Forex (Foreign Exchange) is the name given to the "direct access" trading of foreign currencies. With an average daily volume of $1.4 trillion, forex is 46 times larger than all the futures markets combined and, for that reason, is the world's most liquid market. In the past, forex trading was limited largely to enormous money center banks and other institutional traders. But in just the past few years, technological innovations and the development of online trading platforms allow small traders to take advantage of the significant benefits of trading foreign currencies with forex.
In contrast to the world's stock markets, foreign exchange is traded without the constraints of a central physical exchange. Transactions are instead conducted via telephone or online. With this transaction structure as its foundation, the Foreign Exchange Market has become by far the largest marketplace in the world.
Buying and Selling
In the forex market, currencies are always priced and traded in pairs. You simultaneously buy one currency and sell another, but you can determine which pair of currencies you wish to trade. For example, if you believe the value of the euro is going to increase vis-á-vis the U.S. Dollar, then you would go long on EUR/USD instrument (currency pair). Obviously, the objective of forex currency trading is to exchange one currency for another in the expectation that the market rate or price will change so that the currency you bought has increased its value relative to the one you sold. If you have bought a currency and the price appreciates in value, then you must sell the currency back in order to lock in the profit. An open trade or position is one in which a trader has either bought / sold one currency pair and has not sold / bought back the equivalent amount to effectively close the position.
Market conventions are rules and standards imposed by a governing body. In case of decentralized forex market these conventions might differ due to many national regulators (FSA, FSC, CFTC, NFA, BCSC, etc.). Since there is no central governing body that sets forex market rules and standards, we will reference only these that are universal.
The first currency in the pair is referred to as the base currency, and the second currency is the counter or quote currency. The U.S Dollar is usually the base currency for quotes, and includes USD/JPY, USD/CHF, and USD/CAD. The exceptions are the Euro (EUR), Great Britain Pound (GBP), and Australian Dollar (AUD). As with all financial products, forex quotes include a "bid" and "ask", which is more often called "offer" in the forex market. The bid is the price at which a forex market maker is willing to buy (and you can sell) the base currency in exchange for the counter currency. The offer is the price at which a forex market maker will sell (and you can buy) the base currency in exchange for the counter currency. The difference between the bid and the offer price is referred to as the spread.
Orders and Positions
When you want to open a position you need to place an "entry" order. If and when the entry order executes, the position becomes "open" and starts its life on the market. At one point in time, you will place an "exit" order to "close" the position. A position can be "long" (entry order is to buy and exit order is to sell an instrument) or "short" (entry order is to sell and exit order is to buy an instrument).
At the point when you place your entry order, you need to define price level at which you want to buy or sell certain instrument. You also need to specify type of the order and quantity of the instrument you want to trade. There are 3 order types:
Placing a market order means that you will buy at your broker's current "ask" (or "offer") price, or sell at your broker's current "bid" price, whatever that price currently is. For example, suppose you are buying EUR/USD. The current market, as quoted by your broker is 1.2934 / 1.2938. This means that your broker is willing to buy EUR/USD from you at 1.2934, and sell it to you at 1.2938.
Initiating a trade with a stop order means that you will only open a position if the market moves in the direction you are anticipating. For example, if USD/JPY is currently 108.72 and you believe it will move higher, you could place a stop order to buy at 108.82. This means that the order will only be executed if the market moves up to 108.82. The advantage is that if you are wrong and the market moves straight down, you will not have bought (because 108.82 will never have been reached). The disadvantage is that 108.82 is clearly a less attractive rate at which to buy than 108.72. Opening a position with a stop order is usually appropriate if you wish to trade only with strong market momentum in a particular direction.
A limit order is an order to buy below the current price, or sell above the current price. For example, if EUR/USD is trading at 1.2952 / 56 and you believe the market will rise, you could place a limit order to buy at 1.2945. If executed, this will give you a long position in EUR/USD at 1.2945, which is 11 pips better than if you had just bought EUR/USD with a market order. The disadvantage of the limit order is that if EUR/USD moves straight up from 1.2952 / 56, your limit at 1.2945 will never be filled and you will miss out on the profit opportunity even though your view on the direction of EUR/USD was correct. Opening a position with a limit order is usually appropriate if you believe that the market will remain in a range before moving in your anticipated direction, allowing the order to be filled first.
For both entry and exits orders you can specify price levels at which you want them to be executed. You have to specify entry levels when you place you entry order, while most brokers would allow you to specify exit levels at any time.
The objective of forex currency trading is to exchange one currency for another in the expectation that the market rate or price will change so that the currency you bought has increased its value relative to the one you sold. If you have bought a currency and the price appreciates in value, then you must sell the currency back in order to lock in the profit.
Let us assume that you open a long position by buying USD/JPY for 107.58 (quantity of 100000) and few hours after that, you close the position by selling USD/JPY for 107.74 (quantity of 100000). These two trades would bring you profit of (107.74 - 107.58) * 100000 = JPY 16000 (JPY is the counter or quote currency in the USD/JPY pair). You can than convert the profit to a currency you like, for example JPY 16000 = 16000 / 107.74 = USD 148.51.
We can also say that these two trades would bring you 16 "pips" profit. A "pip" is the smallest increment in any instrument. For asset types other than forex, the smallest increment is often called "tick". In EUR/USD one pip is 0.0001, in USD/JPY one pip is 0.01. Expressing position profits in pips is often very useful for quick calculations and estimates.
One pip, from the example above, would bring you 0.01 * 100000 = JPY 1000 profit, or JPY 1000 = 1000 / 107.74 = USD 9.28.