Forex rates 3

Currency Exchange Rates.

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2023 Curriculum CFA Program Level I Economics.

Currency Exchange Rates.

Available to members.


Measured by daily turnover, the foreign exchange (FX) market—the market in which currencies are traded against each other—is by far the world’s largest market. Current estimates put daily turnover at approximately USD5.1 trillion for 2022. This is about 10 to 15 times larger than daily turnover in global fixed-income markets and about 50 times larger than global turnover in equities.

The FX market is also a truly global market that operates 24 hours a day, each business day. It involves market participants from every time zone connected through electronic communications networks that link players as large as multibillion-dollar investment funds and as small as individuals trading for their own account—all brought together in real time. International trade would be impossible without the trade in currencies that facilitates it, and so too would cross-border capital flows that connect all financial markets globally through the FX market.

These factors make foreign exchange a key market for investors and market participants to understand. The world economy is increasingly transnational in nature, with both production processes and trade flows often determined more by global factors than by domestic considerations. Likewise, investment portfolio performance increasingly reflects global determinants because pricing in financial markets responds to the array of investment opportunities available worldwide, not just locally. All of these factors funnel through, and are reflected in, the foreign exchange market. As investors shed their “home bias” and invest in foreign markets, the exchange rate—the price at which foreign-currency-denominated investments are valued in terms of the domestic currency—becomes an increasingly important determinant of portfolio performance.

Even investors adhering to a purely “domestic” portfolio mandate are increasingly affected by what happens in the foreign exchange market. Given the globalization of the world economy, most large companies depend heavily on their foreign operations (for example, by some estimates about 30 percent of S&P 500 Index earnings are from outside the United States). Almost all companies are exposed to some degree of foreign competition, and the pricing for domestic assets—equities, bonds, real estate, and others—will also depend on demand from foreign investors. All of these various influences on investment performance reflect developments in the foreign exchange market.

This reading introduces the foreign exchange market, providing the basic concepts and terminology necessary to understand exchange rates as well as some of the basics of exchange rate economics.

The reading is divided up as follows. Section 2 describes the organization of the foreign exchange market and discusses the major players—who they are, how they conduct their business, and how they respond to exchange rate changes. Section 3 takes up the mechanics of exchange rates: definitions, quotes, and calculations. This section shows that the reader has to pay close attention to conventions used in various foreign exchange markets around the world because they can vary widely. Sometimes exchange rates are quoted in the number of domestic currency units per unit of foreign currency, and sometimes they are quoted in the opposite way. The exact notation used to represent exchange rates can vary widely as well, and occasionally the same exchange rate notation will be used by different sources to mean completely different things. The notation used here may not be the same as that encountered elsewhere. Therefore, the focus should be on understanding the underlying concepts rather than relying on rote memorization of formulas. We also show how to calculate cross-exchange rates and how to compute the forward exchange rate given either the forward points or the percentage forward premium or discount. In Section 4, we discuss alternative exchange rate regimes operating throughout the world. Finally, in Section 5, we discuss how exchange rates affect a country’s international trade (exports and imports) and capital flows. A summary and practice problems conclude the reading.

Learning Outcomes.

The member should be able to:

define an exchange rate and distinguish between nominal and real exchange rates and spot and forward exchange rates; describe functions of and participants in the foreign exchange market; calculate and interpret the percentage change in a currency relative to another currency; calculate and interpret currency cross-rates; convert forward quotations expressed on a points basis or in percentage terms into an outright forward quotation; explain the arbitrage relationship between spot rates, forward rates, and interest rates; calculate and interpret a forward discount or premium; calculate and interpret the forward rate consistent with the spot rate and the interest rate in each currency; describe exchange rate regimes; explain the effects of exchange rates on countries’ international trade and capital flows.


Foreign exchange markets are crucial for understanding both the functioning of the global economy as well as the performance of investment portfolios. In this reading, we have described the diverse array of FX market participants and have introduced some of the basic concepts necessary to understand the structure and functions of these markets. The reader should be able to understand how exchange rates—both spot and forward—are quoted and be able to calculate cross exchange rates and forward rates. We also have described the array of exchange rate regimes that characterize foreign exchange markets globally and how these regimes determine the flexibility of exchange rates, and hence, the degree of foreign exchange rate risk that international investments are exposed to. Finally, we have discussed how movements in exchange rates affect international trade flows (imports and exports) and capital flows.

