Thursday, February 5, 2009

Choosing a Forex Broker

Before trading Forex you need to set up an account with a Forex broker. So what exactly is a broker? In simplest terms, a broker is an individual or a company that buys and sells orders according to the trader's decisions. Brokers earn money by charging a commission or a fee for their services.

You may feel overwhelmed by the number of brokers who offer their services online. Deciding on a broker requires a little bit of research on your part, but the time spent will give you insight into the services that are available and fees charged by various brokers.

Is the Forex broker regulated?
When selecting a prospective Forex broker, find out with which regulatory agencies it is registered with. The Forex market is labeled as an “unregulated” market, and it basically is. Regulation is typically reactive, meaning only after you’ve been bamboozled out of your entire savings will something be done.

In the United States a broker should be registered as a Futures Commission Merchant (FCM) with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and a NFA member. The CFTC and NFA were made to protect the public against fraud, manipulation, and abusive trade practices.

You can verify Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) registration and NFA membership status of a particular broker and check their disciplinary history by phoning NFA at (800) 621-3570 or by checking the broker/firm information section (BASIC) of NFA's Web site at

Among the registered firms, look for those with clean regulatory records and solid financials. Stay away from non-regulated firms!

The NFA is stepping up their efforts in educating investors about retail forex trading. They’ve created a brochure fit for a Pulitzer Prize called, "Trading in the Retail Off-Exchange Foreign Currency Market”. The NFA recommends you read it before taking the forex plunge.

They’ve also developed a Forex Online Learning Program, an interactive self-directed program explaining how retail forex contracts are traded, the risks inherent in forex trading and steps individuals should take before opening a forex account. Both the brochure and the online learning program are available at no charge to the public.

Customer Service
Forex is a 24-hour market, so 24-hour support is a must! Can you contact the firm by phone, email, chat, etc.? Do the reps seem knowledgeable? The quality of support can vary drastically from broker to broker, so be sure to check them out before opening an account.

Here’s a good tip: choose several online brokers and contact their help desks. Seeing how quickly they respond to your questions can be key in gauging how they will respond to your needs. If you don't get a speedy reply and a satisfactory answer to your question, you certainly wouldn't want to trust them with your business. Just be aware that as in other types of businesses, pre-sales service might be better than post-sales service.

Online Trading Platform
Most, if not all, Forex brokers allow you to trade over the Internet relatively easy. The backbone of any trading platform is their ordering system. So trading software is very important. Get a feel for the options that are available by trying out a demo account at a few online brokers.

Closely examine the broker’s screen layout. It should include:

the ability to view real-time currency exchange rate quotes,
an account summary showing your current account balance with realized and unrealized profit and loss, margin available, and any margin locked in open positions.
Most trading platforms are either Web based (in Java), or a client-based program you can install on your computer, and which version you choose is your personal preference:

Web based software is hosted on your broker’s web site. You won’t have to install any software on your own computer, and you’ll be able to log in from any computer that has an Internet connection.
A client-based software program, or one that you download and install, will only allow you to trade on your own computer (unless you install the program on every computer you use).
Usually, the "download and install" program runs faster, but most programs are operating system specific. For example, most brokers only offer their trading platform application to run on Microsoft Windows. If heaven forbid you are a Mac user (!), you won’t be able to install the application and will have to use your broker’s Web based or Java-based trading platform. These two (the Web or Java-based) will run on any computer since they run through your internet browser.

Java-based software programs are preferred by most brokers, who think they are more safe and reliable. Java-based software tends to be less vulnerable to attack from viruses and hackers during transmissions than "download and install" software.

But always be sure to open a demo account and test out the broker's platform before opening a real account!

Don’t forget your high speed Internet connection
The Forex market is a fast moving market and you will need up-to-the second information to make informed trading decisions. Make sure you have a high speed Internet connection. If you don’t, you might as well not even bother trading. Dial-up will absolutely not work for Forex! If you plan to trade online you will need a modern computer and high speed Internet connection, and we can’t stress this enough!

Bells and Whistles
Any Forex broker worth his salt should offer you real-time quotes and allow you to quickly enter and exit the market. These are minimal requirements of any trading software. Upgraded software packages are usually offered as an extra monthly fee by brokers.

Most brokers now offer integrated charting and technical analysis packages with their trading platforms. The level of integration with the trading platforms varies and is worth understanding carefully.

Mini/Micro Accounts
Most brokers offer very small “mini-accounts” and even smaller "micro-account" for as little as a couple hundred bucks. These little cute accounts are a great way to get started and test your trading skills and gain experience.

