Behind central banks in terms of size and ability to move the foreign exchange market are the banks which make up the Interbank market. It is important to understand here that in addition to executing trades on behalf of their clients, the bank’s traders often times try to earn additional profits by taking speculative positions in the market as well.
While most of the other players we are going to discuss do not have the size and clout to move the market in their favor, many of these bank traders are an exception to this rule and can leverage their huge buying power and inside knowledge of client order flow to move the market in their favor. This is why you hear about quick market jumps in the foreign exchange market being attributed to the clearing out the stops in the market or protecting an option level.
The next level of participants is the large hedge funds who trade in the foreign exchange market for speculative purposes to try and generate alpha, or a return for their investors that is over and above the average market return. Most forex hedge funds are trend following, meaning they tend to build into longer term positions over time to try and profit from a longer term uptrend or downtrend in the market. These funds are one of the reasons that currencies often times develop nice longer term trends, something that can be of benefit to the individual position trader.
Although not the typical way that Hedge funds profit from the market, probably the most famous example of a hedge fund trading foreign exchange is the example of George Soros’ Quantum fund who made a very large amount of money betting against the Bank of England.
In short, the Bank of England had tried to fix the exchange rate of the British Pound at a particular level buy buying British Pounds, even though market forces were trying to push the value of the Pound Down. Soros felt that this was a losing battle and essentially bet the entire value of his $1 Billion hedge fund that the value of the pound would decrease. The market forces which were already at play, combined with Soro’s huge position against the Bank of England, caused so much selling pressure on the pound that the Bank of England had to give up trying to prop up the currency and it preceded to fall over 5% in one day. This is a gigantic move for a major currency, and a move which netted Soros’ Quantum Fund over $1 Billion in profits in one day.
Next in line are multinational corporations who are forced to be participants in the forex market because of their overseas earnings which are often converted back into US Dollars or other currencies depending on where the company is headquartered. As the value of the currency in which the overseas revenue was earned can rise or fall before that conversion, the company is exposed to potential losses and/or gains in revenue which have nothing to do with their business. To remove this exchange rate uncertainty many multinational corporations will hedge this risk by taking positions in the forex market which negate any exchange rate fluctuation on their overseas revenues.
Secondly these corporations also buy other corporations overseas, something which is known as cross boarder mergers and acquisitions. As the transaction for the company being bought or sold is done in that company’s home country and currency, this can drive the value of a currency up as demand is created for the currency to buy the company or down as supply is created when the company is sold.
Lastly are individuals such as you and I who participate in the forex market in three main areas.
1. As Investors Seeking Yield: Although not very popular in the United States, overseas and particularly in Japan where interest rates have been close to zero for many years, individuals will buy the currencies or other assets of a country with a higher interest rate in order to earn a higher rate of return on their money. This is also referred to as a carry trade.
2. As Travelers: Obviously when traveling to a country which has a different currency individual travelers must exchange their home currency for the currency of the country where they are traveling.
3. Individual speculators who actively trade currencies trying to profit from the fluctuation of one currency against another.