About the forex market

About the forex market

Forex

Saxo Markets

Summary:  The foreign exchange, or "forex", market is a global network of buyers and sellers who exchange currency at an agreed price. These transactions take place in the forex market, also known as the "FX market", and they are carried out by banks, corporations, hedge funds, investors, and individuals.


What is forex?

With trades amounting to trillions of dollars each day, the FX market is the world’s largest and most liquid financial market—bigger than stock, bond, and commodity markets. This article aims to explore the structure of the forex market, as well as its major players, and the most commonly traded currency pairs in the market.

Traders new to forex can orientate themselves with our ‘what is forex trading?’ introduction and our guide on ‘how to trade forex’, both of which contain basic concepts and terminology about the forex market that will be referred to on this page.

An introduction to the forex market

A brief history of the market

Alongside the bartering of goods, the concepts of currency and currency exchange have been around for more than a thousand years and have taken many forms. Throughout history, precious objects such as seashells, certain stones, gold, silver, and copper were shaped and minted to be adopted as currency.

In the past century, the first major transformation the forex market underwent occurred in the decades following World War II. The Bretton Woods Agreement between 44 nations fixed the exchange rate of national currencies against the US dollar, while the exchange rate of the US dollar was set against gold.

This agreement was an attempt to stabilise the global economy which had been volatile in the previous decades due to the increase of speculative trading. The agreement led to a standard with which international commerce could operate.

However, post-war prosperity saw a tremendous increase in trading volumes, which led to huge capital movements. The economies of countries around the world began to grow at vastly different speeds, and currencies became over or undervalued compared to the fixed exchange rates. This meant that fixed rates could no longer accurately represent market values, and the agreement was dissolved in the early 1970s.

Immediately following that, the modern forex market emerged as a new currency valuation system. This was the second major transformation for the forex market. The new system had freer market conditions, and exchange rates of currency pairs were driven by supply and demand of currencies instead of being fixed.

The supply and demand were naturally uneven, which meant that foreign exchange rates were in constant fluctuation. People saw potential in making a profit from these fluctuations, and they began participating in trading in the forex market with the intention of making money.

Initially, forex trades were only executed by big speculators and investment funds who had the means and capital. But by the 1990s, advancement in technology had led to the creation of forex trading platforms by banks which encouraged clients to execute trades themselves.

The forex market today

Today, the global forex market is worth trillions of dollars, and forex transactions can be completed in milliseconds with the touch of a finger or the click of a mouse. Almost anybody who wishes to participate in trading can do so, provided they have capital.

As trading becomes more accessible to individuals, more and more people have taken up trading with the aim of turning a profit. However, retail traders only make up a fraction of all forex transactions, and large volumes of daily trades continue to be executed without the specific goal of turning a profit.

For example, currency exchanges by corporations are done with the main purpose of doing business with other corporations and clients abroad. Similarly, investment managers make forex transactions to acquire overseas corporations or to purchase foreign bonds with no intention of benefiting financially from the currency side of the transaction itself.

The forex market structure

The forex market is not centralised nor is it owned by any one individual or entity. Instead, it is made up of many participants who contribute to it, such as banks, hedge funds, investors, corporations, and individuals. Due to this abundance of participants, it is very difficult for any one of them to be able to exert enough dominance over the forex market to manipulate it. 

Central banks

Central banks are also known as national banks, and they have arguably the most power in determining the exchange rate movements of the forex market.

Central banks are responsible for issuing the currency of the country in which they operate and fixing its price on the foreign exchange. They establish national monetary policies, such as the management of the interest and inflation rates of a country, and the regulation of the supply of its currency.

This regulation is done through the central bank’s holding of domestic and foreign currency reserves. Domestic reserves are held in the local currency, while foreign currency reserves can be held in any foreign currency. Most central banks outside of the United States hold their foreign currency reserves in the US dollar, as it is the most traded currency in the world.

Central bank reserves can be thought of as backup funds, and they are readily available to be used to manipulate the forex market as needed to ensure sustainable growth of the country’s economy.