Broker Policies
Before selecting an online Forex broker, you should closely examine their features and policies. These include:

Available Currency Pairs
You should confirm that the prospective broker offers, at minimum, the seven major currencies (AUD, CAD, CHF, EUR, GBP, JPY, and USD).
Transaction Costs
Transaction costs are calculated in pips. The lower the number of pips required per trade by the broker, the greater the profit that the trader makes. Comparing pip spreads of half dozen brokers will reveal different transaction costs. For example, the bid/ask spread for EUR/USD is usually 3 pips, but if you can find 2 pips, that’s even better.
Margin Requirement
The lower the margin requirement (meaning the higher the leverage), the greater the potential for higher profits and losses. Margin percentages vary from .25% and up. Low margin requirements are great when your trades are good, but not so great when you are wrong. Be realistic about margins and remember that they swing both ways.
Minimum Trading Size Requirement
The size of one lot may differ from broker to broker, spanning 1,000, 10,000, and 100,000 units. A lot consisting of 100,000 units is called a “standard” lot. A lot consisting of 10,000 units is called a “mini” lot. A lot consisting of 1,000 units is called a “micro” lot. Some brokers even offer fractional unit sizes (called odd lots) which allow you create your own unit size.
Rollover Charges
Rollover charges are determined by the difference between the interest rate of the country of the base currency and the interest rates of the other country. The greater the interest rate differential between the two currencies in the currency pair, the greater the rollover charge will be. For example, when trading GBP/USD, if the British pound has the greater interest differential with the U.S. dollar, then the rollover charge for holding British pound positions would be the most expensive. On the other hand, if the Swiss Franc were to have the smallest interest differential to the U.S. dollar, then overnight charges for USD/CHF would be the least expensive of the currency pairs.
Margin Account Interest Rate
Most brokers pay interest on a trader’s margin account. The interest rates normally fluctuate with the prevailing national rates. If you decide to take an extended break from trading, the money in your margin account will be accruing interest. Keep in mind that most brokers DO NOT allow you to accrue interest unless your margin requirement is at least 2% (50:1).
Trading Hours
Nearly all brokers align their hours of operation to coincide with the hours of operation of the global Forex market: 5:00 pm EST Sunday through 4:00 pm EST Friday.
Other Policies
Be sure to scrutinize a prospective broker’s “fine print” section to be fully aware of all the nuances that a specific broker may impose on a new trader.

Finding the right broker is a critical part of the process. It’s not easy and requires some real work on your part. Don’t pick the first one that looks good to you. Keep looking and trying different demo accounts.

What to look for in an online Forex broker/dealer:

Low Spreads.
In Forex trading the ‘spread’ is the difference between the buy and sell price of any given currency pair. Lower spreads save you money.
Low minimum account openings.
For those that are new to Forex trading and for those that don’t have millions of dollars in risk capital to trade, being able to open a micro trading account with only $250 (we recommend at least $1,000) is a great feature for new traders.
Instant automatic execution of your orders.
This is very important when choosing a Forex broker. Don’t settle with a firm that re-quotes you when you click on a price or a firm that allows for price ‘slippage’. This is very important when trading for small profits. You want what we call a WYSIWYG (pronounced wiz-ee-wig) broker! This means you want instant execution of your orders and the price you see and "click" is the price that you should get...WYSIWYG = What You See Is What You Get!
Free charting and technical analysis
Choose a broker that gives you access to the best charting and technical analysis available to active traders. Look for a broker that provides free professional charting services and allows traders to trade directly on the charts.
Leverage can either make you super rich or super broke. Most likely, it will be the latter. As an inexperienced trader, you don't want too much leverage. A good rule of thumb is to not use more than 100:1 leverage for Standard (100k) accounts and 200:1 for Mini (10k) accounts.

Candle stick charts:

Candlestick charts have been around for hundreds of years. They are often referred to as "Japanese candles" because the Japanese would use them to analyze the price of rice contracts.

Similar to a bar chart, candlestick charts also display the open, close, daily high and daily low. The difference is the use of color to show if the stock went up or down over the day.

The chart below is an example of a candlestick chart for AT&T (T). Green bars indicate the stock price rose, red indicates a decline:
Investors seem to have a "love/hate" relationship with candlestick charts. People either love them and use them frequently, or they are completely turned off by them. There are several patterns to look for with candlestick charts - here are a few of the popular ones and what they mean:

This is a bullish pattern - the stock opened at (or near) its low and closed near its high.

