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The global foreign exchange market is the largest, most active market in the world. Trading in the forex markets takes place nearly round the clock with over $1 trillion changing hands every day. It is the main event.

The benefits of forex over currency futures trading are considerable. The dissimilarities between the two instruments range from philosophical realities such as the history of each, their target audience, and their relevance in the modern forex markets, to more tangible issues such as transactions fees, margin requirements, access to liquidity, ease of use and the technical and educational support offered by providers of each service. These differences are outlined below:


- More Volume = Better Liquidity. Daily currency futures volume on the CME is just 1% of the volume seen every day in the forex markets. Incomparable liquidity is one of many advantages that forex markets hold over currency futures. Truth be told, this is old news. Any currency professional can tell you that cash has been king since the dawn of the modern currency markets in the early 1970's. The real news is that individual traders from every risk profile now have full access to the opportunities available in the forex markets.

- Forex markets offer tighter bid to offer spreads than currency futures markets. By inverting the futures price to compare it to cash, you can readily see that in the USD/CHF example above, inverting the futures dealing price of .5894 - .5897 results in a cash price of 1.6958 - 1.6966, 8 pips vs. the 5-pip spread available in the cash markets.

- Forex markets offer higher leverage and lower margin rates than those found in currency futures trading. When trading currency futures, traders have one margin rate for "day" trades and another for "overnight" positions. These margin rates can vary depending on transaction size. 

- Forex markets utilize easily understood and universally used terms and price quotes. Currency futures quotes are inversions of the cash price. For example, if the cash price for USD/CHF is 1.7100/1.7105, the futures equivalent is .5894/ .5897; a methodology followed only in the confines of futures trading. Currency futures prices have the added complication of including a forward forex component that takes into account a time factor, interest rates and the interest differentials between various currencies. The forex markets require no such adjustments, mathematical manipulation or consideration for the interest rate component of futures contracts.

- Forex trades are ofetn commission free. Currency futures have the added baggage of trading commissions, exchange fees and clearing fees. These fees can add up quickly and seriously eat into a trader's profits.

In contrast, currency futures are a small part of a much larger market; one that has undergone historical changes over the last decade.

- Currency futures contracts (called IMM contracts or international monetary market futures) were created at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in 1972.

- These contracts were created for the market professionals, who at that time, accounted for 99% of the volume generated in the currency markets.

- While some intrepid individuals did speculate in currency futures, highly trained specialists dominated the pits.

- Rather than becoming a hub for global currency transactions, currency futures became more of a sideshow (relative to the cash markets) for hedgers and arbitragers on the prowl for small, momentary anomalies between cash and futures currency prices.

- In what appears to be a permanent rather than cyclical change, fewer and fewer of these arbitrage windows are opening these days. And, when they do, they are immediately slammed shut by a swarm of professional dealers.

These changes have significantly reduced the number of currency futures professionals, closed the window further on forex vs. futures arbitrage opportunities and so far, have paved the way to more orderly markets. And while a more level playing field is poison to the P&L of a currency futures trader, it's been the pathway out of the maze for individuals trading in the forex markets.


If you are interested in trading currencies online, you will find that the Forex market offers several advantages over equities trading.

24-Hour Trading

Forex is a true 24-hour market, which offers a major advantage over equities trading. Whether it's 6pm or 6am, somewhere in the world there are always buyers and sellers actively trading foreign currencies. Traders can always respond to breaking news immediately, and P&L is not affected by after hours earning reports or analyst conference calls.

After hours trading for U.S. equities brings with it several limitations. ECN's (Electronic Communication Networks), also called matching systems, exist to bring together buyers and sellers - when possible. However, there is no guarantee that every trade will be executed, nor at a fair market price. Quite frequently, traders must wait until the market opens the following day in order to receive a tighter spread.

Superior Liquidity

With a daily trading volume that is 50x larger than the New York Stock Exchange, there are always broker/dealers willing to buy or sell currencies in the FX markets. The liquidity of this market, especially that of the major currencies, helps ensure price stability. Traders can almost always open or close a position at a fair market price.

Because of the lower trade volume, investors in the stock market are more vulnerable to liquidity risk, which results in a wider dealing spread or larger price movements in response to any relatively large transaction.


Profit Potential In Both Rising And Falling Markets

In every open FX position, an investor is long in one currency and short the other. A short position is one in which the trader sells a currency in anticipation that it will depreciate. This means that potential exists in a rising as well as a falling market.

