The inexorable growth of FOREX

Every three years the Bank for International Settlements (the central bankers’ central bank) publishes a survey of foreign exchange market activity. The latest survey has just been published. Despite the banking crisis and subsequent recession, foreign exchange market turnover has increased by nearly 20% since 2007. The daily average value of currencies traded on the foreign exchange market is now $3.981 trillion. In 2007 it was $3.324 trillion and in 2001 it was just $1.239 trillion.

According to the BIS press release:

• The increase was driven by the 48% growth in turnover of spot transactions, which represent 37% of foreign exchange market turnover. Spot turnover rose to $1.5 trillion in April 2010 from $1.0 trillion in April 2007.

• The increase in turnover of other foreign exchange instruments was more modest at 7%, with average daily turnover of $2.5 trillion in April 2010. Turnover in outright forwards and currency swaps grew strongly. Turnover in foreign exchange swaps was flat relative to the previous survey, while trading in currency options decreased.

• As regards counterparties, the higher global foreign exchange market turnover is associated with the increased trading activity of “other financial institutions” – a category that includes non-reporting banks, hedge funds, pension funds, mutual funds, insurance companies and central banks, among others. Turnover by this category grew by 42%, increasing to $1.9 trillion in April 2010 from $1.3 trillion in April 2007. For the first time, activity of reporting dealers with other financial institutions surpassed inter-dealer transactions (i.e. transactions between reporting dealers).

• Foreign exchange market activity became more global, with cross-border transactions representing 65% of trading activity in April 2010, while local transactions account for 35%.

• The percentage share of the US dollar has continued its slow decline witnessed since the April 2001 survey, while the euro and the Japanese yen gained relative to April 2007. Among the 10 most actively traded currencies, the Australian and Canadian dollars both increased market share, while the pound sterling and the Swiss franc lost ground. The market share of emerging market currencies increased, with the biggest gains for the Turkish lira and the Korean won.

• The relative ranking of foreign exchange trading centres has changed slightly from the previous survey. Banks located in the United Kingdom accounted for 36.7%, against 34.6% in 2007, of all foreign exchange market turnover, followed by the United States (18%), Japan (6%), Singapore (5%), Switzerland (5%), Hong Kong SAR (5%) and Australia (4%).

The following articles look at some of the details of the report and consider their implications for London and for the global economy: an economy that has grown (in money terms) by 82% since 2001, while exports have grown by 101% and foreign currency transactions by 221%.

Giant FX market now $4 trillion gorilla Reuters (1/9/10)
Global currency trading jumps 20% in three years BBC News (1/9/10)
Daily foreign-exchange turnover hits $4 trillion Market Watch, William L. Watts (1/9/10)
Banks’ shift pushes FX trading to $4,000bn a day Financial Times, Peter Garnham and Jennifer Hughes (1/9/10)
Demonised ‘algos’ push the surge in FX trading Financial Times, Jennifer Hughes (1/9/10)
A valueless banking boom? BBC News Blogs: Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (1/9/10)
Financial crisis boosts London’s dominance in global currency trading Telegraph (1/9/10)
BIS Triennial Survey of Foreign Exchange and Over-the-Counter Interest Rate Derivatives Markets in April 2010 – UK Data Bank of England News Release (1/9/10)

BIS documents
Press Release Bank for International Settlements (1/9/10)
Report “Triennial Central Bank Survey of Foreign Exchange and OTC Derivatives Market Activity in April 2010 – Preliminary global results – Turnover” Bank for International Settlements (1/9/10)
Statistical Tables Bank for International Settlements (1/9/10)
Link to previous reports Link from Bank of England site


  1. Why has the foreign exchange market grown so strongly (a) since 1998; (b) since 2007?
  2. How has the balance of the types of foreign exchange transactions changed since 2007? Explain why.
  3. What are the implications of this growth for the UK economy?
  4. What are the implications of this growth for the stability of exchange rates?
  5. What are ‘algos’ and what benefits (if any) do they bring to the foreign exchange market?
  6. What are the benefits and costs of the growth of foreign exchange carried out on behalf of financial (as opposed to non-financial) businesses?
  7. Where in a balance of payments account would the bulk of foreign exchange transactions be recorded?