Foreign exchange, or forex, is essential to transacting global business. Consumers must convert domestic currency to make overseas purchases, while businesses are concerned with trading international profits for domestic banknotes. Global commerce, however, does carry distinct risks of losses. Effective forex management minimizes these economic risks, while providing cash flow to meet everyday expenses and improve earnings.
The foreign exchange market refers to the network of individuals, banks and organized financial exchanges that trade global currencies. Foreign exchange management requires its participants to enter the market to deliver and accept currencies at fluctuating exchange rates. From there, individuals may either hold foreign currency in reserve to make payments or return overseas profits back home in the form of domestic banknotes. Proper foreign exchange management accounts for these transactions, while anticipating shifts in currency valuations that affect the bottom line.
Foreign exchange management requires you to follow current events that translate into fluctuating exchange rates for a particular country. Savers prefer to do business in nations that feature stable governments and strong economies. Institutions and private individuals must trade for these currencies—in order to establish businesses and purchase investments that they believe will grow in value. Alternatively, investors liquidate overseas holdings in the case of economic recession and political instability that is attributable to a particular country. For example, businesses would quickly sell assets and retreat from a nation that is undergoing military coup—where the new regime is hostile to foreign investors.
Beyond buying and selling goods, currencies may be traded for financial gain. Foreign exchange management analyzes the economic records of prospective countries—in order to uncover and buy undervalued currencies. The goal is to hold these notes until exchange rates improve to mirror favorable developments, such as strong national employment reports and falling budget deficits. Successful currency trading increases profitability and buying power.
Foreign exchange management must also identify the distinct risks of transacting global business. Adverse shifts in currency valuations can translate into losses. For example, exporters lose sales when domestic exchange rates strengthen. At that point, exported goods become more expensive to foreign buyers. Further, businesses that hold large foreign exchange reserves also lose purchasing power at home when the domestic currency values appreciate. Meanwhile, consumers face the risks of declining domestic exchange rates that increase the costs of imported goods and overseas purchases.
Foreign exchange management may use diversification and currency derivatives to manage risks and preserve profits. Currency derivatives are bought to establish predetermined exchange rates for set periods. These derivatives include futures, options and forwards. Currency futures and options trade on organized exchanges, such as the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Forwards, however, are customized agreements between two parties to negotiate future exchange rates between themselves.
Smaller investors may elect to diversify with mutual funds according to geography, instead. For example, high commodity costs may lead Japan into economic recession, while mutual funds investing in resource-rich Russia are making money.