Reading a foreign exchange quote is simple if you remember two things:

  1. The first currency listed is the base currency
  2. The value of the base currency is always 1.

As the centerpiece of the Forex market, the US dollar is usually considered the base currency for quotes. When the base currency is USD, think of the quote as telling you what a US dollar is worth in that other currency.

When USD is the base currency and the quote goes up, that means USD has strengthened in value and the other currency has weakened. Rising quotes mean a US dollar can now buy more of the other currency than before.

Majors not based on the US dollar

The three exceptions to this rule are the British pound (GBP), the Australian dollar (AUD) and the Euro (EUR). For these pairs, where USD is not the base currency, a rising quote means the US dollar is weakening and buys less of the other currency than before.

In other words, if a currency quote goes higher, the base currency is getting stronger. A lower quote means the base currency is weakening.

Cross currencies

Currency pairs that don't involve USD at all are called cross currencies, but the premise is the same.

Bids, asks and the spread

Just like other markets, forex quotes consist of two sides, the bid and the ask:

  • The BID is the price at which you can SELL base currency.
  • The ASK is the price at which you can BUY base currency.

What's a pip?

Forex prices are often so liquid, they're quoted in tiny increments called pips, or percentage in point. A pip refers to the fourth decimal point out, or 1/100th of 1%.

For Japanese yen, pips refer to the second decimal point. This is the only exception among the major currencies.

What's a Lot?

Spot Forex is traded in lots. The standard size for a lot is $100,000. There is also a mini lot size and that is $10,000. As you already know, currencies are measured in pips, which is the smallest increment of that currency. To take advantage of these tiny increments, you need to trade large amounts of a particular currency in order to see any significant profit or loss.

Let's assume we will be using a $100,000 lot size. We will now recalculate some examples to see how it affects the pip value.

  • USD/JPY at an exchange rate of 119.90
    (.01 / 119.80) x $100,000 = $8.34 per pip
  • USD/CHF at an exchange rate of 1.4555
    (.0001 / 1.4555) x $100,000 = $6.87 per pip

In cases where the US Dollar is not quoted first, the formula is slightly different.

  • EUR/USD at an exchange rate of 1.1930
    (.0001 / 1.1930) X EUR 100,000 = EUR 8.38 x 1.1930 = $9.99734 rounded up will be $10 per pip
  • GBP/USD at an exchange rate or 1.8040
    (.0001 / 1.8040) x GBP 100,000 = 5.54 x 1.8040 = 9.99416 rounded up will be $10 per pip.

Forex brokers may have a different convention for calculating pip value relative to lot size but whichever way they do it, they'll be able to tell you what the pip value is for the currency you are trading is at the particular time. As the market moves, so will the pip value depending on what currency you are currently trading.

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