One of the great advantages of trading currencies is that the forex market is open 24 hours a day, five days a week (from Sunday, 5 p.m. until Friday, 4 p.m. ET). Since markets move because of news, economic data is often the most important catalyst for short-term movements. This is particularly true in the currency market, which responds not only to U.S. economic numbers, but also to news from around the world. Here, we look at which economic numbers are released when, which data is most relevant to forex traders, and how traders can act on this market-moving information.
Which Currencies Should Be Your Focus?
With at least eight major currencies available for trading at most currency brokers, there is always a piece of economic data slated for release that forex traders can use to make informed trades. In fact, seven or more pieces of data are released almost each weekday (except holidays) from the eight major most-followed countries. So for those who choose to trade news, there are plenty of opportunities. The eight major currencies are familiar to most traders:
1. U.S. dollar (USD)
2. Euro (EUR)
3. British pound (GBP)
4. Japanese yen (JPY)
5. Swiss franc (CHF)
6. Canadian dollar (CAD)
7. Australian dollar (AUD)
8. New Zealand dollar (NZD)
And there are many liquid currency pairs derived from the eight major currencies:
Currencies that can be easily traded span the globe. This means that you can handpick the currencies and economic releases to which you pay particular attention. But, as a general rule, since the U.S. dollar is on the “other side” of 90% of all currency trades, U.S. economic releases tend to have the most pronounced impact on forex markets.
- Economic data tends to be one of the most important catalysts for short-term movements in the forex market.
- Since the dollar is one side of many currency pairs, U.S. economic releases tend to have the most pronounced impact.
- The most common way to trade forex on news is to look for a period of consolidation ahead of a big number and trade the breakout on the back of the number.
- A variety of exotic options are available for traders who want to capture a breakout move, but with less volatility than trading the currency pair itself.
Trading news is harder than it may sound. Not only is the reported consensus figure important, but so are the whisper numbers (the unofficial and unpublished forecasts) and any revisions to previous reports. Also, some releases are more important than others; this can be measured in terms of both the significance of the country releasing the data and the importance of the release in relation to the other pieces of data being released at the same time.
When Are Key News Releases?
Figure 1 lists the approximate times (Eastern Time) of the most important economic releases for each of the following countries. These are also the times that players in the forex market pay extra attention to the markets, especially when trading based on news releases.
|U.S.||USD||8:30 to 10 a.m.|
|Japan||JPY||6:50 to 11:30 p.m.|
|Canada||CAD||7 to 8:30 a.m.|
|U.K.||GBP||2 to 4:30 a.m.|
|Italy||EUR||3:45 to 5 a.m.|
|Germany||EUR||2 to 6 a.m.|
|France||EUR||2:45 to 4 a.m.|
|Switzerland||CHF||1:45 to 5:30 a.m.|
|New Zealand||NZD||4:45 to 9 p.m.|
|Australia||AUD||5:30 to 7:30 p.m.|
Figure 1: Times at which various countries release important economic news
What Are the Key Releases?
When trading news, you first have to know which releases are actually expected that week. Second, knowing which data is important is also key. Generally speaking, the most important information relates to changes in interest rates, inflation, and economic growth, like retail sales, manufacturing, and industrial production:
1. Interest rate decisions
2. Retail sales
3. Inflation (consumer price or producer price)
5. Industrial production
6. Business sentiment surveys
7. Consumer confidence surveys
8. Trade balance
9. Manufacturing sector surveys
Depending on the current state of the economy, the relative importance of these releases may change. For example, unemployment may be more important this month than trade or interest rate decisions. Therefore, it is important to keep on top of what the market is focusing on at the moment.
How Long Does the Effect Last?
According to a study by Martin D. D. Evans and Richard K. Lyons published in the Journal of International Money and Finance (2004), the market could still be absorbing or reacting to news releases hours, if not days, after the numbers are released.
The study found that the effect on returns generally occurs in the first or second day, but the impact does seem to linger until the fourth day. The impact on the flow of buy and sell orders, on the other hand, is still very pronounced on the third day and is observable on the fourth day.
