Beginner’s Overview of Foreign Currency Exchange

Foreign currency exchange trading can be very rewarding, but can also be very intimidating to a beginner. To get started, you will need to know some basics:

1. What is foreign currency exchange?
2. How is it traded?
3. What are the benefits?
4. What are the risks?
5. How can I get started?

What is Foreign Currency Exchange?

The Foreign currency exchange (FOREX) market is a cash (or “spot”) market for currency. Unlike the stock exchange, the FOREX market is not located on a trading floor or centralized on an exchange. Instead, it is entirely electronic within a network of banks and runs 24 hours per day Sunday evening (5:00 pm EST) through Friday evening (4:00 pm EST), excluding some holidays. The fact that it is all electronic means that you can tap into it from your computer.

How is it traded?

FOREX is traded in currency pairs, for example EUR/USD is the Euro base currency and the US dollar counter (or quote) currency. There are six major pairs: EUR/USD, GBP/USD (Great Britian pound vs. US dollar), USD/JPY (US dollar vs. Japanese yen), USD/CAD (US dollar vs. Canadian dollar), AUD/USD (Australian dollar vs. US dollar), and USD/CHF (US dollar vs. Swiss Franc).

Currencies are traded in dollar amounts called lots. For a “standard” account, one lot (called a standard lot) is $1,000 and controls $100,000 in currency. For example, when you place an order to buy one lot of EUR/USD, you are buying the EUR and simultaneously selling the USD. The margin you must put up to place the order is $1000 (for a standard lot). You are going long the EUR and expecting it to strengthen against the USD. For every increase of $0.0001 in the EUR, you make one “pip” (price interest point) equivalent to $10 per lot traded.

Similarly, for a “mini-account” when you place an order to sell one mini-lot (one-tenth of a standard lot) of EUR/USD, you are selling the EUR and simultaneously buying the USD. You are going short the EUR and expecting it to weaken against the USD. The margin requirement is $100.00 per mini-lot. For every decrease in the EUR of $0.0001 you make one pip equivalent to $1 per mini-lot traded.

Note that unlike trading stocks, there are absolutely no restrictions on short-selling in FOREX. Short-selling is exactly like buying – except that you’re selling of course.

The pip value and amount per pip per lot differs when the USD is not the counter or quote currency. For example, when buying the USD/JPY pair with a ask price of 109.00 (meaning 1 USD equals 109.00 yen), a change in the Japanese yen of 0.01 yen is equivalent to 1 pip or $9.17 per pip per lot traded ($9.17 = $100,000 x 0.01 / 109.00).

The broker makes money off the spread which is the difference in the quotation ask and bid prices. You buy the base currency at the ask price and sell it at the bid price. Generally, the major currency pairs have relatively low spreads. The EUR/USD is commonly two to three pips and the GPD/USD is commonly four to five pips. For example, the current bid/ask price for EUR/USD is quoted at 1.2322/1.2324. This means that you can buy 1 EUR (the base currency) for $1.2324 USD (the counter-currency). You buy at the ask price. You can sell 1 EUR for $1.2322 USD (you sell at the bid price). You will pay the broker the spread or $1.2324 – $1.2322 = $0.0002 = 2 pips. For a standard lot, the broker fee (in this example) is $10 x 2 pips = $20 per standard lot for a roundtrip trade (1 buy and matching sell or 1 sell and matching buy). For a mini-lot, the fee would be $1 x 2 pips = $2 per mini-lot for a roundtrip trade. The broker fee is automatically deducted from your account.

Obviously, if you buy (go long) a currency pair, you expect the base currency to increase in price. Your objective is to sell later at a price higher than you purchased and make a profit. On the flip side, if you sell (go short) a currency pair, you expect the base currency to decrease in price. Your objective is to buy later at a price that is lower than the price you originally sold, and thus make a profit off the difference.

There’s more to it than can be explained in this overview, but you should get the basic idea.

What are the benefits?

1. With FOREX trading, there is no inventory, no employees, and no customers. Your overhead can be as minimal as a home computer with internet access.

2. You can get started with a “mini-account” investing as little as $300.

3. Currency prices tend to repeat in relatively predictable cycles creating strong trends. Once you learn how to trade properly, you can compound your money, and potentially turn a little into a lot.

4. You can trade for a few hours per week, or much more if you want to. It’s all up to you.

5. The FOREX market is very liquid, with trillions of dollars traded every day. On its slowest day, orders can usually be placed within a few seconds if you stay with the major currencies. Instantaneous execution (1 to 2 seconds) is the norm during normal trade volume days (for the major currencies).