The ability to sell currencies without any limitations is another distinct advantage over equity trading. In the US equity markets, it is much more difficult to establish a short position due to the Zero Uptick rule, which prevents investors from shorting a stock unless the immediately preceding trade was equal to or lower than the price of the short sale.


Forex Terms


Appreciation - A currency is said to 'appreciate ' when it strengthens in price in response to market demand.

Arbitrage - The purchase or sale of an instrument and simultaneous taking of an equal and opposite position in a related market, in order to take advantage of small price differentials between markets. Around - Dealer jargon used in quoting when the forward premium/discount is near parity. For example, "two-two around" would translate into 2 points to either side of the present spot. Ask Rate - The rate at which a financial instrument if offered for sale (as in bid/ask spread).

Asset Allocation - Investment practice that divides funds among different markets to achieve diversification for risk management purposes and/or expected returns consistent with an investor's objectives. Back Office - The departments and processes related to the settlement of financial transactions.

Balance of Trade - The value of a country's exports minus its imports.

Base Currency - In general terms, the base currency is the currency in which an investor or issuer maintains its book of accounts. In the FX markets, the US Dollar is normally considered the 'base' currency for quotes, meaning that quotes are expressed as a unit of $1 USD per the other currency quoted in the pair. The primary exceptions to this rule are the British Pound, the Euro and the Australian Dollar.

Bear Market - A market distinguished by declining prices.

Bid Rate - The rate at which a trader is willing to buy a currency.

Bid/Ask Spread - The difference between the bid and offer price, and the most widely used measure of market liquidity.

Big Figure - Dealer expression referring to the first few digits of an exchange rate. These digits rarely change in normal market fluctuations, and therefore are omitted in dealer quotes, especially in times of high market activity. For example, a USD/Yen rate might be 107.30/107.35, but would be quoted verbally without the first three digits i.e. "30/35".

Book - In a professional trading environment, a 'book' is the summary of a trader's or desk's total positions.
Broker - An individual or firm that acts as an intermediary, putting together buyers and sellers for a fee or commission. In contrast, a 'dealer' commits capital and takes one side of a position, hoping to earn a spread (profit) by closing out the position in a subsequent trade with another party.

Bretton Woods Agreement of 1944 - An agreement that established fixed foreign exchange rates for major currencies, provided for central bank intervention in the currency markets, and pegged the price of gold at US $35 per ounce. The agreement lasted until 1971, when President Nixon overturned the Bretton Woods agreement and established a floating exchange rate for the major currencies.

Bull Market - A market distinguished by rising prices.

Bundesbank - Germany's Central Bank.

Cable - Trader jargon referring to the Sterling/US Dollar exchange rate. So called because the rate was originally transmitted via a transatlantic cable beginning in the mid 1800's.

Candlestick Chart - A chart that indicates the trading range for the day as well as the opening and closing price. If the open price is higher than the close price, the rectangle between the open and close price is shaded. If the close price is higher than the open price, that area of the chart is not shaded.

Central Bank - A government or quasi-governmental organization that manages a country's monetary policy. For example, the US central bank is the Federal Reserve, and the German central bank is the Bundesbank.
Chartist - An individual who uses charts and graphs and interprets historical data to find trends and predict future movements. Also referred to as Technical Trader.

Choice Market - A market with no spread. All trades buys and sells occur at that one price

Clearing - The process of settling a trade.

Contagion - The tendency of an economic crisis to spread from one market to another. In 1997, political instability in Indonesia caused high volatility in their domestic currency, the Rupiah. From there, the contagion spread to other Asian emerging currencies, and then to Latin America, and is now referred to as the 'Asian Contagion'.
Collateral - Something given to secure a loan or as a guarantee of performance.

Commission - A transaction fee charged by a broker.

Confirmation - A document exchanged by counterparts to a transaction that states the terms of said transaction.

Contract - The standard unit of trading.

Counterparty - One of the participants in a financial transaction.

Country Risk - Risk associated with a cross-border transaction, including but not limited to legal and political conditions.

Cross Rate - The exchange rate between any two currencies that are considered non-standard in the country where the currency pair is quoted. For example, in the US, a GBP/JPY quote would be considered a cross rate, whereas in UK or Japan it would be one of the primary currency pairs traded.

Currency - Any form of money issued by a government or central bank and used as legal tender and a basis for trade.

Currency Risk - the probability of an adverse change in exchange rates.

