Friday, 11 September 2009

The Strange World of Forex

The wage I get for working as a trade plater varies a lot depending on how many vehicles I deliver and how many miles I drive, but generally it ranges from adequate to abysmal. For a while now I've been doing other bits and pieces to top up my earnings. Recently, the main one of these extra-curricular activities has been ‘matched betting’, a system by which you take advantage of the free bets and other bonuses that bookmakers offer as incentives to open an account with them. There are ways of guaranteeing yourself a profit from these regardless of the outcome of the events that you bet on. The only problem with this is that you eventually start to run out of new bookmakers to sign up with (I now have accounts with over fifty of them.)

As a possible replacement for this I have been learning about spread betting on the foreign exchange markets (forex). This basically involves betting on whether the pound will rise or fall in value against another currency. For each point that it moves in your chosen direction you win a certain amount, and for each point that it moves in the other direction you lose that same amount.

I know nothing about economics, and whilst researching forex I've come across some odd facts. Did you know that seventy percent of Britain's Gross Domestic Product now comes from 'servicing' ? I'm still not sure exactly what this means but we are clearly no longer a nation that spends much time making anything anymore.

On an average day over three trillion dollars is traded in forex – more than twenty times the total of all the other financial markets put together. Here’s another odd fact - ninety percent of this trading is not done by institutions or individuals who have any use for the currency they are buying or selling, instead it is pure speculation. And another - most of this speculative trading is not carried out by human beings but is executed automatically by ‘bots’ – software which analyses previous price movements and then predicts future ones.

With stocks and shares it's possible for the big traders, hedge funds etc, to influence prices to suit their own ends, but this cannot be done with forex, the market is just too large. This lack of control makes it more likely that exchange rates will move up and down in recognisable patterns making it possible, apparently, to consistently make money if you adopt a system that suits the currencies and timeframes you are trading in.

So, if it's that easy why isn't everyone doing it? Most likely it will turn out not to be that easy. But on the other hand there clearly are a lot of people already doing it. It's worth noting that even in the ‘mugs game’ of conventional gambling there are systems such as arbitrage and each-way thieving which are reliable enough in the long run that if a bookmaker realises what you are doing they will usually pay you the compliment of closing your account.

There is a part of me that wants this plan to work well enough for me to be able to give up plating and be free from the downsides of the job – the stress of dealing with my stressed-out controller, a vindictive public transport system, those staff at car dealerships who save their charm for the people who might want to buy something from them, and those middle class homeowners who can't wait to ask me for some identification when I arrive on their doorsteps to collect their vehicles.

Imagine if I could make a living just sitting at home trading currencies? I would never have to pretend to like anyone again.

But as a former know-it-all left wing activist there is also a part of me that is uneasy about the idea of making money without actually doing anything to earn it. And where would the money really come from? If I made £100 in the forex markets would I have won it from some other speculator who made the wrong guess, or does the whole of this great tide of speculation have some wider impact? Would I be a smart gambler or a small time capitalist?

But anyway, all I’ve achieved in three months of trading with a demo account is to lose one hundred and ten pretend pounds, so maybe I shouldn’t be worrying about the moral dilemmas of joining the idle rich just yet.

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