For example, if there is excess demand for a currency in the forex market, it will put pressure on the currency market value to appreciate. In this case, its central bank can relieve this pressure by selling some of its domestic reserves and buying amounts of the currency it has in its foreign currency reserves. This ensures that its exchange rate can be maintained. 

Banks

Other banks, such as retail and commercial banks, participate in the forex market by trading currencies and currency derivatives on two levels: on behalf of their clients, or on behalf of themselves.

Banks play a big part in forex trading. This is because the nature of forex requires the participation of both buyers and sellers of currencies, but it does not require exchanges to exist in the form of direct transactions between the two parties.

This means that if an individual wants to sell Singapore dollars and buy euros, they will not need to literally seek someone who wants to sell euros for dollars and arrange a trade between themselves. Instead, individuals can reach out to banks, which will act as intermediaries between the two parties. Banks can also take on the role of buyer or seller themselves, in which case they will provide the funds for exchange.

Many banks, large and small, supply foreign exchange for customers as a banking service. These banks are also known as dealers, and their participation in the forex market is part of what makes up the interbank market.

The interbank market is a global network of banks and other financial institutions that trade currencies between each other. It is largely made up of private banks, which handle short- to medium-term transactions that span anywhere from overnight to several months.

Hedge funds and investors

Speculative hedge funds, investors, and investment managers are significant participants in the forex market. These parties generally deal with enormous amounts of a currency to finance purchases of corporations, bonds, and securities around the world, many of them foreign-owned. There are two types of investors, differentiated by the nature of their investments.

The first type of investor invests fully or partially in foreign companies by purchasing at least 10% of its ownership. This is part of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). This process calls for a demand of a specific currency in order to finalise the purchase, which the forex market supplies in exchange for another currency.

For example, a Singaporean investment manager has plans to acquire an Australian company. To make this acquisition, the conglomerate will have to sell their Singapore dollars for Australian dollars according to the foreign exchange rate.

The second type of investor makes financial investments in foreign companies without intending to take up management responsibility. In other words, they make portfolio investments. Portfolio investors who purchase bonds issued from foreign companies will need to purchase them in the issuer’s currency, which calls for a forex transaction.

For example, a Singaporean investor interested in purchasing British bonds will need to exchange their SGD for GBP to make that investment.

Corporations

Corporations participate in the forex market when they are involved in the international trade of goods and services. They can be across any industry which has branches or production plants around the world, or which does business with other corporations from abroad. They can also be businesses with international clients and partnerships with other firms.

These corporations participate in the forex market every time they make an international transaction. This could be the buying of raw materials from suppliers abroad, or the selling of goods and services to international clients. For corporations with production plants outside of their home country, they will need to exchange currencies in order to pay local workers.

For example, a Singaporean company with a factory in China may earn currency in the Singapore dollar but will need the Chinese yuan to be able to pay factory workers’ salaries. In the forex market, the company is the supplier of Singapore dollars and a demander of the Chinese yuan.

Additionally, financial corporations such as brokers participate in the forex market by directly dealing in foreign exchange. Brokers act as intermediaries between traders they take on as clients, with the aim of helping them obtain the best quotes. This could be done through obtaining the buying and selling prices of two currencies from several forex dealers.

Individuals

Individuals who participate in the forex market can be separated into two types: those who trade forex intending to turn a profit, who are also known as retail traders, and those who make forex transactions without that aim.

Retail traders seek to make a profit by taking advantage of fluctuations in the forex market. They can be individuals who trade as a day job or as a hobby, and their strategies and techniques vary depending on personal preferences.

Retail traders can trade on platforms provided by forex brokers, who can also facilitate trading on margin, known as leveraged trading, which is a way for traders to increase the exposure of a position they open.

Learn more about leveraged trading

There are also individuals who participate in the forex market without intending to turn a profit. Most commonly, these are tourists who travel internationally, exchanging currencies for local spending at their destination. For example, a Singaporean tourist who visits Japan and sells their Singapore dollars to buy Japanese yen will have made a forex transaction.