6. You can trade from just about anywhere as long as you have a computer with internet access to your account.

What are the risks?

1. The market can be very volatile, especially during times of major news releases, also known as “fundamental announcements.” The time of these announcements is usually known in advance. Many traders simply stay out of the market during these announcements and wait until market volatility has settled back down.

2. If you use too much margin or risk too much on any one trade, your account could suffer badly on a trade that doesn’t go your way. Proper risk management, including sound placement of stops and not risking more than 2 percent of your account on any one trade, can alleviate this risk. Do not risk more money than you can afford to lose.

3. A major world event could trigger a huge volatility swing that could wipe out your account (or even more). However, some brokers limit the loss to the amount in your account. (Of course, a major world event could also cause the trade to go your way.)

4. Trader psychology (fear and greed) can play a big role in your success or failure as a trader. Trading education is one of the keys to overcoming these human flaws.

5. You could fail to place a stop loss with your order. A change in price could force a liquidation of your trade if your account falls below the required margin maintenance. To alleviate this risk, always set a stop loss when you place an order.

This list is not meant to be inclusive. There are other risks.

How can I get started?

You can easily open an online account by selecting one from many available FOREX brokers. You can, and should open a demo account to practice (and learn) for several months for free. The practice account makes simulated trades using real-time data. This is called “paper trading.” You should not trade your real account until you have proven to yourself that you can be profitable in your demo account.

Once you get started, you can trade currencies from just about anywhere. About all you need is a computer with internet access to your trading account. Many brokers also provide free charting software.

The Importance Of Timing In Forex And The Stock Market

When we make money from the Forex we are looking for economic data which will influence the price of currencies. But when we are looking for good companies to invest in on the stock market we have been told to “Buy the blue chips.” “Blue chips” are the big,reliable companies, and obviously these are listed for the most part on the New York Stock Exchange.

The Dow Jones Average is composed of blue chips, and since there are only 30 listed, at the same time that the average has been going up, it might seem a simple matter to toss a coin to see which ones should be bought out of this list of 30.

But let us get down to specific cases: Standard Oil Company of New Jersey is one of the largest, best managed and generally soundest corporations in the United States. Its earnings per share in 1958 were $2.72, in 1959 $2.91 and in 1960 $3.18. From 1957 through 1960 its dividends have been $2.25 per share each year. From the middle of 1957 to the end of 1960 the price trend of this stock was down. It declined from almost 70 to a point below 40.

Another giant on the list of 30 Dow Jones stocks is the highly successful General Electric. From a high in early 1960 of nearly 100, GE plummeted to a level of close to 60 in the spring of 1961 because of the actions of the United States government in connection with price fixing by the corporation.

There is some merit to the classical approach to the valuation of a stock by analyzing the underlying strength and prospects of the company, but this is only * An example of a high yield tax free bond is the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel Authority 5¾% bond. In 1961 this bond could be bought under 100 to yield almost 6% and this 6% is equal to 12% for a man whose top income is taxed at a rate of 50%.

one of the elements to look at. It, of course, should not be overlooked because in the long run, earnings per share will determine the price of a stock. The only question is, “How long?” While you are holding a sound company’s stock others may be moving up and you want to move up with them.

Determine the earnings trend of the company over the recent four or five years. It should be up in general, but stocks have moved up in price while earnings were declining.

Determine the position of the industry through reading the Wall Street Journal, the financial and business section of The New York Times, the Value Line Investment Survey, and the journals published by every industry and available in any library. The reason Standard Oil of New Jersey was not moving up more rapidly is due to the fact that the outlook for the petroleum industry was not as healthy as some of the other industries.

The most important piece of advice that can be given the investor in stock is that the price of a stock is the direct result of the forces which make the price of anything (stock, commodity or service) demand and supply. For a long time in the spring of 19611 thought GE was a good buy; that it might go up. I questioned a number of brokers and investment bankers about GE. There was a distinct lack of enthusiasm. Since these are the buyers and these are the people who recommend that customers buy the stock, it was evident to me that the demand was not there. It might change very quickly, but until it did I determined to buy other stocks.

It is important to emphasize this point once again: that the price of a stock is the direct result of how much of a stock is offered for sale and what the demand is. We will return later to this point with a striking example.

The next most important piece of advice is that you should buy a stock which is moving up, not one which might move up or one which is moving down and looks as though it might be a bargain. You cannot hope to buy at the bottom and sell at the top. If you try to buy at the bottom you have no assurance that the decline has stopped; and if you try to sell at the top you cannot be certain the rise will not continue. Buy just after a stock has demonstrated its willingness to rise for a few weeks, and sell after about two weeks of decline.

