your trades.
  • Continuous trading: The forex market operates 24 hours a day and is closed during the weekends from 5 p.m. EST on Friday until 5 p.m. EST on Sunday. Since it’s a global market, it also operates through most major U.S. holidays.

Cons of trading forex

  • No volume shown: Unlike most markets, the forex market does not show volume traded. This limits some forms of analysis investors use such as order flow, point of control and other types of technical indications.
  • Volatility from events: Just like when a company’s stock moves during earnings, currencies may move rapidly due to interest rate announcements or other geopolitical events
  • Less regulatory protection: Unlike the stock market, forex markets operate over-the-counter and brokerages are subject to less regulation. This leads to more problems with forex brokerage firms that are otherwise found with equity firms.
  • Less residual return options: Outside of some select strategies such as carried interest, forex trading doesn’t provide for continuous returns in the way that stock dividends and share buybacks increase shareholder returns.

How to analyze the forex market for beginners

Do a quick search in Google and you’ll see high-net-worth claim to show you how to profit from forex trading. If you browse through enough material you’ll notice that most investors fall into two camps:

Fundamental analysts

Analysts who study the fundamentals of a foreign exchange market look at economic and geopolitical factors to evaluate price movements.

They look to central banks for interest rate guidance, governments for policy decisions and economic and trade data for economic output. Fundamental analysts focus on how these relationships interact with one another and their influence on currency supply and demand.

Technical analysts

Technical analysts rely on using mathematical interpretations and chart depictions of a currency’s movement over time to predict where price will go. They believe past price movements forecast the future.

By looking at price action, these analysts study market behavior like game theory. Traders don’t need to stick with one type of analysis exclusively.  Many traders often look to both fundamental and technical analysis to develop their own trading styles.

Final thoughts

The stock market and forex market are fundamentally very different. If success eludes you when you trade stocks, you may do well-trading forex. Conversely, don’t assume you’ll be successful trading forex just because you successfully trade stocks.

Becoming a profitable forex trader requires study and practice.  Even if you start out by copying someone else, the more time you spend with the forex market, you’ll discover your own trading style.  

If you want to start trading forex, check out some of our picks for the 2018 Best Forex Brokers in the USA. Here are a few quick picks.

Broker Best For Commissions Account Minimum Choose your platform
  • Forex traders located in the United States
  • MetaTrader 4 users
  • Beginner forex traders
  • Active forex traders
Spreads start as low as $1 But vary based on trading volume $250
Get started securely through FOREX.com's website
1 Minute Review

One of the few forex brokers to provide MetaTrader support for U.S. clients, Forex.com has an impressive array of pairs to trade and three different accounts to choose from. Its educational materials are spot-on, but the margin requirements aren’t as accommodating as some competing forex brokers.

  • MetaTrader and NinjaTrader support
  • Lots of education materials
  • Direct market access accounts
  • Over 80 forex pairs to trade
  • Maximum leverage on only three pairs
  • No MetaTrader on spread or DMA accounts
Current Promotion

TD Ameritrade
  • Beginner investors
  • Advanced traders
  • Investors who want portfolio-building advice.
$6.95 $0
Get started securely through TD Ameritrade's website
1 Minute Review

This publicly listed discount broker, which is in existence for over four decades, is service-intensive, offering intuitive and powerful investment tools. Especially, with equity investing, a flat fee is charged, with the firm claiming that it charges no trade minimum, no data fees, and no platform fees. Though it is pricier than many other discount brokers, what tilts the scales in its favor is its well-rounded service offerings and the quality and value it offers its clients.

  • Superior technology
  • No account minimum balance
  • Excellent customer support
  • Premier data and news partnerships
  • Slightly higher commissions
  • Can be for more advanced users
Current Promotion

Trade commission–free for 90 days & get up to $2500

  • Mobile traders
  • Traders looking for research and data
  • Investors looking for retirement planning guidance
$6.95 for fewer than 30 trades/quarter. $0
Get started securely through eTrade's website
1 Minute Review

E-Trade is best known for its user-friendly browser, desktop and mobile trading platforms and its extensive research and educational information. E-Trade may not have the lowest commissions compared to discount online brokers, but customers certainly get their money’s worth from E-Trade’s comprehensive offerings.

  • Extensive resources
  • Full banking services
  • Easy-to-use platforms
  • Limited access to ETrade Pro
  • Higher commissions than discount brokers
Current Promotion

60 days of commission-free trades with deposit of $10,000 or more

Compare Online Brokers
Broker Commission Account Min Get Started

$6.95 for fewer than 30 trades/quarter. $0 Learn More

Flat-fee pricing: $5 per trade, Per-share pricing: $0.006-$0.01 per share ($1 minimum per trade) based on trading volume, Unbundled pricing: $0.002-$0.01 per share ($0.50-$1 minimum) based on trading volume $5,000 for individual retirement accounts (IRAs) Learn More

$4.95 volume discount available $0 Learn More

Free $0 Learn More

$0.005 per share minimum $1 and maximum 0.5% of trade value; volume discount available $0 for cash account, or a margin account with $2,000 Learn More