The Foreign Exchange Market Barry W. Ickes Econ 434 Fall 2006 1. Introduction The market for foreign exchange involves the purchase and sale of national currencies. A foreign exchange market exists because economies employ national currencies. If the world economy used a single currency there would be no need for foreign exchange markets. In Europe 11 economies have chosen to trade their individual currencies for a common currency. But the euro will still trade against other world currencies. For now, the foreign exchange market is a fact of life. The foreign exchange market is extremely active. It is primarily an over the counter market, the exchanges trade futures and option (more below) but most transactions are OTC. It is difficult to assess the actual size of the foreign exchange market because it is traded in
many markets. For the US the Fed has estimated turnover (in traditional products) in 1998 to be $351 billion per day, after adjusting for double counting. This is a 43% increase over 1995, and about 60 times the turnover in 1977. The Bank of International Settlements did survey currency exchanges in 26 major centers and this provides some evidence. In figure 1 we present some evidence of the daily trading volume in the major cities. This shows the size and growth of the market. Daily trading volumes on the foreign exchange market often exceed $1 trillion, 1 which is much larger than volumes on the New York Stock Exchange (the total volume of trade on ”Black Monday” in 1987 was $21 billion). The annual volume of foreign exchange trading is some 60 times larger than annual world trade ($5.2 trillion), and even 10-12 times larger than world GNP (about $25-30 trillion in 1995). You can also verify from figure 1 that the UK still accounts for the largest share of actual trades, more than 31%. What accounts for this huge volume and its rapid growth? Although world trade has 1 According to the BIS survey, in 1998 turnover in traditional products (spot, forwards, and fx swaps, but excluding futures, currency options, and currency swaps) was $1.49 trillion. This represented an 80% increase from 1992. The Foreign Exchange Market Fall 2006 Figure 1: Foreign Exchange Turnover by Region and Currency grown substantially — increasing 2.5 times since 1980 — this is far smaller than the growth in the foreign exchange market. International capital flows have increased more dramatically. This is related (causality is hard to infer) to increases in current account deficits is many counties, especially the US. Although the world current account must sum to zero, if the US has large deficits, other countries must have large surpluses, and this leads to an increase in international capital flows. Moreover, there has been an expansion in international securities markets. Banks have become more multinational and more bonds are issued internationally than before. This is evident in figure 2 which shows how dramatically these have increased. This is clearly related to increasing activities of multinational companies. Still there is a bit of a puzzle. The explanations for grow thof the foreign exchange market are still too small to explain the huge volume. The reason is that the turnover in foreign exchange represents gross capital flows, but the explanations focus on net capital flows. Take the US case. Turnover...
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