Day Trading - Refers to positions which are opened and closed on the same trading day.

Dealer - An individual who acts as a principal or counterpart to a transaction. Principals take one side of a position, hoping to earn a spread (profit) by closing out the position in a subsequent trade with another party. In contrast, a broker is an individual or firm that acts as an intermediary, putting together buyers and sellers for a fee or commission.

Deficit - A negative balance of trade or payments.

Delivery - An FX trade where both sides make and take actual delivery of the currencies traded.

Depreciation - A fall in the value of a currency due to market forces.

Derivative - A contract that changes in value in relation to the price movements of a related or underlying security, future or other physical instrument. An Option is the most common derivative instrument.

Devaluation - The deliberate downward adjustment of a currency's price, normally by official announcement.

Economic Indicator - A government issued statistic that indicates current economic growth and stability. Common indicators include employment rates, Gross Domestic Product (GDP), inflation, retail sales, etc.

End Of Day Order (EOD) - An order to buy or sell at a specified price. This order remains open until the end of the trading day which is typically 5PM ET. European Monetary Union (EMU) - The principal goal of the EMU is to establish a single European currency called the Euro, which will officially replace the national currencies of the member EU countries in 2002. On Janaury1, 1999 the transitional phase to introduce the Euro began. The Euro now exists as a banking currency and paper financial transactions and foreign exchange are made in Euros. This transition period will last for three years, at which time Euro notes an coins will enter circulation. On July 1,2002, only Euros will be legal tender for EMU participants, the national currencies of the member countries will cease to exist. The current members of the EMU are Germany, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Austria, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, italy, Spain and Portugal. EURO - the currency of the European Monetary Union (EMU). A replacement for the European Currency Unit (ECU).

European Central Bank (ECB) - the Central Bank for the new European Monetary Union.

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) - The regulatory agency responsible for administering bank depository insurance in the US.

Federal Reserve (Fed) - The Central Bank for the United States.

Flat/square - Dealer jargon used to describe a position that has been completely reversed, e.g. you bought $500,000 then sold $500,000, thereby creating a neutral (flat) position.

Foreign Exchange - (Forex, FX) - the simultaneous buying of one currency and selling of another.

Forward - The pre-specified exchange rate for a foreign exchange contract settling at some agreed future date, based upon the interest rate differential between the two currencies involved.

Forward points - The pips added to or subtracted from the current exchange rate to calculate a forward price.

Fundamental analysis - Analysis of economic and political information with the objective of determining future movements in a financial market.
Futures Contract - An obligation to exchange a good or instrument at a set price on a future date. The primary difference between a Future and a Forward is that Futures are typically traded over an exchange (Exchange- Traded Contacts - ETC), versus forwards, which are considered Over The Counter (OTC) contracts. An OTC is any contract NOT traded on an exchange.

Good 'Til Cancelled Order (GTC) - An order to buy or sell at a specified price. This order remains open until filled or until the client cancels.
Hedge - A position or combination of positions that reduces the risk of your primary position.

Inflation - An economic condition whereby prices for consumer goods rise, eroding purchasing power.
Initial margin - The initial deposit of collateral required to enter into a position as a guarantee on future performance.
Interbank rates - The Foreign Exchange rates at which large international banks quote other large international banks.
Leading Indicators - Statistics that are considered to predict future economic activity.

LIBOR - The London Inter-Bank Offered Rate. Banks use LIBOR when borrowing from another bank.

Limit order - An order with restrictions on the maximum price to be paid or the minimum price to be received. As an example, if the current price of USD/YEN is 102.00/05, then a limit order to buy USD would be at a price below 102. (ie 101.50)

Liquidity - The ability of a market to accept large transaction with minimal to no impact on price stability.

Liquidation - The closing of an existing position through the execution of an offsetting transaction.
Long position - A position that appreciates in value if market prices increase.

Margin - The required equity that an investor must deposit to collateralize a position.

Margin call - A request from a broker or dealer for additional funds or other collateral to guarantee performance on a position that has moved against the customer.

Market Maker - A dealer who regularly quotes both bid and ask prices and is ready to make a two-sided market for any financial instrument.
Market Risk - Exposure to changes in market prices.
Mark-to-Market - Process of re-evaluating all open positions with the current market prices. These new values then determine margin requirements.

