The Basics of Forex Trading

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"Forex" stands for foreign exchange and refers to the buying or selling of one currency in exchange for another. It's the most heavily traded market in the world because people, businesses, and countries all participate in it, and it's an easy market to get into without much capital. When you go on a trip and convert your U.S. dollars for euros, you're participating in the global foreign exchange market.

At any time, the demand for a certain currency will either push it up or down in value relative to other currencies. Here are some basics about the currency market so that you can take the next step and start forex trading

Currency Pairs Primer

Before you enter your first trade, it's important to learn about currency pairs and what they signify.

  • In the forex market, currencies always trade in pairsWhen you exchange U.S. dollars for euros, there are two currencies involved, so the exchange always shows the value of one currency relative to the other. The EUR/USD price, for example, lets you know how many U.S. dollars (USD) it takes to buy one euro (EUR).
  • The forex market uses symbols to designate specific currency pairs. The euro is symbolized by EUR, the U.S. dollar is USD, so the euro/U.S. dollar pair is shown as EUR/USD. Other commonly traded currency symbols include AUD (Australian dollar), GBP (British pound), CHF (Swiss franc), CAD (Canadian dollar), NZD (New Zealand dollar), and JPY (Japanese yen).
  • Each forex pair will have a market price associated with it. The price refers to how much of the second currency it takes to buy one unit of the first currency. If the price of the EUR/USD currency pair is 1.3635, this means that it costs 1.3635 U.S. dollars to buy one euro.

To find out how many euros it costs to buy one U.S. dollar, flip the pair to USD/EUR: divide 1 by 1.3635 (or whatever the current rate is). In this instance, the result is 0.7334. It costs 0.7334 euros to buy one USD based on the current market price. The price of the currency pair constantly fluctuates, as transactions occur around the globe, 24 hours a day during the week. 

Market Pricing: A Quick Overview

Learning forex trading involves getting to know a small amount of new terminology that describes the price of currency pairs. Once you understand it and how to calculate your trade profit, you're one step closer to your first currency trade.

Many currency pairs will move about 50 to 100 pips per day(sometimes more or less depending on overall market conditions). A pip (an acronym for Point in Percentage) is the name used to indicate the fourth decimal place in a currency pair, or the second decimal place when JPY is in the pair. When the price of the EUR/USD moves from 1.3600 to 1.3650, that's a 50 pip move; if you bought the pair at 1.3600 and sold it at 1.3650, you'd make a 50-pip profit.

The profit you made on the above theoretical trade depends on how much of the currency you purchased. If you bought 1,000 units in USD (called a micro lot) each pip is worth $0.10, so you would calculate your profit as (50 pips x $0.10) = $5 for a 50 pip gain. If you bought a 10,000 unit (mini lot), then each pip is worth $1, so your profit ends up being $50. If you bought a 100,000 unit (standard lot) each pip is worth $10, so your profit is $500.

How much each pip is worth is called the "pip value." For any pair where the USD is listed second, the above-mentioned pip values apply. If the USD is listed first, the pip value may be different. To find the pip value of the USD/CHF, for example, divide the normal pip value (mentioned above) by the current USD/CHF exchange rate. A micro lot is worth $0.10/0.9435 = $0.1060, where 0.9435 is the current price of the pair. For JPY pairs (USD/JPY), go through this same process, but then multiply by 100. For a more detailed explanation, see Calculating Pip Value in Different Forex Pairs.

For trading purposes, the first currency listed in the pair is always the directional currency on a forex price chart. If the price is moving up on EUR/USD, it means the euro is moving higher relative to the U.S dollar. If the price on the chart is falling, then the euro is declining in value relative to the dollar.

One of the best ways to learn about forex is to see how prices move in real time and place some fake trades with an account called a paper trading account (so there is no actual financial risk to you). Several brokerages offer online or mobile phone app-based paper trading accounts that work exactly the same as live trading accounts, but without your own capital at risk. There are several online simulators for practicing day trading and honing your forex trading strategy and skills.

Understanding the above concepts will help you grasp what's happening when you see a forex pair rising or falling on a chart. If you do the math on the difference in pips between two price points, it will also help you see the profit potential available from such moves.

The Balance does not provide tax, investment, or financial services and advice. The information is being presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance or financial circumstances of any specific investor and might not be suitable for all investors. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Investing involves risk including the possible loss of principal.

Article Sources

  1. Nasdaq. "Forex Market Overview." Accessed March 28, 2020.

  2. Fidelity. "Currency Exchange." Accessed March 28, 2020.