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What is forex? 

Foreign exchange, also known as forex or FX, refers to the world's many currencies, and the foreign exchange market is where these different currencies are traded.

Foreign exchange plays a vital role in foreign trade and business as products or services bought in a foreign country must be paid for using that country's currency. Foreign exchange rates between different currency pairs show the rates at which one currency will be exchanged for another.  

What is forex trading?

Forex trading is the simultaneous buying of one currency and selling of another. Forex is one of the most widely traded markets in the world, with a total daily average turnover reported to exceed $5 trillion a day. It's one of the largest and most liquid financial markets in the world, with different currencies constantly being exchanged as individuals, companies and organisations conduct global business. The forex market is not based in a central location or exchange, so it's open 24 hours a day from Sunday night through to Friday night.

Foreign exchange trading enables you to take advantage of rate fluctuations across a wide range of currencies. Forex is always traded in pairs – for example GBP/USD. You speculate on whether the price of one country's currency will rise or fall against the currency of another country, and take a position accordingly. Looking at the GBP/USD currency pair, the first currency (GBP) is called the 'base currency' and the second currency (USD) is known as the 'counter currency'. 

When trading forex, you always speculate on whether the price of the base currency will rise or fall against the counter currency. So in GBP/USD if you think GBP will rise against USD, you go long (buy) the currency pair. Alternatively, if you think GBP will fall against USD (or that USD will rise against GBP), you go short (sell) the currency pair.

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What causes one currency in a forex pair to strengthen?

It's important to remember when looking at forex that a higher currency makes a country's exports more expensive for other countries, while making imports cheaper. A lower currency makes exports cheaper and imports more expensive, so foreign exchange rates play a significant part in determining the trading relationship between two countries. There are a variety of factors at play in this relationship and they all contribute in some way to whether the strength of a currency declines or improves in relation to another. Understanding the influencing factors gives traders insights they can incorporate into their forex trading strategies. 

Some of these factors include political stability, interest rates, inflation, terms of trade, public debt and current account deficits. For example, in the case of interest rates, if rates are higher, lenders get a better return compared to those in a country with lower rates; therefore the higher rates attract foreign capital which causes the exchange rate to rise. This is one of the reasons forex traders may look to trade on interest rate announcements from central banks like the US Federal Reserve or the Bank of England.  

What causes one currency in a forex pair to decline?

The factors mentioned above can also cause a currency to decline. For example, the currency of a country with low inflation will generally rise because that country's purchasing power is higher relative to other currencies. Even natural disasters such as earthquakes or tsunamis, which put a strain on a nation’s economy, can have a negative impact on a currency.

Political instability and poor economic performance can also have a negative impact on a currency. Politically stable countries with robust economic performance will always be more appealing to foreign investors, so these countries will draw investment away from countries characterised by more economic or political risk. Furthermore, a country showing a sharp decline in economic performance will experience a loss of confidence in its currency and a movement of capital to currencies of more economically steady countries. These are just two simple examples of what can affect foreign exchange rates and the kind of things traders consider when developing forex trading strategies.  

Learn more about forex trading with CMC Markets.

What are the benefits of forex trading?

Some of the main benefits of forex trading that make this asset class a popular choice among traders are:

  • The ability to trade on margin (using leverage)
  • High levels of liquidity mean spreads stay tight which keeps trading costs low
  • Prices react quickly to breaking news and economic announcements (this can be a disadvantage too)
  • Trade 24 hours a day from Sunday to Friday
  • The ability to go long and short
  • Wide range of markets (spread bet or trade CFDs on over 300 forex pairs with CMC Markets) 

Bottom line 

Forex or currency trading is a fast-paced, exciting option and some traders will focus solely on trading this asset class. They may even choose to specialise in just a few select currency pairs, investing a lot of time in understanding the numerous economic and political factors that move those currencies.  

The material (whether or not it states any opinions) is for general information purposes only, and does not take into account your personal circumstances or objectives. Nothing in this material is (or should be considered to be) financial, investment or other advice on which reliance should be placed. No opinion given in the material constitutes a recommendation by CMC Markets or the author that any particular investment, security, transaction or investment strategy is suitable for any specific person. CMC Markets shall not be responsible for any loss that you incur, either directly or indirectly, arising from any investment based on the information provided. 

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Spread betting and CFD trading can result in losses that exceed your deposits. Ensure you understand the risks.