Although these currency exchanges take place on a smaller scale, with smaller amounts of currency being bought and sold at a time, there are large numbers of travellers who travel internationally each day, and their exchanges add up.

Which currencies are traded most in forex?

Major currencies such as the US dollar, the euro, and the Japanese yen, are most traded in the forex market due to their stability. This is derived from their high liquidity and low volatility. In other words, these currencies are stable for two main reasons: they are abundant in the forex market, and they are derived from countries with strong economies that are less prone to financial intervention.

The major currencies in forex, in no particular order, are the US dollar (USD), the Canadian dollar (CAD), the Swiss franc (CHF), the euro (EUR), the Australian dollar (AUD), the New Zealand dollar (NZD), and the Japanese yen (JPY).

Out of these major currencies, the US dollar is the most commonly traded. It accounts for the vast majority of trades that take place daily in the forex market. This is because major currency pairs are the most traded in the market, and all of them are derived from quoting a major currency against the dollar. These include EURUSD, AUDUSD, and USDJPY.

Learn more about the types of currencies and currency pairs

One of the reasons for the US dollar’s strength and high participation in forex trading is because it is the global foreign exchange reserve currency, as designated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

A reserve currency, also known as a global currency, is a currency that is universally accepted for trade around the world. As such, it has high liquidity and can be seamlessly traded internationally. Reserve currencies are held in large quantities by central banks, monetary authorities, and major financial institutions, and they help to facilitate global commerce.

Following the dollar is the euro, as the world’s second most commonly held reserve currency. The euro is involved in a significant number of trades in the forex market. This is because it is a shared currency between 19 countries, including Germany, Italy, and France, all three of which have relatively stable economies and a high number of forex traders.

Comprised of the two most frequently traded currencies, it is unsurprising that EURUSD is the most traded currency pair in the forex market.

Explore Forex trading

The forex market in Singapore

Local market regulations

The foreign exchange market follows the local regulations and standards of supervisory bodies around the world, and so do the financial institutions that participate in the market. Forex brokers in operation anywhere must comply with local regulatory jurisdiction.

In Singapore, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) is the country’s central bank, and forex brokers must be licensed by MAS in order to facilitate foreign exchange transactions. This is to prevent corruption, and to protect traders and other forex market participants from scams and malpractice.

The MAS does not directly regulate Singapore’s economy but regulates the nation’s financial sector, which includes stocks, insurance, and options, as well as financial institutions from retail and commercial banks to credit unions. 

In Singapore, Saxo is licensed and regulated by the MAS and holds a capital markets services licence in foreign exchange transactions. Funds received from clients are deposited into trust accounts within one business day. Under Singapore laws, they are also kept in a segregated client funds account and will not be available for creditors’ use.

Open an FX Trading Account with Saxo

Most active forex market sessions in Singapore

The forex market is often said to be open for 24 hours a day, for a little over five days a week. This is because the market does not have a central location but is driven by local sessions from around the world, and sessions overlap and extend the overall window for trading.

Forex traders can participate in any trade session they wish. However, naturally, local traders who adhere to a typical schedule will be most active during their local sessions. In the case of Singapore, residents generally begin trade during the Australasian forex market sessions, which coincide with their morning and early afternoon.

Learn more about active forex market hours for trading in Singapore

The Singaporean forex market is emerging as one of the biggest in the world. As more Singaporeans take up trading and begin investing in forex trading infrastructure, the Singapore dollar (SGD) is unsurprisingly one of the most traded currencies for locals and residents.

The Singapore dollar is commonly paired with a major currency, such as the US dollar (USD), the Japanese yen (JPY), the euro (EUR), and particularly the Australian dollar (AUD), due to the country’s close proximity with Australia.

However, traders are not limited to the most commonly traded currency pairs, and they should place trades that they feel most confident executing.

