How the Foreign Exchange Market Works

Most countries have different currencies, but not all. Sometimes small economies use an economically larger neighbor's currency. For example, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Panama have decided to dollarize—that is, to use the U.S. dollar as their currency. Sometimes nations share a common currency. A large-scale example of a common currency is the decision by 17 European nations—including some very large economies such as France, Germany, and Italy—to replace their former currencies with the euro. With these exceptions, most of the international economy takes place in a situation of multiple national currencies in which both people and firms need to convert from one currency to another when selling, buying, hiring, borrowing, traveling, or investing across national borders. We call the market in which people or firms use one currency to purchase another currency the foreign exchange market.

You have encountered the basic concept of exchange rates in earlier chapters. In The International Trade and Capital Flows, for example, we discussed how economists use exchange rates to compare GDP statistics from countries where they measure GDP in different currencies. These earlier examples, however, took the actual exchange rate as given, as if it were a fact of nature. In reality, the exchange rate is a price—the price of one currency expressed in terms of units of another currency. The key framework for analyzing prices, whether in this course, any other economics course, in public policy, or business examples, is the operation of supply and demand in markets.

Visit this website for an exchange rate calculator.

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