The Fundamentals of Forex

We begin in this chapter with an exploration of the forces that move the prices: the fundamentals. The reader will learn why fundamentals are important to foreign exchange (forex) traders as well as what kind of economic activity are most important in affecting price movements. These include interest rates, interest rate differentials, economic growth, and sentiment regarding the U.S. dollar.


In many ways, forex trading is similar to playing a game. You have an opponent (the market). In game of chance the key feature is that everyone faces the same odds and therefore the same level of information. In these games, no player can change the odds. Playing forex, however, is not a game of odds. Participants in forex trading do not share the same amount of information. In forex, this asymmetry of information results in advantages and disadvantages to trades. Some players have more information than the others. In forex, information about fundamental aspects of economies does not arrive simultaneously to all participants. The real important question is what kind of knowledge and information can improve trading performance. The search for an edge starts with a fundamental understanding of the nature of the forex market. Having a foundation of knowledge in fundamentals is a first step in evolving into a winning trader. In getting acquainted with the forex market, most people start by looking only at price charts and price patterns. This is called technical analysis. But the study of what 3 4 WHAT DRIVES THE FOREX MARKET? moves those charts is called fundamental analysis. The goal of Part I is to identify the components of fundamental analysis in regard to forex and then provide a recipe for developing your own fundamental analysis of a currency pair. Why take time to look at forex fundamentals? Why should fundamentals matter if a trade is done off a short-term time interval such as the 5-minute chart? The short answer is that one cannot separate the fundamentals from the technical analysis without exposing oneself to great distortions in understanding the forex market. Foreign exchange is by its nature both fundamental and technical and reflect the increased globalization of the world economy. It is worthwhile to note the comments of the late, great Milton Friedman in a 2005 conversation with Dallas Fed president Richard Fisher: The really remarkable thing about the world is how people cooperate together. How somebody in China makes a little bit of your television set. Or somebody in Malaysia produces some rubber. And that rubber is used by somebody in the United States to put on the tip of a pencil, or in some other way. What has happened has been an enormous expansion in the opportunities for cooperation. ( Consider the following: every transaction in the world settles in a currency. Whether it is a consumer purchase, an imported or exported item, an investment in an equity, or even cash under the mattress, the world’s economic activity is essentially a flow of money. What makes forex fascinating as a market and as a trading vehicle is the fact that currencies provide an intimate linkage to the world economy. The currency trader by putting on a currency trade becomes a participant the world economy. The trader is participating as a speculator looking for a very short-term profit. The forex trader is riding on a global wave. Some will surf the waves, jumping on and off; others will stay in much longer and face the volatility. Forex trading becomes possible because the world is constantly assessing and reassessing the value of one currency against another. The forex currency trader is looking to tap into this stream of changing values. The challenge is to find the right combination of tools that can assist the trader in finding high-probability profitable trades. In meeting this challenge, the first step is understanding what moves currencies over time. In putting together a recipe for successful forex trading, knowing the fundamental chemistry of forex is highly recommended. Anyone who doubts this should simply look at daily headlines that evoke names and places that are part of the daily consciousness of a trader. These names should be familiar to all traders: Bernanke, Fukui, Trichet, Xiaochuan. The words and decisions of these central bankers of the United States, the Bank of Japan, the European Central Bank, and The Fundamentals of Forex the Bank of China alert the trader to interest rate policy and news that affect sentiment about the direction of the dollar. Mention the capitals Pyongdong, Baghdad, Tehran, and they evoke emotions of fear and crises. Detect news about retail giant Wal-Mart’s sales, and one starts anticipating a potential reaction in the currency markets. These and other factors mix together and form the chemistry of forex, which results in shifts of sentiment regarding the U.S. dollar. These shifts in sentiment cause price reactions and shift the balance between buyers and sellers. Let’s look in more detail at these fundamental factors.