The opposite of the pattern above, this is a bearish pattern. It indicates that the stock opened at (or near) its high and dropped substantially to close near its low.

Known as "the hammer", this is a bullish pattern only if it occurs after the stock price has dropped for several days. A hammer is identified by a small body along with a large range. The theory is that this pattern can indicate that a reversal in the downtrend is in the works.

Known as a "star", this pattern is used in other patterns such as the "doji star". For the most part, stars typically indicate a reversal and or indecision. There is a possibility that after seeing a star there will be a reversal or change in the current trend.

So this is the basics of candle stick charting. Of course there are many other patterns, but this should get you started.

Know Your P’s and L’s

Here is where we’re going to do a little math. You've probably heard of the terms "pips" and "lots" thrown around, and here we're going to explain what they are and show you how they are calculated.

Take your time with this information, as it is required knowledge for all Forex traders. Don’t even think about trading until you are comfortable with pip values and calculating profit and loss.

What the heck is a Pip?
The most common increment of currencies is the Pip. If the EUR/USD moves from 1.2250 to 1.2251, that is ONE PIP. A pip is the last decimal place of a quotation. The Pip is how you measure your profit or loss.

As each currency has its own value, it is necessary to calculate the value of a pip for that particular currency. In currencies where the US Dollar is quoted first, the calculation would be as follows.

Let’s take USD/JPY rate at 119.80 (notice this currency pair only goes to two decimal places, most of the other currencies have four decimal places)

In the case of USD/JPY, 1 pip would be .01



.01 divided by exchange rate = pip value
.01 / 119.80 = 0.0000834

This looks like a very long number but later we will discuss lot size.


.0001 divided by exchange rate = pip value
.0001 / 1.5250 = 0.0000655


.0001 divided by exchange rate = pip value
.0001 / 1.4890 = 0.00006715

In the case where the US Dollar is not quoted first and we want to get the US Dollar value, we have to add one more step.



.0001 divided by exchange rate = pip value
.0001 / 1.2200 = EUR 0.00008196

but we need to get back to US dollars so we add another calculation which is

EUR x Exchange rate
0.00008196 x 1.2200 = 0.00009999

When rounded up it would be 0.0001



.0001 divided by exchange rate = pip value

.0001 / 1.7975 = GBP 0.0000556
But we need to get back to US dollars so we add another calculation which is

GBP x Exchange rate

0.0000556 x 1.7975 = 0.0000998

When rounded up it would be 0.0001

You’re probably rolling your eyes back and thinking do I really need to work all this out and the answer is NO. Nearly all forex brokers will work all this out for you automatically. It’s always good for you to know how they work it out.

In the next section, we will discuss how these seemingly insignificant amounts can add up.

Why Trade Foreign Currencies?

There are many benefits and advantages to trading Forex. Here are just a few reasons why so many people are choosing this market:

No commissions.
No clearing fees, no exchange fees, no government fees, no brokerage fees. Brokers are compensated for their services through something called the bid-ask spread.
No middlemen. Spot currency trading eliminates the middlemen, and allows you to trade directly with the market responsible for the pricing on a particular currency pair.
No fixed lot size.
In the futures markets, lot or contract sizes are determined by the exchanges. A standard-size contract for silver futures is 5000 ounces. In spot Forex, you determine your own lot size. This allows traders to participate with accounts as small as $250 (although we explain later why a $250 account is a bad idea).
Low transaction costs.
The retail transaction cost (the bid/ask spread) is typically less than 0.1 percent under normal market conditions. At larger dealers, the spread could be as low as .07 percent. Of course this depends on your leverage and all will be explained later.
A 24-hour market.
There is no waiting for the opening bell - from Sunday evening to Friday afternoon EST, the Forex market never sleeps. This is awesome for those who want to trade on a part-time basis, because you can choose when you want to trade--morning, noon or night.
No one can corner the market.
The foreign exchange market is so huge and has so many participants that no single entity (not even a central bank) can control the market price for an extended period of time.
In Forex trading, a small margin deposit can control a much larger total contract value. Leverage gives the trader the ability to make nice profits, and at the same time keep risk capital to a minimum. For example, Forex brokers offer 200 to 1 leverage, which means that a $50 dollar margin deposit would enable a trader to buy or sell $10,000 worth of currencies. Similarly, with $500 dollars, one could trade with $100,000 dollars and so on. But leverage is a double-edged sword. Without proper risk management, this high degree of leverage can lead to large losses as well as gains.
High Liquidity.
Because the Forex Market is so enormous, it is also extremely liquid. This means that under normal market conditions, with a click of a mouse you can instantaneously buy and sell at will. You are never "stuck" in a trade. You can even set your online trading platform to automatically close your position at your desired profit level (a limit order), and/or close a trade if a trade is going against you (a stop loss order).
Free “Demo” Accounts, News, Charts, and Analysis. Most online Forex brokers offer 'demo' accounts to practice trading, along with breaking Forex news and charting services. All free! These are very valuable resources for “poor” and SMART traders who would like to hone their trading skills with 'play' money before opening a live trading account and risking real money.
“Mini” and “Micro” Trading:
You would think that getting started as a currency trader would cost a ton of money. The fact is, compared to trading stocks, options or futures, it doesn't. Online Forex brokers offer "mini" and “micro” trading accounts, some with a minimum account deposit of $300 or less. Now we're not saying you should open an account with the bare minimum but it does makes Forex much more accessible to the average (poorer) individual who doesn't have a lot of start-up trading capital.

