Because currencies are traded in pairs and exchanged one against the other
when traded, the rate at which they are exchanged is called the exchange
rate. The majority of currencies are traded against the US dollar (USD), which
is traded more than any other currency. The four currencies traded most
frequently after the US dollar are the euro (EUR), the Japanese yen (JPY), the
British pound sterling (GBP) and the Swiss franc (CHF). These five currencies
make up the majority of the market and are called the major currencies or
"the Majors". Some sources also include the Australian dollar (AUD) within the
group of major currencies.
The first currency in the exchange pair is referred to as the base currency.
The second currency is the counter currency or quote currency. The counter
or quote currency is thus the numerator in the ratio, and the base currency is
The exchange rate tells a buyer how much of the counter or quote currency
must be paid to obtain one unit of the base currency. The exchange rate also
tells a seller how much is received in the counter or quote currency when
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selling one unit of the base currency. For example, an exchange rate for
EUR/USD of 1.2083 specifies to the buyer of euros that 1.2083 USD must be
paid to obtain 1 euro.
It is the difference between BUY and SELL, or BID and ASK. In other words,
this is the difference between the market maker's "selling" price (to its
clients) and the price the market maker "buys" it from its clients.
If an investor buys a currency and immediately sells it (and thus there is no
change in the rate of exchange), the investor will lose money. The reason for
this is "the spread". At any given moment, the amount that will be received
in the counter currency when selling a unit of base currency will be lower
than the amount of counter currency which is required to purchase a unit of
base currency. For instance, the EUR/USD bid/ask currency rates at your
bank may be 1.2015/1.3015, representing a spread of 1,000 pips (percentage
in points; one pip = 0.0001). Such a rate is much higher than the bid/ask
currency rates that online Forex investors commonly encounter, such as
1.2015/1.2020, with a spread of 5 pips. In general, smaller spreads are better
for Forex investors since they require a smaller movement in exchange rates
in order to profit from a trade.