The most foolish piece of philosophizing that an investor can engage in is to say to himself, “I don’t need to worry about the declining trend in the price of my stock. It will come back.” Yes, it may, but when? And if you sold and simply held cash, you might for your cash get far more shares with which to ride the market up again. At the beginning of 1960 Shell Oil was well over 40. By the summer it was down close to 30, and by the spring of 1961 it was close to 45. The downtrend was clear and the uptrend was just as clear. A person could have sold early in the decline and bought early in the rise. My wife, being as good an analyst as I, if not a little better through”intuition,” hit the low point and advised buying at that point. A profit of 50% could have been realized in one year!

Next, follow the market and follow it every few days to determine trend. The closer you are to the market the better you are informed as to what to do. Do not worry about a decline of a few days or a sudden break in the market, no matter how sharp. Worry only about the trend of your stock and the trend of the market.

Use the stop loss order to protect yourself against losses and to provide you with peace of mind. When you purchase stock after careful study and consideration, you may not want to put in an immediate stop loss order which is an order to sell if the stock reaches a particular price below the present market. In the past I have placed stop loss orders, when I bought stock, at about two points under my purchase price. If I bought a stock at 501 put in a stop loss order at 48. Very often the stock went down to 48 and I was sold out. I lost both in the price of the stock and in the commission and tax I had to pay when I bought and when I sold.

Then I had the unhappy experience of seeing my stock rise above 50 and keep on rising. If an investor followed the rule of placing a stop loss order a few points under the purchase price, he could hardly ever purchase a stock that jumps around like O’okiep Copper.

This stock jumps up and down two points during one trading session.

If a stock goes up say 10 points, you may place a stop loss order three or four points under the market. This still prevents a loss and you have already made a good profit in the stock. The strict trailing stop loss order may hurt you not only by getting you out of a rising stock on a minor decline, but the use of trailing stop loss orders by the general investing public damages the market. A slight drop in price of a stock can touch off a series of stop loss orders which lower the price of the stock needlessly.

The major value of having a stock market is the provision of a place in which to buy and a place in which to sell with little delay and at a price which can to a great extent be known in advance. For this reason stocks listed on the New York Stock Exchange and on the American Stock Exchange offer a great advantage to the investor. He knows where he stands by looking at the daily paper, and he has liquidity. He can get his money out of the stock in a matter of minutes.

With the Forex our money is just as liquid and we stand to make more money in a shorter space of time, and we can put a stop loss to protect our position.

Good software will help us predict future price movements in currencies and help us time our purchases and sales of currencies for maximum profit.

Paper Trading And The Transition To Real Money Trading

Paper trading is widely discussed regarding its merits, and whether it is of value to a trader as they try to make the transition to real money trader. One viewpoint is that since paper trading is not real, the profits are meaningless, and are no indication of real money profitability. An opposite viewpoint would state that paper trading is an important step in the trader’s learning progression, and regardless of whether it is real, if the trader cannot ‘properly’ paper trade, then they will not be able to real money trade.

I began trading in early 1995, with the intentions of becoming an options trader; my first trading education was through an oex options teaching service. Besides options training, the service included ‘tape’ reading, trade management AND sp500 index futures trading – also included in the service was the prevalent attitude that paper trading was for ‘sissies’.

So I was a new trader, trying to learn and understand completely new concepts and ideas – what was called a trading method AND I was ‘practicing’ with real money – because paper trading was for ‘sissies’. What did I accomplish, besides a big draw down in my account? I quickly introduced to trading psychology and the related implications – something else I also knew nothing about. Losing money and a trading psychology ‘wreck’, both from the losses and thoughts like I was too ‘stupid’ to ever learn how to trade, became a combination which took me out of futures trading, and then unfortunately carried over into my options trading which I had previously been doing well with. I just couldn’t take it any more – I had to somehow start all over, or just quit for good.

Paper Trading Viewpoints

Consider: simulator fill prices are not real and won’t be attainable with real money. Even if this is correct, is it really an issue unless the trader intends to be a scalper, trading for very small profits, and thus each tick is critical? Granted, but shouldn’t a beginning trader be very selective, focusing on learning their method and the ‘best’ setups that method provides? This would be my viewpoint, and in this capacity paper trading fill prices are not an issue.