Participate in the forex market

Learn more about the forex market with Saxo Markets. We offer over 180 spot FX currency pairs, industry-leading, tight spreads and no commission, on a variety of platforms to suit the needs of different forex traders. Open an FX Trading Account with us today, through which you can access a free demo with a simulated USD 100,000 account to practise with.

Explore Forex trading

Disclaimer

The Saxo Group entities each provide execution-only service and access to Analysis permitting a person to view and/or use content available on or via the website is not intended to and does not change or expand on this. Such access and use are at all times subject to (i) The Terms of Use; (ii) Full Disclaimer; (iii) The Risk Warning; (iv) the Rules of Engagement and (v) Notices applying to Saxo News & Research and/or its content in addition (where relevant) to the terms governing the use of hyperlinks on the website of a member of the Saxo Group by which access to Saxo News & Research is gained. Such content is therefore provided as no more than information. In particular no advice is intended to be provided or to be relied on as provided nor endorsed by any Saxo Group entity; nor is it to be construed as solicitation or an incentive provided to subscribe for or sell or purchase any financial instrument. All trading or investments you make must be pursuant to your own unprompted and informed self-directed decision. As such no Saxo Group entity will have or be liable for any losses that you may sustain as a result of any investment decision made in reliance on information which is available on Saxo News & Research or as a result of the use of the Saxo News & Research. Orders given and trades effected are deemed intended to be given or effected for the account of the customer with the Saxo Group entity operating in the jurisdiction in which the customer resides and/or with whom the customer opened and maintains his/her trading account. Saxo News & Research does not contain (and should not be construed as containing) financial, investment, tax or trading advice or advice of any sort offered, recommended or endorsed by Saxo Group and should not be construed as a record of our trading prices, or as an offer, incentive or solicitation for the subscription, sale or purchase in any financial instrument. To the extent that any content is construed as investment research, you must note and accept that the content was not intended to and has not been prepared in accordance with legal requirements designed to promote the independence of investment research and as such, would be considered as a marketing communication under relevant laws.

Please read our disclaimers:
- Notification on Non-Independent Investment Research (https://www.home.saxo/legal/niird/notification)
- Full disclaimer (https://www.home.saxo/en-sg/legal/disclaimer/saxo-disclaimer)

None of the information contained here constitutes an offer to purchase or sell a financial instrument, or to make any investments. Saxo Markets does not take into account your personal investment objectives or financial situation and makes no representation and assumes no liability as to the accuracy or completeness of the information nor for any loss arising from any investment made in reliance of this presentation. Any opinions made are subject to change and may be personal to the author. These may not necessarily reflect the opinion of Saxo Capital Markets or its affiliates.

Saxo Markets
Most of our staff in Singapore are working from home to help limit the spread of the coronavirus. We remain at your service on the details below. Thank you for your understanding.

Contact Saxo

Select region

Singapore
Singapore

Saxo Capital Markets Pte Ltd ('Saxo Markets') is a company authorised and regulated by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) [Co. Reg. No.: 200601141M ] and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Saxo Bank A/S, headquartered in Denmark. Please refer to our General Business Terms & Risk Warning to consider whether acquiring or continuing to hold financial products is suitable for you, prior to opening an account and investing in a financial product.

Trading in financial instruments carries various risks, and is not suitable for all investors. Please seek expert advice, and always ensure that you fully understand these risks before trading. Trading in leveraged products such as Margin FX products may result in your losses exceeding your initial deposits. Saxo Markets does not provide financial advice, any information available on this website is ‘general’ in nature and for informational purposes only. Saxo Markets does not take into account an individual’s needs, objectives or financial situation.

The Saxo trading platform has received numerous awards and recognition. For details of these awards and information on awards visit www.home.saxo/en-sg/about-us/awards.

The information or the products and services referred to on this website may be accessed worldwide, however is only intended for distribution to and use by recipients located in countries where such use does not constitute a violation of applicable legislation or regulations. Products and Services offered on this website are not intended for residents of the United States, Malaysia and Japan. Please click here to view our full disclaimer.

This advertisement has not been reviewed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore.