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The foreign exchange market (forex, FX, or currency market) is a worldwide decentralized over-the-counter financial market for the trading of currencies. Financial centers around the world function as anchors of trading between a wide range of different types of buyers and sellers around the clock, with the exception of weekends.
The purpose of the foreign exchange market 'Forex' is to assist international trade and investment. The foreign exchange market allows businesses to convert one currency to another foreign currency. For example, it permits a U.S. business to import European goods and pay Euros, even though the business's income is in U.S. dollars. Some experts, however, believe that the unchecked speculative movement of currencies by large financial institutions such as hedge funds impedes the markets from correcting global current account imbalances. This carry trade may also lead to loss of competitiveness in some countries.
In a typical foreign exchange transaction a party purchases a quantity of one currency by paying a quantity of another currency. The modern foreign exchange market started forming during the 1970s when countries gradually switched to floating exchange rates from the previous exchange rate regime, which remained fixed as per the Bretton Woods system.
The foreign exchange market is unique because of
- trading volume results in market liquidity
- geographical dispersion
- continuous operation: 24 hours a day except weekends, i.e. trading from 20:15 UTC on Sunday until 22:00 UTC Friday
- the variety of factors that affect exchange rates
- the low margins of relative profit compared with other markets of fixed income
- the use of leverage to enhance profit margins with respect to account size
As such, it has been referred to as the market closest to the ideal perfect competition, notwithstanding market manipulation by central banks. According to the Bank for International Settlements, average daily turnover in global foreign exchange markets is estimated at $3.98 trillion as of April 2007. Trading in the world's main financial markets accounted for $3.21 trillion of this. This approximately $3.21 trillion in main foreign exchange market turnover was broken down as follows:
- $1.005 trillion in spot transactions
- $362 billion in outright forwards
- $1.714 trillion in foreign exchange swaps
- $129 billion estimated gaps in reporting