Many first-time forex traders hit the market running. They watch various economic calendars and trade voraciously on every release of data, viewing the 24-hours-a-day, five-days-a-week foreign exchange market as a convenient way to trade all day long. Not only can this strategy deplete a trader's reserves quickly, but it can burn out even the most persistent trader. Unlike Wall Street, which runs on regular business hours, the forex market runs on the normal business hours of four different parts of the world and their respective time zones, which means trading lasts all day and night.

So what's the alternative to staying up all night long? If traders can gain an understanding of the market hours and set appropriate goals, they will have a much stronger chance of realizing profits within a workable schedule.

Key Takeaways

  • The forex market runs on the normal business hours of four different parts of the world and their respective time zones.
  • The U.S./London markets overlap (8 a.m. to noon EST) has the heaviest volume of trading and is best for trading opportunities.
  • The Sydney/Tokyo markets overlap (2 a.m. to 4 a.m.) is not as volatile as the U.S./London overlap, but it still offers opportunities.

The Forex Markets Hours of Operation

First, here is a brief overview of the four markets (hours in Eastern Standard Time, or EST):

New York

New York (open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.) is the second-largest forex platform in the world, watched heavily by foreign investors because the U.S. dollar is involved in 90% of all trades, according to "Day Trading the Currency Markets" (2006) by Kathy Lien. Movements in the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) can have an immediate and powerful effect on the dollar. When companies merge, and acquisitions are finalized, the dollar can gain or lose value instantly.

Tokyo

Tokyo, Japan (open 7 p.m. to 4 a.m.) is the first Asian trading center to open, takes in the largest bulk of Asian trading, just ahead of Hong Kong and Singapore. The currency pairs that typically have a fair amount of action are USD/JPY (or U.S. dollar vs. Japanese yen), GBP/CHF (British pound vs. Swiss franc), and GBP/JPY (British pound vs. Japanese yen). The USD/JPY is an especially good pair to watch when the Tokyo market is the only one open, because of the heavy influence the Bank of Japan (Japan's central bank) has over the market.

Sydney

Sydney, Australia (open 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.) is where the trading day officially begins. While it is the smallest of the mega-markets, it sees a lot of initial action when the markets reopen on Sunday afternoon because individual traders and financial institutions are trying to regroup after the long pause since Friday afternoon.

London

London, Great Britain (open 3 a.m. to noon): The United Kingdom (U.K.) dominates the currency markets worldwide, and London is its main component. London, a central trading capital of the world, accounts for roughly 43% of global trading, according to a report by BIS. The city also has a big impact on currency fluctuations because Britain's central bank, the Bank of England, which sets interest rates and controls the monetary policy of the GBP, has its headquarters in London. Forex trends often originate in London as well, which is a great thing for technical traders to keep in mind. Technical trading involves analysis to identify opportunities using statistical trends, momentum, and price movement.

The Best Hours for Forex Trading

Currency trading is unique because of its hours of operation. The week begins at 5 p.m. EST on Sunday and runs until 5 p.m. on Friday.

Not all hours of the day are equally good for trading. The best time to trade is when the market is most active. When more than one of the four markets are open simultaneously, there will be a heightened trading atmosphere, which means there will be more significant fluctuation in currency pairs.

When only one market is open, currency pairs tend to get locked in a tight pip spread of roughly 30 pips of movement. Two markets opening at once can easily see movement north of 70 pips, particularly when big news is released.

Overlaps in Forex Trading Times

The best time to trade is during overlaps in trading times between open markets. Overlaps equal higher price ranges, resulting in greater opportunities. Here is a closer look at the three overlaps that happen each day:

  • U.S./London (8 a.m. to noon): The heaviest overlap within the markets occurs in the U.S./London markets. More than 70% of all trades happen when these markets overlap because the U.S. dollar and the euro (EUR) are the two most popular currencies to trade, according to Lien. This is the most optimal time to trade since volatility (or price activity) is high.
  • Sydney/Tokyo (2 a.m. to 4 a.m.): This time period is not as volatile as the U.S./London overlap, but it still offers a chance to trade in a period of higher pip fluctuation. EUR/JPY is the ideal currency pair to aim for, as these are the two main currencies influenced.
  • London/Tokyo (3 a.m. to 4 a.m.): This overlap sees the least amount of action of the three because of the time (most U.S.-based traders won't be awake at this time), and the one-hour overlap gives little opportunity to watch large pip changes occur.

Impact of News Releases on Forex Markets

While understanding the markets and their overlaps can aid a trader in arranging his or her trading schedule, there is one influence that should not be forgotten: the release of the news.

A big news release has the power to enhance a normally slow trading period. When a major announcement is made regarding economic data—especially when it goes against the predicted forecast—currency can lose or gain value within a matter of seconds.

Even though dozens of economic releases happen each weekday in all time zones and affect all currencies, a trader does not need to be aware of all of them. It is important to prioritize news releases between those that need to be watched versus those that should be monitored.

In general, the more economic growth a country produces, the more positive the economy is seen by international investors. Investment capital tends to flow to the countries that are believed to have good growth prospects and subsequently, good investment opportunities, which leads the country's exchange strengthening.

Also, a country that has higher interest rates through their government bonds tend to attract investment capital as foreign investors chase high yield opportunities. However, stable economic growth and attractive yields or interest rates are inexorably intertwined.

Examples of significant news events include:

  • Interest rate decisions by central banks since higher interest rates tend to attract more global investment and capital flows, strengthening the currency
  • CPI data, which measures inflation and can impact central bank policy
  • Trade deficits or more imports versus exports, which translates to more cross-border capital flows impacting exchange rates
  • Consumer consumption–a major driver for economic growth in the U.S. and globally
  • Central bank meetings since any remarks are watched closely for indications of future interest rate moves
  • Consumer confidence, which measures how the average consumer feels about the economy and impacts consumer spending
  • GDP data or Gross Domestic Product is a measure of all goods and services produced in a country
  • Unemployment rates, which measure the unemployed workforce since lower unemployment tends to translate to better growth and a stronger currency and vice versa
  • Retail trade measures how much is being spent by consumers and drives economic growth

The Bottom Line

It is important to take advantage of market overlaps and keep a close eye on news releases when setting up a trading schedule. Traders looking to enhance profits should aim to trade during more volatile periods while monitoring the release of new economic data. This balance allows part-time and full-time traders to set a schedule that gives them peace of mind, knowing that opportunities are not slipping away when they take their eyes off the markets or need to get a few hours of sleep.