How to Actually Trade News?
The most common way to trade news is to look for a period of consolidation or uncertainty ahead of a big number and to trade the breakout on the back of the news. This can be done on both a short-term basis (intraday) or over several days. Let’s look at the chart in Figure 2 as an example. After a weak number in September, the euro was holding its breath ahead of the October number, which was to be released to the public in November.
In the 17 hours before the release, EUR/USD was confined within a tight 30-pip trading range. (A pip is the smallest measure of change in a currency pair in the forex market, and since most major currency pairs are priced to four decimal places, the smallest change is that of the last decimal point.) For news traders, this would have provided a great opportunity to put on a breakout trade, especially since the likelihood of a sharp move at this time was extremely high.
The table above illustrates shows—with two horizontal lines forming a trading channel—the indecision and uncertainty leading up to October non-farm payroll numbers, which were released in early November. Note the increase in volatility that occurred once the numbers were released.
We mentioned earlier that trading news is harder than you might think. Why? The primary reason is volatility. You can be making the right move but the market may simply not have the momentum to sustain the move.
Let’s look at the chart in Figure 3 as an example. This chart shows activity after the same release as the one shown in Figure 2 (but on a different time frame) to show how difficult trading news releases can be. On Nov. 4, 2005, the market had expected a payroll increase of 120,000 jobs, but instead the U.S. economy gained only 56,000 jobs. The disappointment led to an approximately 60-pip sell-off in the dollar against the euro in the first 25 minutes after the release.
However, the dollar’s upside momentum was so strong that the gains were quickly reversed, and an hour later, the EUR/USD had broken its previous low and actually hit a 1.5-year low against the dollar. Opportunities were plentiful for breakout traders but bullish momentum in the dollar was so strong that such a bad payrolls number failed to put a sustainable dent in the currency’s rally. One thing you should keep in mind is that, on the back of a good number, a strong move should also see a strong extension.
The chart above shows that, while the worse-than-expected non-farm payroll numbers sent the EUR/USD rate upward for a short period of time, the strong momentum of the U.S. dollar was able to take control and push higher. Keep in mind, when the EUR/USD rate falls, the U.S. dollar is going upward, and vice versa.
Trading News With Exotic Options
One potential answer to capturing a breakout in volatility without having to face the risk of a reversal is to trade exotic options. Exotic options generally have barrier levels and will be profitable or unprofitable based on whether the barrier level is breached. The payout is predetermined and the premium or price of the option is based on the payout. The following are the most popular types of exotic options to use to trade news releases:
A double one-touch option has two barrier levels. Either one of the levels must be breached prior to expiration in order for the option to become profitable and for the buyer to receive the payout. If neither barrier level is breached prior to expiration, the option expires worthless. A double one-touch option is the perfect option to trade for news releases because it is a pure non-directional breakout play. As long as the barrier level is breached—even if the price reverses course later—the payout is made.
A one-touch option only has one barrier level, which generally makes it slightly less expensive than a double one-touch option. The same criterion holds—the payout is only made if the barrier is breached prior to expiration. This is a good option to buy if you actually have a view on whether the number will be stronger or weaker than the market's consensus forecast.
Options on currencies are a viable alternative for those who do not care to get whipsawed in the markets by undue volatility before they actually see the spot price move in their desired direction; there are different types of currency options available through a handful of forex brokers.
A double no-touch option is the exact opposite of a double one-touch option. There are two barrier levels, but in this case, neither barrier level can be breached before expiration—otherwise the option payout is not made. This option is great for news traders who think that the economic release will not cause a pronounced breakout in the currency pair and that it will continue to range trade.
The Bottom Line
The currency market is particularly prone to short-term movements brought on by the release of economic news from both the U.S. and the rest of the world. If you want to trade news successfully in the forex market, there are several important considerations: knowing when reports are expected, understanding which releases are most important given current economic conditions and, of course, knowing how to trade based on this market-moving data. Do your research and stay on top of economic news and you too can reap the rewards.