Maturity - The date for settlement or expiry of a financial instrument.
Offer - The rate at which a dealer is willing to sell a currency.
Offsetting transaction - A trade with which serves to cancel or offset some or all of the market risk of an open position.
One Cancels the Other Order (OCO) - A designation for two orders whereby one part of the two orders is executed the other is automatically cancelled.

Open order - An order that will be executed when a market moves to its designated price. Normally associated with Good 'til Cancelled Orders.
Open position - A deal not yet reversed or settled with a physical payment.

Over the Counter (OTC) - Used to describe any transaction that is not conducted over an exchange.

Overnight - A trade that remains open until the next business day.
Pips - Digits added to or subtracted from the fourth decimal place, i.e. 0.0001. Also called Points.

Political Risk - Exposure to changes in governmental policy which will have an adverse effect on an investor's position.
Position - The netted total holdings of a given currency.
Premium - In the currency markets, describes the amount by which the forward or futures price exceed the spot price.
Price Transparency - Describes quotes to which every market participant has equal access.

Quote - An indicative market price, normally used for information purposes only.

Rate - The price of one currency in terms of another, typically used for dealing purposes.

Resistance - A term used in technical analysis indicating a specific price level at which analysis concludes people will sell.

Revaluation - An increase in the exchange rate for a currency as a result of central bank intervention. Opposite of Devaluation.

Risk - Exposure to uncertain change, most often used with a negative connotation of adverse change.

Risk Management - The employment of financial analysis and trading techniques to reduce and/or control exposure to various types of risk.
Roll-Over - Process whereby the settlement of a deal is rolled forward to another value date. The cost of this process is based on the interest rate differential of the two currencies.

Settlement - The process by which a trade is entered into the books and records of the counterparts to a transaction. The settlement of currency trades may or may not involve the actual physical exchange of one currency for another.

Short Position - An investment position that benefits from a decline in market price.

Spot Price - The current market price. Settlement of spot transactions usually occurs within two business days.

Spread - The difference between the bid and offer prices.

Sterling - slang for British Pound.

Stop Loss Order - Order type whereby an open position is automatically liquidated at a specific price. Often used to minimize exposure to losses if the market moves against an investor's position. As an example, if an investor is long USD at 156.27, they might wish to put in a stop loss order for 155.49, which would limit losses should the dollar depreciate, possibly below 155.49.

Support Levels - A technique used in technical analysis that indicates a specific price ceiling and floor at which a given exchange rate will automatically correct itself. Opposite of resistance.

Swap - A currency swap is the simultaneous sale and purchase of the same amount of a given currency at a forward exchange rate.
Technical Analysis - An effort to forecast prices by analyzing market data, i.e. historical price trends and averages, volumes, open interest, etc.

Tomorrow Next (Tom/Next) - Simultaneous buying and selling of a currency for delivery the following day.

Transaction Cost - the cost of buying or selling a financial instrument.

Transaction Date - The date on which a trade occurs.

Turnover - The total money value of all executed transactions in a given time period; volume.

Two-Way Price - When both a bid and offer rate is quoted for a FX transaction.

Uptick - a new price quote at a price higher than the preceding quote.

Uptick Rule - In the U.S., a regulation whereby a security may not be sold short unless the last trade prior to the short sale was at a price lower than the price at which the short sale is executed.
US Prime Rate - The interest rate at which US banks will lend to their prime corporate customers

Value Date - The date on which counterparts to a financial transaction agree to settle their respective obligations, i.e., exchanging payments.

For spot currency transactions, the value date is normally two business days forward. Also known as maturity date.

Variation Margin - Funds a broker must request from the client to have the required margin deposited. The term usually refers to additional funds that must be deposited as a result of unfavorable price movements.
Volatility (Vol) - A statistical measure of a market's price movements over time.

Whipsaw - slang for a condition of a highly volatile market where a sharp price movement is quickly followed by a sharp reversal.
Yard - Slang for a billion.

