Forex Basics – An Exchange Rates Tutorial

Profits are gained and lost on the foreign exchange, or ‘Forex’, market due to fluctuations in the exchange rate. This fact may seem like common knowledge, but one should not take for granted how exchange rates are determined.

There is actually a very rich history behind the concept of the exchange rate, and it is important that you understand why things came to be as they are — as well as how to capitalize on that knowledge.

This quick tutorial on exchange rates will help you do just that.

First, let us look at the simplest definition of an exchange rate. An exchange rate is the value of one currency in relation to another. If one U.S. dollar is worth $1.20 Canadian, then the exchange rate is 1:1.2, or 1.2 for the CAD/USD currency pair.

What does this really mean, though? Why is it that one currency can be worth more than another, and who decides?

If you look back to the earlier part of the 20th Century, you will recall that most currencies of the world were back by precious metals, like silver and gold.

It used to be that the United States followed the ‘gold standard’, which ‘pegged’ the Dollar to the price of 1 ounce of gold. All other currencies were then ‘pegged’ to the Dollar and allowed to fluctuate in either direction by a margin of no more than 1 percent.

This type of exchange rate, although it allowed for minor fluctuation, was considered a “fixed exchange rate”.

Now, fast-forward to the latter half of the century, and you find that the ‘gold standard’ has been dropped, along with the fixed rate model of exchange. Instead, the foreign exchange market now operates primarily on a ‘fluctuating exchange rate’.

Fluctuating exchange rates are governed by the market forces of supply and demand. If the demand for a currency exceeds the supply, then the exchange rate (and value) of that currency will rise.

Likewise, if the supply of a currency exceeds market demand, then the value of that currency (and its exchange rate) will drop.

We see this happening today with the U.S. Dollar. In order to keep up with government spending, the federal reserve prints more and more dollars, then sells them to other countries as ‘debt’.

The market forces which previously gave the dollar its strength — such as oil exports and oil transaction denominated in U.S. dollars – have eroded. Thus, we not only find the exchange rate of the dollar weakened, but also the exchange rates of many of our closest trading partners.

The Japanese Yen, for example, has fallen even more than the dollar. Part of this is due an overall crash in the Asian market, but it is also linked to the fact that much of Japan’s economic growth at the end of the last century depended upon exports to the United States.

This is just one example of how market forces affect exchange rates, but it is a useful one for examining some of the factors involved in rate fluctuations.

If you would like a real world exchange rate tutorial, I recommend opening a demo trading account with an online broker. Do some test trades to get a feel for things, and make note of current exchange rates.

Then, make sure you stay abreast of world and financial news, and see if you can spot the relationships between major announcements and rate fluctuations!

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