Exchange Rates and Spreads:
All currencies are assigned an International Standards Organization (ISO) code abbreviation. In currency trading, these codes are often used to express which specific currencies make up a currency pair. For example, USD/JPY refers to two currencies: the US Dollar and the Japanese Yen. The list of Currency ISO codes are available from OANDA’s Web site.
An exchange rate is simply the ratio of one currency valued against another. The first currency is referred to as the base currency and the second as the counter or quote currency. If buying, an exchange rate specifies how much you have to pay in the counter or quote currency to obtain one unit of the base currency. If selling, the exchange rate specifies how much you get in the counter or quote currency when selling one unit of the base currency.
base currency/quote currency
A currency exchange rate is typically given as a bid price and an ask price. The bid price is always lower than the ask price. The bid price represents what will be obtained in the quote currency when selling one unit of the base currency. The ask price represents what has to be paid in the quote currency to obtain one unit of the base currency. The following USD/JPY price quote is an example of bid/ask notation:
The first component (before the slash) refers to the bid price (what you obtain in JPY when you sell USD). In this example, the bid price is 118.48. The second component (after the slash) is used to obtain the ask price (what you have to pay in JPY if you buy USD). In this example, the ask price is 118.53.
The difference between the bid and the ask price is referred to as the spread. In the example above, the spread is .05 or 5 pips. Unlike the USD/JPY, most currency pair quotes are carried out to the 4th decimal place (i.e., EUR/USD may be quoted at 0.9517/22), in which case 5 pipS represents a difference of .0005. Although a pip may seem small, a movement of one pip in either direction can translate into thousands of dollars in gains or losses in the inter-bank market.
When trading amounts of $1M or higher, the spread obtained in a quote is typically 5 pips. When trading smaller amounts, the spread is typically larger. For example, when trading less than $100,000, spreads of 50-200 pips are common. Credit card companies typically apply a spread of 200-300 pips. Banks and exchange bureaus typically use a spread in the range of 200-1000 pips (in addition to charging a commission). For investors and speculators, a lower or tighter spread translates into easier profit taking due to movements in exchange rates.