How Do Forex quotes work?

Reading a FOREX quote may seem a bit confusing at first. However, it's really quite simple if you remember two things: 1) The first currency listed first is the base currency and 2) the value of the base currency is always 1.

The US dollar is the centerpiece of the FOREX market and is normally considered the 'base' currency for quotes. In the "Majors", this includes USD/JPY, USD/CHF and USD/CAD. For these currencies and many others, quotes are expressed as a unit of $1 USD per the second currency quoted in the pair. For example, a quote of USD/JPY 110.01 means that one U.S. dollar is equal to 110.01 Japanese yen.

When the U.S. dollar is the base unit and a currency quote goes up, it means the dollar has appreciated in value and the other currency has weakened. If the USD/JPY quote we previously mentioned increases to 113.01, the dollar is stronger because it will now buy more yen than before.

The three exceptions to this rule are the British pound (GBP), the Australian dollar (AUD) and the Euro (EUR). In these cases, you might see a quote such as GBP/USD 1.7366, meaning that one British pound equals 1.7366 U.S. dollars.

In these three currency pairs, where the U.S. dollar is not the base rate, a rising quote means a weakening dollar, as it now takes more U.S. dollars to equal one pound, euro or Australian dollar.

In other words, if a currency quote goes higher, that increases the value of the base currency. A lower quote means the base currency is weakening.

Currency pairs that do not involve the U.S. dollar are called cross currencies, but the premise is the same. For example, a quote of EUR/JPY 127.95 signifies that one Euro is equal to 127.95 Japanese yen.

When trading FOREX you will often see a two-sided quote, consisting of a 'bid' and 'offer'. The 'bid' is the price at which you can sell the base currency (at the same time buying the counter currency). The 'ask' is the price at which you can buy the base currency (at the same time selling the counter currency).

what is forex?

The Foreign Exchange market, also referred to as the "FOREX" is the biggest and largest financial market in the world. It has a daily average turnover of US$1.9 trillion- just imagine that amount of money! Don't you want to join this trillion-dollar industry?

FOREX is the simultaneous buying of one currency and selling of another. Currencies are traded in pairs, for example Euro/US Dollar (EUR/USD) or US Dollar/Japanese Yen (USD/JPY). So basically, FOREX is trading.

There are two reasons to buy and sell currencies. About 5% of daily turnover is from companies and governments that buy or sell products and services in a foreign country or must convert profits made in foreign currencies into their domestic currency.

The other 95% is trading for profit, or what you call speculation. Investors frequently trade on information they believe to be superior and relevant, when in fact it is not and is fully discounted by the market.

On one side of each speculative stock trade is a participant who believes he has superior information and on the other side is another participant who believes his information is superior.

For speculators, the best trading opportunities are with the most commonly traded (and therefore most liquid- meaning its in cash or convertible to cash) currencies, called "the Majors." Today, more than 85% of all daily transactions involve trading of the Majors.

A true 24-hour market, FOREX trading begins each day in Sydney, and moves around the globe as the business day begins in each financial center, first to Tokyo, London, and New York. Unlike any other financial market, investors can respond to currency fluctuations caused by economic, social and political events at the time they occur - real time- day or night.

The FOREX market is considered an Over The Counter (OTC) or 'interbank' market. This is because the transactions are conducted between two counterparts over the telephone or via an electronic network. Trading is not centralized on an exchange compared to stocks and futures markets.

Risk Warning

please note that Forex trading (OTC Trading) involves substantial risk of loss, and may not be suitable for everyone.