The spot exchange rate refers to the current exchange rate. The forward exchange rate refers to an exchange rate that is quoted and traded today but for delivery and payment on a specific future date.
There is a market convention that determines which is the base currency and which is the term currency. In most parts of the world, the order is:
EUR - GBP - AUD - NZD - USD - *** (where *** is any other currency).
Thus if you are doing a conversion from EUR into AUD, EUR is the base currency, AUD is the term currency and the exchange rate tells you how many Australian dollars you would pay or receive for 1 euro. Cyprus and Malta which were quoted as the base to the USD and *** were recently removed from this list when they joined the euro. In some areas of Europe and in the non-professional market in the UK, EUR and GBP are reversed so that GBP is quoted as the base currency to the euro. In order to determine which is the base currency where both currencies are not listed (i.e. both are ***), market convention is to use the base currency which gives an exchange rate greater than 1.000. This avoids rounding issues and exchange rates being quoted to more than 4 decimal places. There are some exceptions to this rule e.g. the Japanese often quote their currency as the base to other currencies.
Quotes using a country's home currency as the price currency (e.g., EUR 1.00 = $1.58 in the US) are known as direct quotation or price quotation (from that country's perspective) () and are used by most countries.
Quotes using a country's home currency as the unit currency (e.g., $0.97 AUD = $1.00 US) are known as indirect quotation or quantity quotation and are used in British newspapers and are also common in Australia, New Zealand and the eurozone.
Note that, using direct quotation, if the home currency is strengthening (i.e., appreciating, or becoming more valuable) then the exchange rate number decreases. Conversely if the foreign currency is strengthening, the exchange rate number increases and the home currency is depreciating.
When looking at a currency pair such as EURUSD, the first component (EUR in this case) will be called the base currency. The second is called the term currency. For example : EURUSD = 1.5877, means EUR is the base and USD the term, so 1 EUR = 1.5877 USD.
Currency pairs are often incorrectly quoted with a "/" (forward slash). In fact if the slash is inserted, the order of the currencies should be reversed. This gives the exchange rate. e.g. if EUR1 is worth USD1.59, euro is the base currency and dollar is the term currency so the exchange rate is stated EURUSD or USD/EUR. To get the exchange rate divide the USD amount by the euro amount e.g. 1.59/1.00 = 1.59
Market convention from the early 1980s to 2006 was that most currency pairs were quoted to 4 decimal places for spot transactions and up to 6 decimal places for forward outrights or swaps. (The fourth decimal place is usually referred to as a "pip.") An exception to this was exchange rates with a value of less than 1.000 which were usually quoted to 5 or 6 decimal places. Although there is no fixed rule, exchange rates with a value greater than around 20 were usually quoted to 3 decimal places and currencies with a value greater than 80 were quoted to 2 decimal places. Currencies over 5000 were usually quoted with no decimal places (e.g. the former Turkish Lira). e.g. (GBPOMR : 0.765432 - EURUSD : 1.5877 - GBPBEF : 58.234 - EURJPY : 165.29). In other words, quotes are given with 5 digits. Where rates are below 1, quotes frequently include 5 decimal places.
In 2006 Barclays Capital broke with convention by offering spot exchange rates with 5 or 6 decimal places. The contraction of spreads (the difference between the bid and offer rates) arguably necessitated finer pricing and gave the banks the ability to try and win transaction on multibank trading platforms where all banks may otherwise have been quoting the same price. A number of other banks have now followed this.
The RER is only a theoretical ideal. In practice, there are many foreign currencies and price level values to take into consideration. Correspondingly, the model calculations become increasingly more complex. Furthermore, the model is based on purchasing power parity (PPP), which implies a constant RER. The empirical determination of a constant RER value could never be realised, due to limitations on data collection. PPP would imply that the RER is the rate at which an organization can trade goods and services of one economy (e.g. country) for those of another. For example, if the price of a good increases 10% in the UK, and the Japanese currency simultaneously appreciates 10% against the UK currency, then the price of the good remains constant for someone in Japan. The people in the UK, however, would still have to deal with the 10% increase in domestic prices. It is also worth mentioning that government-enacted tariffs can affect the actual rate of exchange, helping to reduce price pressures. PPP appears to hold only in the long term (3–5 years) when prices eventually correct towards parity.
More recent approaches in modelling the RER employ a set of macroeconomic variables, such as relative productivity and the real interest rate differential.
UIRP showed no proof of working after 1990s. Contrary to the theory, currencies with high interest rates characteristically appreciated rather than depreciated on the reward of the containment of inflation and a higher-yielding currency.
Like PPP, the balance of payments model focuses largely on tradable goods and services, ignoring the increasing role of global capital flows. In other words, money is not only chasing goods and services, but to a larger extent, financial assets such as stocks and bonds. Their flows go into the capital account item of the balance of payments, thus, balancing the deficit in the current account. The increase in capital flows has given rise to the asset market model.
The explosion in trading of financial assets (stocks and bonds) has reshaped the way analysts and traders look at currencies. Economic variables such as economic growth, inflation and productivity are no longer the only drivers of currency movements. The proportion of foreign exchange transactions stemming from cross border-trading of financial assets has dwarfed the extent of currency transactions generated from trading in goods and services.
The asset market approach views currencies as asset prices traded in an efficient financial market. Consequently, currencies are increasingly demonstrating a strong correlation with other markets, particularly equities.
Like the stock exchange, money can be made or lost on the foreign exchange market by investors and speculators buying and selling at the right times. Currencies can be traded at spot and foreign exchange options markets. The spot market represents current exchange rates, whereas options are derivatives of exchange rates
Increased demand for a currency is due to either an increased transaction demand for money, or an increased speculative demand for money. The transaction demand for money is highly correlated to the country's level of business activity, gross domestic product (GDP), and employment levels. The more people there are unemployed, the less the public as a whole will spend on goods and services. Central banks typically have little difficulty adjusting the available money supply to accommodate changes in the demand for money due to business transactions.
The speculative demand for money is much harder for a central bank to accommodate but they try to do this by adjusting interest rates. An investor may choose to buy a currency if the return (that is the interest rate) is high enough. The higher a country's interest rates, the greater the demand for that currency. It has been argued that currency speculation can undermine real economic growth, in particular since large currency speculators may deliberately create downward pressure on a currency in order to force that central bank to sell their currency to keep it stable (once this happens, the speculator can buy the currency back from the bank at a lower price, close out their position, and thereby take a profit).