Foreign Exchange (FOREX) or Currency Trading


U.S. & International Markets: Futures and Options


Market Exchange
Australian Dollar futures & options IMM
Benzene futures CME
British Pound futures & options IMM
British Pound (MIDAM) futures MA
CRB Index futures & options NYFE
Canadian Dollar futures & options IMM
Canadian Dollar (MIDAM) futures MA
Cattle, Feeder futures & options CME
Cattle, Live futures & options CME
Cattle, Live (MIDAM) futures MA
Cocoa (Metric) futures & options CSCE
Coffee futures & options CSCE
Copper futures & options COMEX
Corn futures & Corn options CBOT
Corn (MIDAM) futures & Corn (MIDAM) options MA
Cotton futures & options NYCE
Crude Oil, Light/Sweet futures & options NYMEX
Crude Oil, Sour futures & options NYMEX
Dow Jones & Dow Jones options CBOT
Dow Jones Mini $5 multiplier CBOT
Dow Jones Mini Index $2 multiplier CBOT
Euro FX futures & options IMM
E-mini Euro futures & options IMM
Eurodollar futures & options IMM
Eurodollar (MIDAM) futures MA
Euroyen futures & options IMM
Gasoline, Unleaded futures & options NYMEX
Gold (Kilo) futures CBOT
Gold (100 oz) futures & options COMEX
Gold (MIDAM) futures & Gold (MIDAM) options MA
oldman Sachs Comm. Index futures & options IOM
Heating Oil futures & options NYMEX
Hogs, Lean futures & options CME
Hogs, Lean (MIDAM) futures MA
Japanese Yen futures & options IMM
E-mini Japanese Yen futures & options IMM
Japenese Yen (MIDAM) futures MA
Lumber futures & options CME
Mixed Xylene Futures CME
Mexican Peso futures & options IMM
Municipal Bonds & Municipal Bonds options CBOT
NASDAQ Index futures & options IOM
NASDAQ 100 E-mini futures & options IOM
Natural Gas futures & options NYMEX
Nikkei 225 Stock Index futures & options IOM
NYSE Index Composite futures & options NYFE
Oats futures & Oats options CBOT
Oats (MIDAM) futures MA
Orange Juice futures & options NYCE
Palladium futures & options NYMEX
Platinum futures & options NYMEX
Pork Bellies, Frozen futures & options CME
Rough Rice futures & Rough Rice options CBOT
S&P 500 Index futures & options IOM
E-Mini S&P 500 futures & options CME
S&P MidCap 400 Index futures & options IOM
Silver futures & options COMEX
Silver, New futures & Silver, New options CBOT
Silver, New York (MIDAM) futures MA
Soybean Meal futures & Soybean Meal options CBOT
Soybean Oil futures & Soybean Oil options CBOT
Soybeans futures & Soybeans options CBOT
Soybeans (MIDAM) futures & Soybeans (MIDAM) options MA
Sugar futures & options CSCE
Swiss Franc futures & options IMM
Swiss Franc (MIDAM) futures MA
Treasury Bills (90 day) futures & options IMM
Treasury Bills (MIDAM) futures MA
Treasury Bonds futures & Treasury Bonds options CBOT
Treasury Bonds futures & Treasury Bonds options MA
Treasury Notes, 10 year< & Treasury Notes, 10 year options CBOT
Treasury Notes, 5 year & Treasury Notes, 5 year options CBOT
US Dollar Index futures & options NYCE
Value Line Index futures & options KCBT
Value Line, Mini futures & options KCBT
Wheat futures & Wheat options CBOT
Wheat, Hard Red Winter futures & Wheat options KCBT
Wheat, Hard Red Spring futures & Wheat options MGEX
Wheat (MIDAM) futures & Wheat (MIDAM) options MA


International (non U.S.) Futures and Options

Market Exchange
3 Month Euribor & 3 month Euribor options MATIF
90 Day Australian Bill & 90 Day Australian Bill options SFE
CAC 40 Index futures MATIF
Aluminum futures & options LME
1 Month Euribor futures Eurex
3 Month Euribor futures & 3 month Euribor options Eurex
Euro-Schatz futures & Options on Euro-Schatz futures Eurex
Euro BOBL futures & Euro BOBL options Eurex
Euro Bund futures & Euro Bund options Eurex
Euro BUXL (long bund) futures Eurex
Conf Swiss Bond futures Eurex
DJ Stoxx futures Eurex
Finland's FOX index futures and Fox Options Eurex
Nemax 50 index futures and Nemax50 Options Eurex
Euro Notional Bond futures & Notional Bond options MATIF
Euribor Interest Rate futures & options LIFFE
Euroyen futures & options SIMEX
FTSE 100 Index futures & options LIFFE
Hang Seng futures  & Hang Seng options HKFE
Italian Bond (BTP) futures & options LIFFE
Long Gilt futures & options LIFFE
Nickel futures & options LME
Nikkei Index futures & options SIMEX
All other LME contracts LME
Sterling futures & options LIFFE

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