The following points, among others, are made in this reading:

Measured by average daily turnover, the foreign exchange market is by far the largest financial market in the world. It has important effects, either directly or indirectly, on the pricing and flows in all other financial markets. There is a wide diversity of global FX market participants that have a wide variety of motives for entering into foreign exchange transactions. Individual currencies are usually referred to by standardized three-character codes. These currency codes can also be used to define exchange rates (the price of one currency in terms of another). There are a variety of exchange rate quoting conventions commonly used. A direct currency quote takes the domestic currency as the price currency and the foreign currency as the base currency (i.e., S d/f ). An indirect quote uses the domestic currency as the base currency (i.e., S f/d ). To convert between direct and indirect quotes, the inverse (reciprocal) is used. Professional FX markets use standardized conventions for how the exchange rate for specific currency pairs will be quoted. Currencies trade in foreign exchange markets based on nominal exchange rates. An increase (decrease) in the exchange rate, quoted in indirect terms, means that the domestic currency is appreciating (depreciating) versus the foreign currency. The real exchange rate, defined as the nominal exchange rate multiplied by the ratio of price levels, measures the relative purchasing power of the currencies. An increase in the real exchange rate ( R d/f ) implies a reduction in the relative purchasing power of the domestic currency. Given exchange rates for two currency pairs—A/B and A/C—we can compute the cross-rate (B/C) between currencies B and C. Depending on how the rates are quoted, this may require inversion of one of the quoted rates. Spot exchange rates are for immediate settlement (typically, T + 2), while forward exchange rates are for settlement at agreed-upon future dates. Forward rates can be used to manage foreign exchange risk exposures or can be combined with spot transactions to create FX swaps. The spot exchange rate, the forward exchange rate, and the domestic and foreign interest rates must jointly satisfy an arbitrage relationship that equates the investment return on two alternative but equivalent investments. Given the spot exchange rate and the foreign and domestic interest rates, the forward exchange rate must take the value that prevents riskless arbitrage. Forward rates are typically quoted in terms of forward (or swap) points. The swap points are added to the spot exchange rate in order to calculate the forward rate. Occasionally, forward rates are presented in terms of percentages relative to the spot rate. The base currency is said to be trading at a forward premium if the forward rate is above the spot rate (forward points are positive). Conversely, the base currency is said to be trading at a forward discount if the forward rate is below the spot rate (forward points are negative). The currency with the higher (lower) interest rate will trade at a forward discount (premium). Swap points are proportional to the spot exchange rate and to the interest rate differential and approximately proportional to the term of the forward contract. Empirical studies suggest that forward exchange rates may be unbiased predictors of future spot rates, but the margin of error on such forecasts is too large for them to be used in practice as a guide to managing exchange rate exposures. FX markets are too complex and too intertwined with other global financial markets to be adequately characterized by a single variable, such as the interest rate differential. Virtually every exchange rate is managed to some degree by central banks. The policy framework that each central bank adopts is called an exchange rate regime. These regimes range from using another country’s currency (dollarization), to letting the market determine the exchange rate (independent float). In practice, most regimes fall in between these extremes. The type of exchange rate regime used varies widely among countries and over time. An ideal currency regime would have three properties: (1) the exchange rate between any two currencies would be credibly fixed; (2) all currencies would be fully convertible; and (3) each country would be able to undertake fully independent monetary policy in pursuit of domestic objectives, such as growth and inflation targets. However, these conditions are inconsistent. In particular, a fixed exchange rate and unfettered capital flows severely limit a country’s ability to undertake independent monetary policy. Hence, there cannot be an ideal currency regime. The IMF identifies the following types of regimes: arrangements with no separate legal tender (dollarization, monetary union), currency board, fixed parity, target zone, crawling peg, crawling band, managed float, and independent float. Most major currencies traded in FX markets are freely floating, albeit subject to occasional central bank intervention. A trade surplus (deficit) must be matched by a corresponding deficit (surplus) in the capital account. Any factor that affects the trade balance must have an equal and opposite impact on the capital account, and vice versa. A trade surplus reflects an excess of domestic saving (including the government fiscal balance) over investment spending. A trade deficit indicates that the country invests more than it saves and must finance the excess by borrowing from foreigners or selling assets to foreigners. The impact of the exchange rate on trade and capital flows can be analyzed from two perspectives. The elasticities approach focuses on the effect of changing the relative price of domestic and foreign goods. This approach highlights changes in the composition of spending. The absorption approach focuses on the impact of exchange rates on aggregate expenditure/saving decisions. The elasticities approach leads to the Marshall–Lerner condition, which describes combinations of export and import demand elasticities such that depreciation (appreciation) of the domestic currency will move the trade balance toward surplus (deficit). The idea underlying the Marshall–Lerner condition is that demand for imports and exports must be sufficiently price-sensitive so that an increase in the relative price of imports increases the difference between export receipts and import expenditures. In order to move the trade balance toward surplus (deficit), a change in the exchange rate must decrease (increase) domestic expenditure (also called absorption) relative to income. Equivalently, it must increase (decrease) domestic saving relative to domestic investment. If there is excess capacity in the economy, then currency depreciation can increase output/income by switching demand toward domestically produced goods and services. Because some of the additional income will be saved, income rises relative to expenditure and the trade balance improves. If the economy is at full employment, then currency depreciation must reduce domestic expenditure in order to improve the trade balance. The main mechanism is a wealth effect: A weaker currency reduces the purchasing power of domestic-currency-denominated assets (including the present value of current and future earned income), and households respond by reducing expenditure and increasing saving.