The forex market is the largest and most accessible financial market in the world, but although there are many forex investors, few are truly successful ones. Many traders fail for the same reasons that investors fail in other asset classes. In addition, the extreme amount of leverage - the use of borrowed capital to increase the potential return of investments - provided by the market, and the relatively small amounts of margin required when trading currencies, deny traders the opportunity to make numerous low-risk mistakes. Factors specific to trading currencies can cause some traders to expect greater investment returns than the market can consistently offer, or to take more risk than they would when trading in other markets.
Forex Market Trading Hazards
Certain mistakes can keep traders from achieving their investment goals. Following are some of the common pitfalls that can plague forex traders:
Although these mistakes can afflict all types of traders and investors, issues inherent in the forex market can significantly increase trading risks. The significant amount of financial leverage afforded forex traders presents additional risk that must be managed.
Leverage provides traders with an opportunity to enhance returns. But leverage and the commensurate financial risk is a double-edged sword that amplifies the downside as much as it adds to potential gains. The forex market allows traders to leverage their accounts as much as 400:1, which can lead to massive trading gains in some cases - and account for crippling losses in others. The market allows traders to use vast amounts of financial risk, but in many cases it is in a trader's best interest to limit the amount of leverage used.
Most professional traders use about 2:1 leverage by trading one standard lot ($100,000) for every $50,000 in their trading accounts. This coincides with one mini lot ($10,000) for every $5,000 and one micro lot ($1,000) for every $500 of account value. The amount of leverage available comes from the amount of margin that brokers require for each trade. Margin is simply a good faith deposit that you make to insulate the broker from potential losses on a trade. The bank pools the margin deposits into one very large margin deposit that it uses to make trades with the interbank market. Anyone that has ever had a trade go horribly wrong knows about the dreadful margin call, where brokers demand additional cash deposits; if they don't get them, they will sell the position at a loss to mitigate further losses or recoup their capital.
Many forex brokers require various amounts of margin, which translates into the following popular leverage ratios:
The reason many forex traders fail is that they are undercapitalized in relation to the size of the trades they make. It is either greed or the prospect of controlling vast amounts of money with only a small amount of capital that coerces forex traders to take on such huge and fragile financial risk. For example, at a 100:1 leverage (a rather common leverage ratio), it only takes a -1% change in price to result in a 100% loss. And every loss, even the small ones taken by being stopped out of a trade early, only exacerbates the problem by reducing the overall account balance and further increasing the leverage ratio.
Not only does leverage magnify losses, but it also increases transaction costs as a percent of account value. For example, if a trader with a mini account of $500 uses 100:1 leverage by buying five mini lots ($10,000) of a currency pair with a five-pip spread, the trader also incurs $25 in transaction costs [(1/pip x 5 pip spread) x 5 lots]. Before the trade even begins, he or she has to catch up, since the $25 in transaction costs represents 5% of the account value. The higher the leverage, the higher the transaction costs as a percentage of account value, and these costs increase as the account value drops.
While the forex market is expected to be less volatile in the long term than the equity market, it is obvious that the inability to withstand periodic losses and the negative effect of those periodic losses through high leverage levels are a disaster waiting to happen. These issues are compounded by the fact that the forex market contains a significant level of macroeconomic and political risks that can create short-term pricing inefficiencies and play havoc with the value of certain currency pairs.
Many of the factors that cause forex traders to fail are similar to those that plague investors in other asset classes. The simplest way to avoid some of these pitfalls is to build a relationship with other successful forex traders who can teach you the trading disciplines required by the asset class, including the risk and money management rules required to trade the forex market. Only then will you be able to plan appropriately and trade with the return expectations that keep you from taking excessive risk for the potential benefits.
While understanding the macroeconomic, technical and fundamental analysis necessary for trading forex is as important as the requisite trading psychology, one of the largest factors that separates success from failure is a trader's ability to manage a trading account. The keys to account management include making sure to be sufficiently capitalized, using appropriate trade sizing and limiting financial risk by using smart leverage levels.