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Categories: Forex Market Investing

The Basics of Forex Trading: Explained for South Africans

The foreign exchange, or forex market, is the world’s largest financial market, and it plays a vital role in the global economy. Every day, trillions of dollars are exchanged from one currency to another.

Who are the Forex Trading Participants?

Forex trading participants include governments, businesses, and individual investors. 

  1. Governments:
    Governments use the forex market to implement policies. For example, when conducting business with another country, whether it’s borrowing money, lending money, or offering aid, a country needs to convert its currency into a foreign currency.
  2. Businesses:
    Businesses use the forex market to facilitate international trade. For example, they may need to convert payments for goods and services bought overseas or to exchange payments from international customers into their preferred currency.
  3. Individual Investors:
    Individual investors use the forex market to speculate on changes in currency prices.

Forex Trading Hours of Operation by South African Time Standards

Forex Trading SessionOpenClose
Johannesburg9:00am17:00pm
London10:00am19:00pm
New York15:00pm23:00pm
Sydney23:00pm7:00am
Tokyo1:00am9:00am
Forex Trading Hours

Currency prices change almost constantly during the week because the forex market is open continuously from Sunday at 4:00 PM until Friday at 4:00 PM Central Time. A trading day starts at 4:00 PM and ends at 4:00 PM Central Time the following day. The market has to be open around the clock because of the global nature of the economy. Let’s go over some basics of how trading forex works. 

Forex Pairs

When you trade forex, you’re not just trading one product, you’re trading two currencies against each other. This is known as a currency pair. The quote for a forex currency pair defines the value of one currency relative to the other. The easiest way to understand any quote is to read the pair from left to right.

Let’s look at an example of using the euro versus the US dollar currency pair. If the EUR/USD is trading at 1.20, that means 1 euro is equal to 1.20 US dollars.

Here’s another example of using the US dollar versus the Canadian dollar currency pair. If the USD/CAD is trading at 1.25, that means 1 US dollar is equal to 1.25 Canadian dollars.

Even though there are two currencies involved, the pair itself acts as a single entity. It’s similar to a stock or a commodity. And just like when trading stock, investors profit when they buy a currency pair and its price increases.

Investors can also profit if they sell or short a currency pair and the price decreases. Let’s look at an example, Suppose an investor who thinks Europe’s economy is going to grow faster than the United States, and as a result, she thinks the Euro will strengthen against the US dollar.

She can buy the Euro versus US dollar pair to speculate on her assumption. If the price of the currency pair rises, she’ll make money. Conversely, if the price falls, she’ll experience a loss.

Forex Trading Major Pairs

  1. EUR/USD – Euro to US Dollar
  2. USD/JPY – US Dollar to Japanese Yen
  3. GBP/USD – British Pound Sterling to US Dollar
  4. USD/CHF – US Dollar to Swiss Franc
  5. AUD/USD – Australian Dollar to US Dollar
  6. USD/CAD – US Dollar to Canadian Dollar
  7. NZD/USD – New Zealand Dollar to US Dollar

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s look at a few key aspects of the forex market.

Margin in Forex Trading

When you trade on margin, you only need to put up a percentage of the total investment to enter into a position. This amount is known as the margin requirement. When you trade other securities like stocks, trading on margin means you’re borrowing funds from your broker.

However, forex trades can only be covered using funds in the investor’s forex account. Investors can’t borrow funds to enter a forex trade. If they don’t have funds in their forex account, they need to transfer funds before placing a trade.

Forex margin requirements vary depending on the currency pairs and the size of a trade. Currency pairs typically trade in specific quantities known as lots.

The most common lot sizes are standard and mini. Standard lots represent 100,000 units, and mini lots represent 10,000 units. 

Depending on your brokerage firm, you may also be able to trade forex in 1,000-unit increments, also known as micro-lots. Margin requirements can be as small as 2% of a trade or as large as 20%, but the margin requirement for most currency pairs averages around 3% to 5%.

To understand how margin is calculated, let’s look at an example using the Euro versus US dollar pair. Say this pair was trading at 1.20, and an investor wanted to buy a standard lot or 100,000 units. The total cost of the trade would be $120,000.

That’s a lot of capital. However, the investor doesn’t have to pay that full amount. Instead, she pays the margin requirement. Let’s say the margin requirement was 3%. 3% of $120,000 is $3600.

That’s the amount the investor needs in her forex account to place this trade. This brings us to another key element of forex trading – leverage.

Leverage in Forex Trading

Leverage enables investors to control a large investment with a relatively small amount of money. In this example, the investor is able to control $120,000 with $3600.

The leverage associated with currency pairs is one of the biggest benefits of the forex market, but it’s also one of the biggest risks. Leverage gives investors the potential to make large profits or large losses.

One more important element in the forex market is financing also known as SWAP.

Swap

Swap is the calculation of net interest owed or earned on currency pairs, and it happens when an investor holds a position past the close of the trading day. The US dollar is associated with an overnight lending rate set by the Fed, and this rate defines the cost of borrowing money.

Similarly, each foreign currency has its own overnight lending rate. Remember, when you trade a currency pair, you’re trading two currencies against each other.

Even though the currency pair acts as a single entity, you’re technically long one currency and short the other. In terms of financing, you’re lending the currency that you’re long and borrowing the currency you’re short.

This lending and borrowing occur at the overnight lending rate of each respective currency. In general, an investor receives a credit, if the currency he has long had a higher interest rate than the currency he is short.

Conversely, an investor is debited if the currency he is long has a lower interest rate than the currency he is short.

Let’s look at an example. Suppose an investor has a position in the Australian dollar versus the US dollar currency pair. Say the overnight lending rate for the Australian dollar is 2% and the overnight lending rate for the US dollar is 1%.

The investor is long the currency pair, which means he is long the AUD and short the USD. Since the AUD has a higher interest rate than the USD, the investor will receive a credit. However, if the investor was short the AUD/USD currency pair, he’d have to pay the debt because he’s short the currency that has a higher interest rate.

Swap is performed automatically by your brokerage firm. However, it’s important to understand how it works and its financial impact on the trade.

Conclusion

We’ve reviewed just a few elements of the forex market. As with all investment opportunities, the forex market has a unique set of risks and benefits, and education is the first step to determine if this is the right opportunity for you.

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Shephard Dube

Shephard is the Founder and Chief Product Officer of Rateweb. He is passionate about personal finance, economics, stock market and cryptocurrencies. He spends most of his time figuring out how organisations and governments can make the environment conducive for business owners and consumers.

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