What Is a Reciprocal Currency?

In the foreign exchange (forex) market, a reciprocal currency describes a situation where a currency pair involves the U.S. dollar (USD), but the USD is not the base currency; instead, it is the quote currency (also known as the counter currency).

A reciprocal currency is thus quoted in terms of U.S. dollars per unit of foreign currency instead of units of currency per dollar. A common example would be the EUR/USD currency pairs, where a quote of 1.20 would mean that one euro buys $1.20 U.S. dollars.

Key Takeaways

  • A reciprocal currency is a currency pair that involves the U.S. dollar (USD) without the USD serving as the base currency.
  • This quote notation is less common than when the USD serves as the base currency and is sometimes called a "European" quotation.
  • USD/JPY and USD/CAD are examples where the U.S. dollar is the base currency.
  • NZD/USD and EUR/USD are examples of reciprocal currency pairs as the USD is not the base currency in these pairs.

Understanding Reciprocal Currencies

The majority of USD currency pairs feature the U.S. dollar as the base currency, which appears first in an FX quote. For example, the USD/JPY (dollar versus the Japanese yen) or the USD/CAD (dollar versus the Canadian dollar). In such a quote, it would tell you how many units of a foreign currency one U.S. dollar could buy. For instance, if the quote for Israeli Shekels (USD/ILS) is 3.25, one dollar buys 3.25 shekels.

However, reciprocal currencies are instead quoted in what's commonly referred to as "European" terms, meaning the currency other than the U.S. dollar is the base currency. "Reciprocal currency" thus describes currency pairs used in the foreign exchange market where the U.S. dollar (USD) and another currency are paired, but the USD is not the first currency quoted.

Major currency pairs that involve the USD, but where the USD is not the base currency, include EUR/USD (euro to U.S. dollar); GBP/USD (British pound to U.S. dollar); and AUD/USD (Australian dollar to U.S. dollar).

A direct quote is a currency pair quote where the foreign currency is expressed in per-unit terms of the domestic currency. For U.S. individuals or firms, a reciprocal currency would be a direct quote convention. An indirect quote would alternatively appear as the opposite expression.

Examples of Reciprocal Currency

An example of a reciprocal currency would be the quotes for the NZD/USD. This currency pair has the New Zealand dollar as its base currency and the U.S. dollar as its quote currency. In other words, one would quote the exchange rate of NZD/USD as the New Zealand dollar versus the U.S. dollar. So if the NZD/USD quote is 0.70, it means that you can exchange one NZD for seventy cents, U.S.

The EUR/USD exchange rate is also expressed in dollar terms, even though the euro is listed as the base currency. For example, the EUR/USD rate might be $1.15 to 1 euro, but when quoting the rate, a trader would say the euro/U.S. rate is $1.15.