Foreign Currency Transactions
The foreign exchange markets are sometimes referred to as "forex." The forex market is the largest financial market in the world, with daily average trading turnover of approximately $1.5 trillion. Operating 24 hours a day, the forex market is highly liquid and most of the trading is conducted electronically or over the phone. Banks, insurance companies, large corporations and other large financial institutions all use the forex markets to manage the risks associated with fluctuations in currency rates. In recent years, retail investors have also looked to the forex markets as yet another possible investment opportunity.
Kinds Of Major Currencies And Exchange Systems
The U.S. Dollar
The United States dollar is the world's main currency. All currencies are generally quoted in U.S. dollar terms. Under conditions of international economic and political unrest, the U.S. dollar is the main safe-haven currency which was proven particularly well during the Southeast Asian crisis of 1997-1998.
The U.S. dollar became the leading currency toward the end of the Second World War and was at the center of the Bretton Woods Accord, as the other currencies were virtually pegged against it. The introduction of the euro in 1999 reduced the dollar's importance only marginally.
The major currencies traded against the U.S. dollar are the euro, Japanese yen, British pound, and Swiss franc.
The euro was designed to become the premier currency in trading by simply being quoted in American terms. Like the U.S. dollar, the euro has a strong international presence stemming from members of the European Monetary Union. The currency remains plagued by unequal growth, high unemployment, and government resistance to structural changes. The pair was also weighed in 1999 and 2000 by outflows from foreign investors, particularly Japanese, who were forced to liquidate their losing investments in euro- denominated assets. Moreover, European money managers re balanced their portfolios and reduced their euro exposure as their needs for hedging currency risk in Europe declined.
The Japanese Yen
The Japanese yen is the third most traded currency in the world; it has a much smaller international presence than the U.S. dollar or the euro. The yen is very liquid around the world, practically around the clock. The natural demand to trade the yen concentrated mostly among the Japanese keiretsu, the economic and financial conglomerates.
The yen is much more sensitive to the fortunes of the Nikkei index, the Japanese stock market, and the real estate market. The attempt of the Bank of Japan to deflate the double bubble in these two markets had a negative effect on the Japanese yen, although the impact was short-lived.
The British Pound
Until the end of World War II, the pound was the currency of reference. Its nickname, cable, is derived from the telex machine, which was used to trade it in its heyday. The currency is heavily traded against the euro and the U.S. dollar, but has a spotty presence against other currencies. The two-year bout with the Exchange Rate Mechanism, between 1990 and 1992, had a soothing effect on the British pound, as it generally had to follow the Deutsche mark's fluctuations, but the crisis conditions that precipitated the pound's withdrawal from the ERM had a psychological effect on the currency.
Prior to the introduction of the euro, both the pound benefited from any doubts about the currency convergence. After the introduction of the euro, Bank of England is attempting to bring the high U.K. rates closer to the lower rates in the euro zone. The pound could join the euro in the early 2000s, provided that the U.K. referendum is positive.
The Swiss Franc
The Swiss franc is the only currency of a major European country that belongs neither to the European Monetary Union nor to the G-7 countries. Although the Swiss economy is relatively small, the Swiss franc is one of the four major currencies, closely resembling the strength and quality of the Swiss economy and finance. Switzerland has a very close economic relationship with Germany, and thus to the euro zone. Therefore, in terms of political uncertainty in the East, the Swiss franc is favored generally over the euro.
Typically, it is believed that the Swiss franc is a stable currency. Actually, from a foreign exchange point of view, the Swiss franc closely resembles the patterns of the euro, but lacks its liquidity. As the demand for it exceeds supply, the Swiss franc can be more volatile than the euro.
Kinds of Exchange Systems
Trading with Brokers
Foreign exchange brokers, unlike equity brokers, do
not take positions for themselves; they only service
banks. Their roles are:
• bringing together buyers and sellers in the market;
• optimizing the price they show to their customers;
• quickly, accurately, and faithfully executing the traders' orders.
The majority of the foreign exchange brokers execute business via phone. The phone lines between brokers and banks are dedicated, or direct, and are usually in-stalled free of charge by the broker. A foreign exchange brokerage firm has direct lines to banks around the world. Most foreign exchange is executed through an open box system—a microphone in front of the broker that continuously transmits everything he or she says on the direct phone lines to the speaker boxes in the banks. This way, all banks can hear all the deals being executed. Because of the open box system used by brokers, a trader is able to hear all prices quoted; whether the bid was hit or the offer taken; and the following price. What the trader will not be able to hear is the amounts of particular bids and offers and the names of the banks showing the prices. Prices are anonymous the anonymity of the banks that are trading in the market ensures the market's efficiency, as all banks have a fair chance to trade.
Brokers charge a commission that is paid equally by the buyer and the seller. The fees are negotiated on an individual basis by the bank and the brokerage firm.
Brokers show their customers the prices made by other customers either two-way (bid and offer) prices or one way (bid or offer) prices from his or her customers. Traders show different prices because they "read" the market differently; they have different expectations and different interests. A broker who has more than one price on one or both sides will automatically optimize the price. In other words, the broker will always show the highest bid and the lowest offer. Therefore, the market has access to the narrowest spread possible. Fundamental and technical analyses are used for forecasting the future direction of the currency. A trader might test the market by hitting a bid for a small amount to see if there is any reaction.
Brokers cannot be forced into taking a principal's role if the name switch takes longer than anticipated.
Another advantage of the brokers' market is that brokers might provide a broader selection of banks to their customers. Some European and Asian banks have overnight desks so their orders are usually placed with brokers who can deal with the American banks, adding to the liquidity of the market.
Direct dealing is based on trading reciprocity. A market maker—the bank making or quoting a price—expects the bank that is calling to reciprocate with respect to making a price when called upon. Direct dealing provides more trading discretion, as compared to dealing in the brokers' market. Sometimes traders take advantage of this characteristic.
Direct dealing used to be conducted mostly on the phone. Dealing errors were difficult to prove and even more difficult to settle. In order to increase dealing safety, most banks tapped the phone lines on which trading was conducted. This measure was helpful in recording all the transaction details and enabling the dealers to allocate the responsibility for errors fairly. But tape recorders were unable to prevent trading errors. Direct dealing was forever changed in the mid - 1980s, by the introduction of dealing systems.
Dealing systems are on-line computers that link the contributing banks around the world on a one-on-one basis. The performance of dealing systems is characterized by speed, reliability, and safety. Accessing a bank through a dealing system is much faster than making a phone call. Dealing systems are continuously being improved in order to offer maximum support to the dealer's main function: trading. The software is very reliable in picking up the big figure of the exchange rates and the standard value dates. In addition, it is extremely precise and fast in contacting other parties, switching among conversations, and accessing the database. The trader is in continuous visual contact with the information exchanged on the monitor. It is easier to see than hear this information, especially when switching among conversations.
Most banks use a combination of brokers and direct dealing systems. Both approaches reach the same banks, but not the same parties, because corporations, for instance, cannot deal in the brokers' market. Traders develop personal relationships with both brokers and traders in the markets, but select their trading medium based on price quality, not on personal feelings. The market share between dealing systems and brokers fluctuates based on market conditions. Fast market conditions are beneficial to dealing systems, whereas regular market conditions are more beneficial to brokers.
Unlike dealing systems, on which trading is not anonymous and is conducted on a one-on-one basis, matching systems are anonymous and individual traders deal against the rest of the market, similar to dealing in the brokers' market. However, unlike the brokers' market, there are no individuals to bring the prices to the market, and liquidity may be limited at times. Matching systems are well-suited for trading smaller amounts as well.
The dealing systems characteristics of speed, reliability, and safety are replicated in the matching systems. In addition, credit lines are automatically managed by the systems. Traders input the total credit line for each counter party. When the credit line has been reached, the system automatically disallows dealing with the particular party by displaying credit restrictions, or shows the trader only the price made by banks that have open lines of credit. As soon as the credit line is restored, the system allows the bank to deal again. In the interbank market, traders deal directly with dealing systems, matching systems, and brokers in a complementary fashion.
Federal Reserve System of USA
Banks of Other G-7 Countries
The Federal Reserve System of the USA
Like the other central banks, the Federal Reserve of the USA affects the foreign exchange markets in three general areas:
• the discount rate;
• the money market instruments;
• foreign exchange operations.
For the foreign exchange operations most significant are repurchase agreements to sell the same security back at the same price at a predetermined date in the future (usually within 15 days), and at a specific rate of interest. This arrangement amounts to a temporary injection of reserves into the banking system. The impact on the foreign exchange market is that the dollar should weaken. The repurchase agreements may be either customer repos or system repos.
Matched sale-purchase agreements are just the opposite of repurchase agreements. When executing a matched sale-purchase agreement, the Fed sells a security for immediate delivery to a dealer or a foreign central bank, with the agreement to buy back the same security at the same price at a predetermined time in the future (generally within 7 days). This arrangement amounts to a temporary drain of reserves. The impact on the foreign exchange market is that the dollar should strengthen.
The major central banks are involved in foreign exchange operations in more ways than intervening in the open market. Their operations include payments among central banks or to international agencies. In addition, the Federal Reserve has entered a series of currency swap arrangements with other central banks since 1962. For instance, to help the allied war effort against Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990-1991, payments were executed by the Bundesbank and Bank of Japan to the Federal Reserve. Also, payments to the World bank or the United Nations are executed through central banks.
Intervention in the United States foreign exchange markets by the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Reserve is geared toward restoring orderly conditions in the market or influencing the exchange rates. It is not geared toward affecting the reserves.
There are two types of foreign exchange interventions: naked intervention and sterilized intervention.
