The Forex market is an international over-the-counter market (OTC). It means that it is a decentralized, self-regulated market with no central exchange or clearing house, unlike stocks and futures markets. This structure eliminates fees for exchange and clearing, thereby reducing transaction costs.
The Forex OTC market is formed by different participants – with varying needs and interests – that trade directly with each other. These participants can be divided in two groups: the interbank market and the retail market.
The Interbank Market
The interbank market designates Forex transactions that occur between central banks, commercial banks and financial institutions.
- Central Banks – National central banks (such as the US Fed and the ECB) play an important role in the Forex market. As principal monetary authority, their role consists in achieving price stability and economic growth. To do so, they regulate the entire money supply in the economy by setting interest rates and reserve requirements. They also manage the country’s foreign exchange reserves that they can use in order to influence market conditions and exchange rates.
- Commercial Banks – Commercial banks (such as Deutsche Bank and Barclays) provide liquidity to the Forex market due to the trading volume they handle every day. Some of this trading represents foreign currency conversions on behalf of customers’ needs while some is carried out by the banks’ proprietary trading desk for speculative purpose.
- Financial Institutions – Financial institutions such as money managers, investment funds, pension funds and brokerage companies trade foreign currencies as part of their obligations to seek the best investment opportunities for their clients. For example, a manager of an international equity portfolio will have to engage in currency trading in order to buy and sell foreign stocks.
The Retail Market
The retail market designates transactions made by smaller speculators and investors. These transactions are executed through Forex brokers who act as a mediator between the retail market and the interbank market. The participants of the retail market are hedge funds, corporations and individuals.
- Hedge Funds – Hedge funds are private investment funds that speculate in various assets classes using leverage. Macro Hedge Funds pursue trading opportunities in the Forex Market. They design and execute trades after conducting a macroeconomic analysis that reviews the challenges affecting a country and its currency. Due to their large amounts of liquidity and their aggressive strategies, they are a major contributor to the dynamic of Forex Market.
- Corporations – They represent the companies that are engaged in import/export activities with foreign counterparts. Their primary business requires them to purchase and sell foreign currencies in exchange for goods, exposing them to currency risks. Through the Forex market, they convert currencies and hedge themselves against future fluctuations.
- Individuals – Individual traders or investors trade Forex on their own capital in order to profit from speculation on future exchange rates. They mainly operate through Forex platforms that offer tight spreads, immediate execution and highly leveraged margin accounts.