Consider: the trades are being done with no risk. No, there isn’t any financial risk in paper trading, but I actually haven’t met nearly as many profitable paper traders as one might expect. Why would this be the case if being able to trade without risk was such an easy thing to do? As well, what about self-esteem risk, and an attitude like – how can I be so bad that I can’t even paper trade? The risk feelings like these are probably greater than that of financial risk, and if they are going to surface, you would want to encounter them before trading real money. As well, even if the issue was only one of financial risk – wouldn’t you want to begin with the confidence of knowing that you were paper trading profitable? It would be hard to imagine a losing paper trading being able to profitably trade real money.

Consider: there is no emotion involved with paper trading. I was in our chat room watching a paper trader post their trades in order for me to give them feedback, and I noticed that one of their specific plan setups wasn’t done. When I asked why, the trader told me that they were ahead for the day and didn’t want to risk those profits. But the profits aren’t real – how can you not take a ‘base’ method setup when paper trading – isn’t that the point? Would you be in agreement, that if paper trading profits could be viewed in this fashion, that it has the ability to become very real and thus emotional to the trader? I would suggest that this is related to paper trading really not being ‘so easy’, and as mentioned above, self-esteem risk can be very emotional.

Besides examples like this, emotions can be added to the paper trading process. Throw away your simulator, and then go into a chat room and post all of your trades – no ‘youknowwhating’ around where you wait to see if the trade was profitable before you post it, like a number of traders that I have seen. What’s the point, and when you consider the underlying implications of ‘needing’ to do this – the issue certainly isn’t about whether paper trading is of value or not, but certainly best to find out before trading real money. You must post immediately and without lag, giving your direction and entry price, along with subsequent posts of any partial profits, and of course your exit, which ultimately is the determinant of whether the trade was profitable. There is no need to make any comments, or answer any questions regarding your trades – simply post the particulars as fast and real time as possible AND see if you feel any emotions doing this in front of the rest of the room while you go through a series of losses. Do you want to add even more emotions? Go through the same posting process, but do so where the rest of the room actually knows the method that you are trading, and what the trades ‘should’ be. You will quickly find out just how emotional paper trading can be – actually a very valuable exercise for the paper trader to do.

Paper Trading And Making It Further Beneficial

I have two predominant problems with paper trading, but this is with the trader’s approach, and not with paper trading by definition: (1) the trader does ‘things’ paper trading that they would-could not do with real money (2) the trader views paper trading profitability, instead of paper trading proficiency, as the guideline of whether they are ready to begin trading real money.

I have seen too many paper traders, continuously and knowingly, over trade ‘non-plan’ trades, with trading size that is greater than they could afford the margin for in a real account – let alone accept the risk of loss, while also holding trades for risk amounts that they would not accept with real money. Viewing paper trading as a ‘step’ in the learning progression and transition to real money trading, it is critical that the paper trader only trades exactly what, and how they would trade with real money. Don’t allow yourself to turn paper trading into a game, supposedly because there is no risk – the risk of making bad habits that you can’t correct is tremendous, and will circumvent any attempt to trade real money. This is the time to learn YOUR basic trading setups, and make necessary adjustments to them and your entry-exit timing, in order to then make money trading them – this is NOT the time to turn your simulator into a pinball machine flipping at any ball that comes near you.

There is a problem with focusing on trading profitability -vs- trading proficiency. To begin with, profitability places the focus on money instead of on plan. And what is profitability – if you take 10 trades and make $75 are you profitable? Technically, if you are net ahead you are profitable, but what if those same 10 trades had a potential of $1,500, and you only made $75 – are you really profitable? This is what I am referring to when I think of trading proficiency. Instead of focusing on the common metrics, such as win:loss or win size:loss size ratios, I am most concerned with the win size:potential win size ratio, and want to maximize this percentage to the extent that is possible. For instance, when a trader asks about adding trading size, taking the attitude that if they can make $100 trading 3 contracts, then they can make $1,000 by trading 30 contracts, the first thing I ask them is what is their proficiency ratio – why increase contract size and the corresponding trading risk, if you ‘should’ be able to make more money from smaller size? This is especially important for the paper trader, where they should not regard simple profitability as an indication of readiness to trade real money, but consider proficiency – for instance, begin trading real money when you are 60-70 percent proficient with your paper trades.

So What Is Your Viewpoint Regarding Paper Trading?

I never thought that I would ever make a dime trading, let alone be able to trade for a living or become involved with trying to teach others to trade – was this simply a function of starting over and paper trading? Granted that is too simplistic, however, I do know that it would have certainly changed the beginnings that I had, while very much shortening my learning curve, and reducing a lot of pain.

Clearly, I am on the ‘side’ that believes that paper trading is not only beneficial, but that paper trading is also necessary – however the value received will be dependant upon the trader’s approach and attitude. Needless to say, paper trading as described is something that I have always strongly recommended.