Naked intervention, or unsterilized intervention, refers to the sole foreign exchange activity. All that takes place is the intervention itself, in which the
Federal Reserve either buys or sells U.S. dollars against a foreign currency. In addition to the impact on the foreign exchange market, there is also a monetary effect on the money supply. If the money supply is impacted, then consequent adjustments must be made in interest rates, in prices, and at all levels of the economy. Therefore, a naked foreign exchange intervention has a long-term effect.
Sterilized intervention neutralizes its impact on the money supply. As there are rather few central banks that want the impact of their intervention in the foreign exchange markets to affect all corners of their economy, sterilized interventions have been the tool of choice. This holds true for the Federal Reserve as well.
The sterilized intervention involves an additional step to the original currency transaction. This step consists of a sale of government securities that offsets the reserve addition that occurs due to the intervention. It may be easier to visualize it if you think that the central bank will finance the sale of a currency through the sale of a number of government securities.
Because a sterilized intervention only generates an impact on the supply and demand of a certain currency, its impact will tend to have a short-to medium-term effect.
The Central Banks of the Other G-7 Countries
In the wake of World War II, both Germany and Japan were helped to develop new financial systems. Both countries created central banks that were fundamentally similar to the Federal Reserve. Along the line, their scope was customized to their domestic needs and they diverged from their model.
The European Central Bank was set up on June 1, 1998 to oversee the ascent of the euro. During the transition to the third stage of economic and monetary union (introduction of the single currency on January 1, 1999), it was responsible for carrying out the Community's monetary policy. The ECB, which is an independent entity, supervises the activity of individual member European central banks, such as Deutsche Bundesbank, Banque de France, and Ufficio Italiano dei Cambi. The ECB's decision-making bodies run a European System of Central Banks whose task is to manage the money in circulation, conduct foreign exchange operations, hold and manage the Member States' official foreign reserves, and promote the smooth operation of payment systems. The ECB is the successor to the European Monetary Institute (EMI).
The German central bank, widely known as the Bundesbank, was the model for the ECB. The Bundesbank was a very independent entity, dedicated to a stable currency, low inflation, and a controlled money supply. The hyperinflation that developed in Germany after World War I created a fertile economic and political scenario for the rise of an extremist political party and for the start of World War II. The Bundesbank's chapter obligated it to avoid any such economic chaos.
The Bank of Japan has deviated from the Federal Reserve model in terms of independence. Although its Policy Board is still fully in charge of monetary policy, changes are still subject to the approval of the Ministry of Finance (MOF). The BOJ targets the M2 aggregate. On a quarterly basis, the BOJ releases its Tankan economic survey. Tankan is the Japanese equivalent of the American tan book, which presents the state of the economy. The Tankan's findings are not automatic triggers of monetary policy changes. Generally, the lack of independence of a central bank signals inflation. This is not the case in Japan, and it is yet another example of how different fiscal or economic policies can have opposite effects in separate environments.
The Bank of England may be characterized as a less independent central bank, because the government may overrule its decision. The BOE has not had an easy tenure. Despite the fact that British inflation was high through 1991, reaching double-digit rates in the late 1980s, the Bank of England did a marvelous job of proving to the world that it was able to maneuver the pound into mirroring the Exchange Rate Mechanism.
After joining the ERM late in 1990, the BOE was instrumental in keeping the pound within its 6 percent allowed range against the deutsche mark, but the pound had a short stay in the Exchange Rate Mechanism. The divergence between the artificially high interest rates linked to ERM commitments and Britain's weak domestic economy triggered a massive sell-off of the pound in September 1992.
The Bank of France has joint responsibility, with the Ministry of Finance, to conduct domestic monetary policy. Their main goals are non-inflationary growth and external account equilibrium. France has become a major player in the foreign exchange markets since the ravages of the ERM crisis of July 1993, when the French franc fell victim to the foreign exchange markets.
The Bank of Italy is in charge of the monetary policy, financial intermediaries, and foreign exchange. Like the other former European Monetary System central banks, BOI's responsibilities shifted domestically following the ERM crisis. Along with the Bundesbank and Bank of France, the Bank of Italy is now part of the European System of Central Banks (ESCB).
The Bank of Canada is an independent central bank that has a tight rein on its currency. Due to its complex economic relations with the United States, the Canadian dollar has a strong connection to the U.S. dollar. The BOC intervenes more frequently than the other G7 central banks to shore up the fluctuations of its Canadian dollar. The central bank changed its intervention policy in 1999 after admitting that its previous mechanical policy, of intervening in increments of only $50 million at a set price based on the previous closing, was not working.
The main advantages of the FOREX market are:
- The largest number of traders and volumes of transactions
- Superior liquidity and speed of the market: transactions are conducted within a few seconds according to online quotes
- The market works 24 hours a day, every working days
- A trader can open a position for any period of time he wants
- No fees, except for the difference between buying and selling prices
- An opportunity to get a bigger profit that the invested sum
- Qualified work in the FOREX market can become your main professional activity
- You can make deals any time you like
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