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Forex Forward Rates

Updated on July 11, 2013
one2get2no profile image

Philip retired from investment banking to write. To date he has written 9 books on trading forex, 3 short stories, and one poetry book.

Spot trading allows users to hedge whatever foreign exchange risk exists in the present, the forward foreign exchange markets are used to hedge risks in the future. There is essentially one reason why an institution would want to use forward foreign exchange and that is to hedge an exposure. The forward markets are a critical component of risk management to all three categories of forex users. The users are the corporate firms who are the hedgers, the speculators, and the markets makers, who are the banks.

Let’s look at an example of how a forex forward is used to hedge a currency risk exposure. An American importer of Japanese cars has agreed to pay for the cars in Yen and take delivery of the cars in three months time. What could happen to the dollar in the intervening three months before the importer takes delivery of the cars and pays for them? Well two things could happen.

Profit/Loss
Spot
Spot in 3 months
profit
87.77
89.80
loss
87.77
87.00

The dollar could appreciate against the yen and the importer would make a profit. Or, the dollar could depreciate against the yen and the importer would make a loss.

The importer is in the business of buying cars not in the business of speculating on exchange or currency risks. So if he locks in a rate today by buying the yen forward on the delivery date of the cars, the importer will gain two advantages.

1. He knows exactly how many dollars are needed to buy the yen.

2. He knows the price level at which to sell the cars at a profit.


A forward foreign exchange transaction is essentially an agreement to buy or sell a currency on a date that is greater than the spot date. The rate is agreed today with delivery of the currency at an agreed future date. The usual forward dates are 1, 2, 3, 6 and 12 months although if a customer wanted an odd time interval such as less than one month a bank would calculate this and quote a price.

What Determines a Forward Rate?

In theory there is no reason why the forward rate cannot be the same as the spot rate. In reality however, they rarely are.

Using the sterling pound/dollar rate as an example what is actually calculated is a spot rate and a net interest adjustment. This is because interest rates vary between countries.  Let us assume for a moment that the sterling pound/dollar spot rate and the sterling pound/dollar one month forward rate are the same. At 1.5600 and the sterling interest rate for one month was 8% and the dollar interest rate for one month was 5%.

Forward Rate = Spot Rate + Interest for one month

 
Spot
Forward
GBP/USD
1.5600
1.5600
Interest Rate
8%
5%
 
 
 

Since the basis for the forward market is the Euro currency interest rates what is actually calculated is the spread between the Eurodollar and Euro sterling interest rates.

An American investor decides to invest 1m sterling in the Euro Sterling one month at a rate of 8% rather than in the euro dollar market at a rate of 5%.


Currency
Rate
L/S
£MM
$
£ INV
$ INV
R%
Period
Return
£/$
1.5650
+
1
 
1,000,000
1,565,000
7.50
1m
£6,250
 
 
 
 
 
 
1,560,000
5.50
1m
$7,172
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
£/$
1.5650
-
1,006,250
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
+
 
1,574,781
 
 
 
 
$9,781

In the top window above we can see that the investor has purchased one million sterling at a spot rate of 1.5650 paying $1.565.000 in exchange. The investor invests the sterling for one month in the Euro sterling market at 7.50% giving him a return of £6,250.00 sterling in interest. At the same time he enters into a forward transaction to sell sterling plus the interest earned into dollars at the same rate of 1.5650 and realises an overall profit of $9,781.00 and a net gain of $2,609.00 over an assumed dollar investment at 5.50% in the Eurodollar 1 month market.

Having the spot £/$ rate the same as the £/$ rate could not happen in reality for the following reasons:

  • Many investors buying spot sterling would put pressure on the spot sterling to appreciate
  • It would also put pressure on the Euro sterling 1 month rate to fall.
  • At the same time there would be pressure on the Eurodollar 1 month rate to rise.
  • Many investors selling sterling 1 month forward would put a lot of pressure on the1month sterling to depreciate.

Below are the new numbers reflecting the outcome of the interest rates and currency rates changing.

Currency
Rate
L/S
£MM
$
£ INV
$ INV
R%
Period
Return
£/$
1.5700
+
1
 
1,000,000
1,571,000
7.00
1m
£5,833
 
 
 
 
 
 
1,571,000
6.00
1m
$7,855
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
£/$
1.5696
-
1,005,833
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
+
 
1,578,855
 
 
 
 
$7,855

The euro sterling 1 month is at 7% and the 1 month euro dollar at 6% reflecting an interest differential of 1% annualised. The difference between the sterling spot rate and the sterling 1 month forward rate is also 1% annualised. Therefore the percentage return on the investment is 6%. Forward rates always reflect the interest rate differential between two currencies. The base currency with the higher interest rate for a certain period is always discounted on the forward rate for the same period and the base currency with a lower interest rate is at a premium forward for the same period.

How do we calculate a forward exchange rate?

