Investing in FOREX and futures

FOREX Vs Investing in Futures

The foreign exchange market (FOREX) has several advantages over the futures market.

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Our modern futures market finds its beginnings in the agriculture markets of the 19th century. Back then, farmers would sell promises, or contracts, to deliver agricultural products at a later date. This was done to anticipate market needs, stabilizing supply and demand during off seasons, and assuring a steady flow of income for the farmer so he could purchase supplies and equipment as needed rather than having to wait for the gathering and sale of the crop.

In our modern era, the futures market includes much more than agricultural products. It is a vast worldwide market for all sorts of commodities including manufactured goods, agricultural products, and financial instruments such as currencies and treasury bonds. A futures contract will state what price will be paid for a product at a specified delivery date.

When the futures market is played by speculators, as it commonly is, the actual goods are not important and there is no expectation of delivery. Rather, it is the futures contract itself that is traded as the value of that contract changes daily according the perceived market value of the commodity.

Every futures contract includes a buyer and a seller. The seller takes the short position (i.e. sells something he or she does not own), and the buyer takes the long position (in this case, posession of an actual contract). The futures contract will specify the buying price, the quantity and the delivery date.

For example: A farmer agrees to deliver 1000 bushels of wheat to a baker at a price of $5.00 a bushel. If the daily price of wheat futures falls to $4.00 a bushel, the farmer's account is credited with $1000 ($5.00 - $4.00 X 1000 bushels) and the baker's account is debited by the same amount. Futures accounts are settled every day.

Upon the end of the contract period, the contract will be settled based on its terms. If the price of wheat futures is still at $4.00 the farmer will have made $1000 on the futures contract and the baker will have lost the same amount. However, the baker now buys wheat on the open market at $4.00 a bushel - $1000 less than the original contract, so the amount he lost on the futures contract is made up by the cheaper cost of wheat. Similarly, the farmer must sell his wheat on the open market for $4.00 a bushel, less than what he anticipated when entering the futures contract, but the profit generated by the futures contract makes up the difference.

The baker, however, is still in effect buying the wheat at $5.00 a bushel, and if he had not entered into a futures contract he would have been able to buy that wheat at $4.00 a bushel. He has protected himself against rising prices but he will lose if the market price drops.

Speculators hope to profit by these daily fluctuations in the futures market by buying long (from the buyer) if they expect prices to rise or by buying short (from the seller) if they expect prices to fall.

The FOREX Market

The foreign exchange market (FOREX) is considered to have several advantages over the futures market.

FOREX is a much more liquid market. As the largest financial market in the world it dwarfs the futures market in daily exchanges. This means that stop orders can be executed more easily and with less slippage (see glossary) in the FOREX.

The FOREX is open 24 hours a day, 5 days a week, while most futures exchanges are only open 7 hours a day. This adds to the liquidity of the market and allows FOREX traders to take advantage of trading opportunities as they arise rather than waiting for the market to open.

FOREX transactions are commission-free.  FOREX Brokers earn their money by setting a spread – the difference between what a currency can be bought at and what it can be sold at.  On the other hand, futures traders must pay a commission or brokerage fee for each transaction they enter into.

Because of the high volume of trading, FOREX transactions are executed almost instantly. This minimizes slippage (see glossary) and increases price certainty.  Brokers in the futures market often quote prices reflecting the last trade – not necessarily the price of your transaction.

The FOREX is considered less risky than the futures market because of built-in safeguards in the trading system. Debits in futures are always a possiblility because of market gap and slippage.

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Page Updated 4:57 PM Thursday 17 May 2018