The foreign exchange market is the “place” where currencies are traded. You’ll see the terms: FX, forex, foreign-exchange market and currency market. These terms are synonymous and all refer to the forex market. There are many interesting things that can be pointed out about the foreign exchange market, however there are a few major things that really separate this market from the equities and futures markets.
24 Hour Liquidity
Probably the biggest advantages that traders of the forex market will cite is that the market is by far the largest market in the world, and that main currencies can be traded actively 24 hours a day. The huge amount of volume traded in the world’s main currencies each day, dwarfs the volume traded in the equities and the futures markets many times over. This combined with the 24 hour trading day gives traders the ability to determine their own trading hours instead of having to trade within set hours as they would have to when trading stocks and/or futures. More importantly than this however is that as the market is more liquid than the futures and equities markets, price slippage (the difference between where you click to enter or exit a trade and where you actually get in or out) in the forex market is normally much smaller than in the stock and futures market.
The disadvantage here is that real market junkies sometimes cannot pull themselves away from the screen while the market is trading and need the finite trading hours of futures and/or stocks to force them to step away from the market. As my background is in forex I have seen many stock and futures traders burn out when trying to trade forex for this reason.
There is more leverage provided to traders by most forex trading firms than any other market in the world. Many firms offer you up to 100 to 1 leverage which if fully used would essentially take a .5% move in the market and turn it into a 100% gain or loss on the value of the account.
As the most highly traded currencies rarely move more than a couple of percent in a day, this allows traders to tailor the forex market to their needs, making it a conservative instrument when traded without leverage or the crack cocaine of financial instruments when making full use of the leverage available.
While the availability of leverage is normally seen as an advantage in the above sense, it is also one of the places where forex gets its bad name. Many times new traders are lured to the market after seeing the ability to amplify their returns by making use of all that leverage. What these traders do not fully understand however is that leverage is a double edged sword causing greater losses just as quickly as it can cause greater profits. As a result of this lack of understanding and jackpot mentality, many beginning forex traders loose their money very quickly as a result.
Only Macro Events Affect the Forex Market
Unlike stocks where individual company events have a huge affect on price movements the most highly traded currencies are only affected by macro events like the capital flows between countries, and changes in government or central bank policies. This is often pointed to as an advantage by Forex Traders who feel that this brings less uncertainty to their trades than stock trades which can be thrown way off track if a surprise happens such as a CEO quitting or something similar in the micro picture.
This combined with the fact that there is so much liquidity in the market also makes it a much harder market for someone to come in and manipulate the price to their advantage and to the detriment of others.
The disadvantage here is that this also means less opportunities to gain an informational edge and to profit from that edge as well.
No Upward Bias
Over the long term the US stock market has always gone up giving stocks in the US an upward bias when trading. As currencies are traded in pairs when the value of one currency is falling this automatically means that the value of another currency is rising. This is an advantage from the standpoint of there is equal opportunity for profit from both long and short trades. This is a disadvantage from the standpoint of not having that upward bias working for you when you are in a long trade.