What Is the Importance of Foreign Exchange?

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Most people buy and sell currencies when traveling, but few realize the significance of the foreign exchange market. Also known as forex (FX), this global market had an average trading volume of ​$5 trillion​ per day in 2019, according to Nasdaq. Foreign exchange rates depend on a variety of factors, from inflation and monetary policies to a country's geopolitical stability. Each of these factors can affect the value of foreign investments, among other economic variables.

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The foreign exchange market, or forex, has a direct impact on wages, cross-border investments and the economy as a whole. It also influences consumers' ability to purchase goods and services.

What Is Foreign Exchange?

When visiting a foreign country, you may have to exchange your dollars for Euros, pesos or other currencies. These transactions take place on the foreign exchange market and involve all kinds of money, from the U.S. dollar to the Japanese yen. Each currency is assigned a three-letter code, such as CAD for Canadian dollars, GBP for British pounds, JPY for the Japanese Yen and CHF for the Swiss franc. Seven currency pairs, including EUR/USD, USD/JPY, USD/CAD and others, account for 75 percent of trading, notes Forbes.

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As the world's largest market, forex has a direct impact on local and national economies. Governments, central banks, corporations and traders buy and sell currencies on a daily basis. The market operates 24 hours a day, except for weekends, and has high liquidity. Since it's decentralized, no government or institution has control over it. Additionally, traders negotiate directly with one another.

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Currency exchange rates can go up or down, depending on interest rates, capital flow, money supply, inflation and other factors. These fluctuations affect cross-border investments and have a direct impact on buying power and international trade. For example, European products will become more expensive in the United States if the dollar depreciates against the Euro. Traders buy or sell currencies based on these fluctuations, explains the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

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The Importance of Currency Markets

The forex market has a direct impact on a country's economy. Financial institutions, companies, governments and other entities use this market to adjust their currency holdings. Think about international trade, for example.

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Centuries ago, people from around the world exchanged goods or services rather than paying money – this was called a barter system. But nowadays, barter arrangements are not practical anymore. Instead, governments and organizations exchange currencies when conducting international transactions.

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Some of the different types of money in the world are more volatile than others, making it difficult for investors in the currency industry to predict their returns. A low, stable exchange rate, on the other hand, encourages exports but discourages imports. A high exchange rate has the opposite effect.

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For instance, developing countries tend to have weak currencies – and that's why many European and American companies purchase supplies from Vietnam, Thailand, Sri Lanka or Indonesia. For the same reason, it's much cheaper to open a factory and hire people in Vietnam compared to the U.S. or other developed nations.

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The exchange rate influences wages, international trade, foreign investments and other economic variables, points out the University of Houston. In the long run, it impacts consumers and the economy as a whole.

If, say, you plan to buy a house in Italy and the Euro depreciates against the dollar, you'd get better value for the money. You could purchase a bigger house or two smaller properties without spending extra and then sell them for profit. Such investments can benefit local communities and drive economic growth.

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