The Commodity Exchange Act permits persons regulated by a federal regulatory agency to engage in off-exchange forex transactions with individual investors only pursuant to rules of that federal regulatory agency. Keep in mind that there may be different requirements or treatment for forex transactions depending on which rules and regulations might apply in different circumstances (for example, with respect to bankruptcy protection or leverage limitations.
You should also be aware that, for brokers and dealers, many of the rules and regulations that apply to securities transactions may not apply to forex transactions. The SEC is actively interested in business practices in this area and is currently studying whether additional rules and regulations would be appropriate.
As described above, forex trading in general presents significant risks to individual investors that require careful consideration. Off-exchange forex trading poses additional risks, including:
There Is No Central Marketplace. Unlike the regulated futures and options exchanges, there is no central marketplace in the retail exchange forex market. Instead, individual investors commonly access the forex market through individual financial institutions or dealers known as “market makers.” Market makers take the opposite side of any transaction; for example, they may be buying and selling the same foreign currency at the same time. In these cases, market makers are acting as principals for their own account and, as a result, may not provide the best price available in the market. Because individual investors often do not have access to pricing information, it can be difficult for them to determine whether an offered price is fair.
There Is No Central Clearing. When trading futures and options on regulated exchanges, a clearing organization can act as a central counter-party to all transactions in a way that may afford you some protection in the event of a default by your counterparty.
This protection is not available in the off-exchange forex market, where there is no central clearing.
The forex market is a large, global, and generally liquid financial market. Banks, insurance companies, and other financial institutions, as well as large corporations use the forex markets to manage the risks associated with fluctuations in currency rates.
The risk of loss for individual investors who trade forex contracts can be substantial. The only funds that you should put at risk when speculating in foreign currency are those funds that you can afford to lose entirely, and you should always be aware that certain strategies may result in your losing even more money than the amount of your initial investment. Some of the key risks involved include:
Quoting Conventions Are Not Uniform. While many currencies are typically quoted against that is, one dollar purchases a specified amount of a foreign currency there are no required uniform quoting conventions in the forex market. Both the Euro and the British pound, for example, may be quoted in the reverse, meaning that one British pound purchases a specified amount and one Euro purchases a specified amount Therefore, you need to pay special attention to a currency’s quoting convention and what an increase or decrease in a quote may mean for your trades.
Transaction Costs May Not Be Clear. Before deciding to invest in the forex market, check with several different firms and compare their charges as well as their services. There are very limited rules addressing how a dealer charges an investor for the forex services the dealer provides or how much the dealer can charge. Some dealers charge a per-trade commission, while others charge a mark-up by widening the spread between the bid and ask prices that they quote to investors. When a dealer advertises a transaction as “commission-free,” you should not assume that the transaction will be executed without cost to you. Instead, the dealer’s commission may be built into a wider bid-ask spread, and it may not be clear how much of the spread is the dealer’s mark-up. In addition, some dealers may charge both a commission and a mark-up. They may also charge a different mark-up for buying a currency than selling it. Read your agreement with the dealer carefully and make sure you understand how the dealer will charge you for your trades.
Transaction Costs Can Turn Profitable Trades into Losing Transactions. For certain currencies and currency pairs, transaction costs can be relatively large. If you are frequently trading in and out of a currency, these costs can in some circumstances turn what might have been profitable trades into losing transactions.
You Could Lose Your Entire Investment or More. You will be required to deposit an amount of money (usually called a “security deposit” or “margin”) with a forex dealer in order to purchase or sell an off-exchange forex contract. A small sum may allow you to hold a forex contract worth many times the value of the initial deposit. This use of margin is the basis of “leverage” because an investor can use the deposit as a “lever” to support a much larger forex contract. Because currency price movements can be small, many forex traders employ leverage as a means of amplifying their returns. The smaller the deposit is in relation to the underlying value of the contract, the greater the leverage will be.
If the price moves in an unfavorable direction, then high leverage can produce large losses in relation to your initial deposit. With leverage, even a small move against your position could wipe out your entire investment. You may also be liable for additional losses beyond your initial deposit, depending on your agreement with the dealer.
Trading Systems May Not Operate as Intended. Though it is possible to buy and hold a currency if you believe in its long-term appreciation, many trading strategies capitalize on small, rapid moves in the currency markets. For these strategies, it is common to use automated trading systems that provide buy and sell signals, or even automatic execution, across a wide range of currencies.