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Retail Currency Investing: The Three Secrets to Success

[Editor’s Note: From 2007 to 2009, the average daily trading volume in the global currency markets grew about 24% to reach $3.98 trillion. It now exceeds $4 trillion. And currencies aren’t just for institutions: Retail trading is estimated to account for 10% of  “spot” market FX turnover – or about $150 billion a day. If you want to succeed as a retail-currency investor, you need a guide, or expert, to show you the right path. That’s why Money Morning has brought in forex veteran Sean Hyman. This is his introductory column.]

In the global capital markets, the "forex" (foreign-exchange, or "FX") market is where the real action is.

It trades continuously – 24 hours a day – on weekdays. And it dwarfs the stock-and-bond markets.

Average daily turnover in the global forex markets is greater than $4 trillion. Daily trading volume at the New York Stock Exchange trades about $25 billion, meaning the world's FX market dwarfs the United States' single-biggest stock exchange.

Even the bond market – which includes the average-daily-trading volume of more than $800 billion in the U.S. portion – is eclipsed by its forex counterpart.

In fact, you could combine the daily trading volume from all the world's stock exchanges – and still not equal the daily activity in the worldwide FX market.

Even the bond market – which includes the average-daily-trading volume of more than $800 billion in the U.S. portion – is eclipsed by its forex counterpart.

But as a veteran of this market, it's the stories I get to hear firsthand that fascinate me the most. That's why I so enjoy speaking at the forex conferences that are held all around the world.

Take the last big currency event that we held, where I met a high-tech-firm CEO whom I'll refer to as "John."

When I met John, he was just about to sell his very prosperous business for a rather large sum of money – millions of dollars, in fact.

When the sale closed, John wanted to take the proceeds and use them to trade in the currency market. So he sought my advice.

I asked John how much cash he wanted to put in his first currency-trading account.

After checking to make sure no one was listening, John cleared his throat, leaned closer and whispered: "$1 million to $2 million dollars."

I immediately knew that every FX dealer in the world would want John's business.

But that doesn't mean every FX broker can – or even should – handle his account. So over dinner, I carefully explained to John exactly what he should look for in a currency broker.

The same is true for any currency investor – whether you're opening a $2,000 account or $2 million account: If you're going to succeed as a currency investor, there are three secrets you need to understand. You need to:

  • Know who regulates your prospective broker.
  • Make sure your firm has the financial muscle to stick around for the long haul
  • Only do business with firms that conduct themselves the "right way."

If you're like me, you'll be just as protective with $2,000 as my friend John would be with $2 million, so it's definitely worth understanding these three secrets.

Let's take a closer look…

Secret #1: Know Who Regulates Your Prospective Broker

Trust me – you want someone looking over your broker's shoulder. It's in your best interest that someone is watching your broker. That means that your forex broker must be regulated by one or more entities that ensure strict regulation.

The good news is it's easy to know if your broker is regulated or not. Just check their location.

If your broker is regulated by authorities in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, Switzerland or Australia, then you can be reasonably certain your broker is properly regulated. And if your broker just does business in any of these places, he should be properly regulated.

However, if your broker is in Cypress, Belize or places like this, then you need to check and double check to make sure your funds are safe.


So I suggest choosing a highly-regulated broker based out of one of the well-regulated countries above.

After all, would you want to live in a city with no police? How about a very small, lax police force in a huge city? Personally, I wouldn't want either one of those. But that's what you have if you choose an FX dealer in the wrong country.

As I told John this, he started jotting down all my respective countries for consideration. I suggest you do the same.

Secret #2: Make Sure Your Broker Has the Funds to Back You

Next step: Make sure your FX dealer has the funds to stay in business over the long haul.

But this is much easier than it sounds. If you chose a broker from a highly regulated country, then it's very likely that this broker already meets the minimum capital requirements to do business.

The only consideration that remains is whether your potential Forex broker has deep enough pockets to cover millions of dollars in trading, or is it a relatively new firm that barely meets the minimum capital requirements?

For instance, here in the U.S. back in 2009, the National Futures Association (NFA) ramped up the net capital requirements for U.S. forex firms. To stay in business, all FX firms now must have at least $20 million in assets.

That killed a lot of the small fish here in the United States. So be sure to ask how much your firm holds in excess cash reserves.

Also keep in mind there are some monster whales in the United States that have $125 million or more in cash. With these huge FX dealer firms available, I suggest you go with one of the largest, well-capitalized firms.

Secret #3: Use a Firm that Does Business the "Right Way"

The final question you should ask is: "How does your prospective broker do business?"

Do they care about their clients?

In the forex-trading world, that usually comes down to another question: Is your prospective broker a "dealing desk broker" or a "no-dealing desk broker?"

Dealing desk brokers take the other side of your trade. In other words, if you buy the EUR/USD, they will sell the EUR/USD. So your loss is their gain.

On the other hand, your gain is their loss. See the potential for conflicts of interest?

No-dealing desk brokers do not take the other side of your trade. They typically have a "pass through" model of doing business. That means they take your order and pass it through to one of the major interbanks.

They get paid a small fee regardless, so they don't care if you win or lose on your trade. Your loss is not their gain.

However, ideally they'd want you to win, because winners continue trading longer. These brokers earn their living when you trade, so they want you to trade for a long time. I prefer this type of "no-dealing" broker for that very reason.

So when you are looking into a broker … don't just look at how pretty their Website is or how many bells and whistles they have.

Determine whether or not they are regulated, where they are regulated, and to what degree. Find out how much excess capital they have after meeting their regulator's minimum requirements. Then make sure they have a "no-dealing desk" business model.

Again, take your time and pick the right broker. You won't regret it.

My friend John sure didn't.

[Bio Note: Sean Hyman has worked in the financial industry for more than 20 years as a stockbroker and as manager of a team of stockbrokers for Charles Schwab and for the currency-trading firm FXCM. Sean's background stretches over many financial instruments, including stocks, options, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and currencies/forex.

During the past two decades, Hyman has refined his investing approach through the use of both fundamental and technical analysis.

Through the years, he's seen enormous profit potential in the forex market because it has no commissions, it trades 24 hours a day, it has tight spreads and larger volume than any other market in the world and it deals with macro events rather than unexpected things like cooked books, backdated stock options or CEO fraud.

Hyman appears on, contributes to or has been interviewed by such lead media organizations as CNBC, TruNews, and The Money Man Report.]

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  1. William W. Andrews | July 30, 2011

    Anyone who does not know the difference between Cyprus and Cypress is an idiot.

    • John London | August 30, 2011

      Indeed, one would have to be as intelligent as Miley Cyprus to confuse the two….sigh…Where's John Lennin when you need him…

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