Forex Trading Risks Explained • Benzinga - Benzinga
Want to jump straight to the answer? The best forex broker for most people is definitely FOREX.com or IG.
“No risk, no reward” is the motto of the markets. Sure, you can get a risk-free return from FDIC-insured products like savings accounts and certificates of deposit, or even from noninsured federal debt securities like Treasuries, but the returns you’ll get on these assets are minimal.
If you want to get good returns, you’ll need to take on some risk, regardless of the asset class or market you’re trading in. Now, this doesn’t mean every asset faces the same type of risks. Not only do forex traders have to keep an eye on their trades 24 hours a day, but they have to contend with a host of risks that stock and bond traders do not.
What Does Forex Trading Entail?
Forex trading is the process of buying and selling currencies. Since currencies have floating exchange rates, forex traders can make profits from speculating on currency pairs. Forex is short for foreign exchange, and traders in this market must remain on their toes because currencies are traded 24 hours a day during the week (like stock exchanges, forex markets are closed on weekends).
The forex market is the largest on the planet with an estimated value over $6 trillion traded on the average day. To trade currencies, an investor will need a forex trading account with a broker and an idea on which types of currencies they want to trade. Currencies trade in pairs — the investor buys one currency and sells another, hoping to profit when the currency they buy appreciates versus the one they sold.
For example, let’s say a currency trader thinks the U.S. dollar will appreciate versus the price of the Japanese yen. In this scenario, a long USD/short JPY position would be opened. But because currency moves look relatively small compared to the moves made by stocks or commodities, leverage isn’t just encouraged among forex traders — it’s almost required. Leverage of 20/1 is completely normal in the forex markets and many brokers offer leverage as high as 500/1.
If you open a long USD/short JPY trade with $1,000 at 20/1 leverage, you’ll control a $20,000 position with your original $1,000 investment. If your trade gains 20%, you’ll make $4,000 in profit on just a $1,000 investment. But a 20% decline means your original $1,000 is gone and you still owe your broker $3,000. Leverage is a double-edged sword and one of the major risks currency traders face.
Common Forex Trading Risks
Forex traders must keep a number of different risks on their radar. Unlike trading individual stocks, currencies aren’t affected by drug trials or earnings reports but by a host of micro and macro-economic factors. This is far from a complete list, but here are the major risks forex traders must consider when dipping their toes into currency markets.
One of the most obvious risks facing forex traders is the exchange rates among currencies. Exchange rates float, meaning that the amount of currency that can be traded for another varies from day to day. You may be able to get 118 JPY for $1 USD one day, but only 114 JPY the next. While this might seem like a minor fluctuation, moves in exchange rates can drastically influence a traders’ profits since leverage is so often applied to forex trades.
Interest rates are another major influence of the profits of forex traders. Interest rates don’t fluctuate with the rapidity of exchange rates, but they do determine how profitable it is to trade certain currencies versus others. Countries with high rates allow profits to be earned on their currencies while low rate countries struggle to provide interest on their money. If you invest in a currency with a high interest rate and the central bank of that country announces a surprise rate cut, your profit margins will be greatly impacted — the currency you own will no longer produce the expected rate of return.
Credit risk, or counterparty risk, is the risk that the other person, institution or market maker you’re transacting with will be unable to repay due to solvency issues. Since forex trading is done with derivatives contracts and leverage, the risk that the person(s) on the other side of the trade becomes insolvent is a reality that currency traders must live with. Currency markets aren’t as closely regulated as other financial markets. If the counterparty is unable to provide the owed currency, they could default and negate the profits of the trade.
Local or regional volatility
Like all securities, forex contracts can be hit with volatility that exceeds the estimated range. Currencies can be extremely volatile during unprecedented macro events, such as England voting to leave the European Union, which caused a cascade of volatility in the market for the pound sterling. George Soros famously banked more than $1 billion in a single trade by shorting the British pound in 1992 because he believed the currency was being pumped too hard by the Bank of England (which had upped interest rates into the teens).
Liquidity is crucial in any market and the forex markets are no different. Trading 24 hours a day during the week provides plenty of liquidity to most corners of the market, but that doesn’t mean instances of low liquidity never occur. Currency traders usually don’t have to worry about completely unexercised trades, but liquidity issues can cause significant slippage in forex contracts. Illiquid contracts will have larger spreads, which can cut deep into the profits of forex trades.
Margins and leverage
Borrowing money is a way of life in the forex markets, but too much leverage can lead to ruin (as it can in any market). Since currency movements look small in terms of percentage, traders often ramp up the leverage to make big profits. As mentioned above, leverage levels of 500/1 aren’t uncommon with forex brokers. A 500/1 leverage trade means that a $500,000 position can be controlled with just $1,000. If your trade turns against you at 500/1 leverage, you could face a very unpleasant margin call.
Losing your money
Just like stock trading, there’s no secret sauce or formula for success in the forex markets. Every trade will have different risk parameters, and each individual will have to determine how much risk makes sense. The risk of losing all your investment is ever-present, even more so than with stocks because leverage is applied to most forex trades. You might not just lose all your money — you could lose more than you initially invested.
Best Forex Brokers
Currencies can be traded alongside stocks and bonds at many traditional online brokers. However, some of the best brokers for currencies tailor their offerings to the forex asset class, allowing users access to powerful platforms like MetaTrader 4. Here are a few of Benzinga’s favorite forex brokers.
Forex Trading Carries Unique Risks
Forex trading is appealing for many reasons. The markets are open 24 hours on most days, the liquidity is high, and margin requirements are significantly smaller than those demanded from stock investors. Forex trading can provide diversification away from U.S. stocks because currencies carry different risks than equities, but knowing how to evaluate these risks is crucial.
Forex traders have to keep their eyes peeled for changes in fiscal and monetary policy, geopolitical events and broader economic trends, as well as their own leverage levels and risk tolerances. It’s a balancing act unlike any other, but forex traders who can juggle these all factors at once may have a tremendous source of alpha.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is forex trading high risk?
Forex trading entails many different risks, some of which are often ignored by bond and stock traders. Trading in any market can be high risk if excess leverage is combined with limited knowledge, but forex traders must contend with exchange rates, interest rates, creditworthiness and liquidity levels when executing their trades. A ‘set it and forget it’ strategy doesn’t work as well in currency markets as it does in stocks.
Forex can be dangerous for inexperienced investors because leverage is a fundamental part of the process. Traders dealing in stocks can make outsized profits without using a single cent of margin, but forex traders often must borrow money and trade with leverage to score big. If you don’t understand how leverage affects your positions, you could face serious repercussions (like a complete loss of capital and/or margin call).
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