The future value of a currency is the present value of the currency plus the interest that it earns over time in the country of issue. Using simple annualized interest, this can be represented as:

Future Value of Currency (FV)

FV=P(1+r)n

FV = Future Value of Currency
P = Principal
r = interest rate per year
n = number of years

So for example if the annual sterling interest rate in the United Kingdom was 6% then 1 sterling pound would be worth £1.0600 in one years time. The dollar interest rate for the same period is 4%. So if there are 1.5000 dollars to 1 sterling pound then 1.5*0.04 = 0.06. So the dollar would be worth 1.5600 in a year’s time. To work out the forward rate we do the following calculation.

1.5000 * (1+0.0400)1/ (1+0.0600)1 = 1.4717

So the outright forward rate for £/$ in one year is 1.4700 dollars to one sterling pound. As the sterling interest rate is 6% and the dollar interest rate is 4% the sterling/dollar forward rate is discounted forward by 300 pips because the sterling interest rate is higher than the dollar interest rate.

Forward rates are usually quoted as pips to be added or subtracted from the spot rate. For example the one year forward quote for GBP/USD might be 280 / 260 on the prevailing spot rate of 1.5155-58. As we know that the forward currency is discounted forward because the sterling interest rate is higher than the dollar interest rate for the same period, we will subtract the pips from the spot rate.

Spot £/$ is 1.5155 – 1.5158

1 year forward 280 – 260

1 year GBP/USD forward outright is 1.4875 - 1.5898 because we subtract the forward pips from the spot rate. Notice that if there is no plus (+) or minus (–) sign in front of the quoted forward pips and we don’t know what the prevailing interest rates are we always subtract the forward pips if the bid side pips are higher than the offer side pips and add the pips if the bid side pips are lower than the offer side pips.

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    • one2get2no profile imageAUTHOR

      Philip Cooper 

      6 years ago from Olney

      The calculation of profit is in the body of the article Edem.

    • profile image

      Edem 

      6 years ago

      is there a way of calculating expected profit on a forward contract?

    • one2get2no profile imageAUTHOR

      Philip Cooper 

      6 years ago from Olney

      Matt....a futures contract has nothing to do with interest rate differentials it is simply the supply and demand for the particular asset in the future. A buyer expects the asset to increase in value and the seller expects the asset to decrease in value. As an example at 12pm GMT today the 3m eur/usd futures price was exactly the same as the spot price.

    • profile image

      matt 

      6 years ago

      the exact settlement prices for friday's cme eur/usd futures were 1.3404 for december 2011 and 1.3414 for march 2012. Given that europe has higher interest rates - shouldnt march 2012 trade less than december 2011?

    • profile image

      matt 

      6 years ago

      thank you for your response, but i am still confused, if the forwards are 8-11 and spot is 1.3390-1.3393, then the 3 month forward is 1.3398-1.3404. Look at the cme futures spreads - march eur/usd futures are trading 10 pips or .001 over and above december. This does not make any sense to me given the interest rate differentials. Further explanation would be greatly appreciated.

    • one2get2no profile imageAUTHOR

      Philip Cooper 

      6 years ago from Olney

      Matt....The 3 month forwards are 8.4 and 11.4 with the spot at 1.3390-1.3393. That puts the outright forward at 1.3381 which is a discount to spot of 1% which is the interest rate differential between Europe and America.

    • one2get2no profile imageAUTHOR

      Philip Cooper 

      7 years ago from Olney

      Thank you Dwight..much appreciated.

    • profile image

      yamindfdfdf 

      7 years ago

      Incredible List, It help me a lot.

      I have bookmarked your post. Thanks for sharing. jack

    • profile image

      waqar ahmad 

      7 years ago

      This blog is really nice and the given information is worth remembering .

    • profile image

      Forex Italia 

      7 years ago

      very interesting article

    • one2get2no profile imageAUTHOR

      Philip Cooper 

      7 years ago from Olney

      Khanna some forex broker sites quote forward rates but your best bet is to contact your local bank and ask them for their forward rates.

    • profile image

      khanna 

      7 years ago

      hi, i am a university student. where can i find the forward exchange rate that is quoted by the bank? is there any data available for forward exchange rat?

    • one2get2no profile imageAUTHOR

      Philip Cooper 

      7 years ago from Olney

      Sorry Rasool I don,t...I know only of sites where you can trade currencies.

    • profile image

      rasool bux 

      7 years ago

      Do you know of a reputable site that allows you to purchase money in a foreign currency before leaving home for a trip abroad? Which one's might actually give a good rate? thanks!

    • one2get2no profile imageAUTHOR

      Philip Cooper 

      8 years ago from Olney

      Thank you Entourage glad it helped.

    • Entourage_007 profile image

      Stuart 

      8 years ago from Santa Barbara, CA

      Thank you for writing this article, this has helped me understand a lot of things about Forex.

    • one2get2no profile imageAUTHOR

      Philip Cooper 

      8 years ago from Olney

      Thank you for your kind comment.

    • profile image

      Aqeel 

      8 years ago

      Very detailed explanation of Forex Forward Rates.

    • one2get2no profile imageAUTHOR

      Philip Cooper 

      8 years ago from Olney

      Good insight jb...you have a good point here.

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