The forward currency market consists of two instruments: forward outright deals and swaps. A swap deal is unusual among the rest of the foreign exchange instruments in the fact that it consists of two deals, or legs. All the other transactions consist of single deals. In its original form, a swap deal is a combination of a spot deal and a forward outright deal. Generally, this market includes only cash transactions. Therefore, currency futures contracts, although a special breed of forward outright transactions, are analyzed separately.
According to figures published by the Bank for International Settlements, the percentage share of the forward market was 57 percent in 1998 (See Figure 3.1). Translated into U.S. dollars, out of an estimated daily gross turnover of US$1.49 trillion, the total forward market represents US$900 billion.
In the forward market there is no norm with regard to the settlement dates, which range from 3 days to 3 years. Volume in currency swaps longer than one year tends to be light but, technically, there is no impediment to making these deals. Any date past the spot date and within the above range may be a forward settlement, provided that it is a valid business day for both currencies. The forward markets are decentralized markets, with players around the world entering into a variety of deals either on a one-on-one basis or through brokers. In contrast, the currency futures market is a centralized market, in which all the deals are executed on trading floors provided by different exchanges.
Whereas in the futures market only a handful of foreign currencies may be traded in multiples of standardized amounts, the forward markets are open to any currencies in any amount. The forward price consists of two significant parts: the spot exchange rate and the forward spread. The spot rate is the main building block. The forward price is derived from the spot price by adjusting the spot price with the forward spread, so it follows that both forward outright and swap deals are derivative instruments. The forward spread is also known as the forward points or the forward pips. The forward spread is necessary for adjusting the spot rate for specific settlement dates different from the spot date. It holds, then, that the maturity date is another determining factor of the forward price. Just as in the case of the spot market, the left side of the quote is the bid side, and the right side is the offer side.