Selling (Going Short) Coal Futures to Profit from a Fall in Coal Prices

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Short Selling Forex: How to Short a Currency

Did you know that you can trade both bull and bear markets?

We all know how the story goes when prices rise:

You buy and hold an investment until it reaches a higher price and make a profit on the difference between the buying and selling price.

However, many traders don’t understand how bear markets, i.e. falling prices can be used to profitably trade.

What Does Short-Selling Mean?

The usual way of making a profit in financial markets has long been this: you buy a stock, wait for its price to rise and sell it later at a higher price. Your profit would be the difference between your buying and selling price. This is what most stock traders do, they’re looking for stocks that are undervalued, buy them and hope that the price will rise in the future.

Short-selling allows you exactly that.

Short-selling refers to the practice of borrowing financial instruments from your broker and selling them at the current market price, with the anticipation of lower prices in the future. Once the prices fall, a trader would buy the same instruments on the market and return the borrowed instruments to the lender (typically the trader’s broker.)

The trader would make a profit equal to the difference of the selling price (when prices are higher) and the buying price (when prices are lower.)

Here’s a graphic that explains how short-selling work.

Step 1: Naked short seller (“naked” because he doesn’t own the shorted instrument) sells the borrowed instrument to the market (the “buyer”) at the current market price.

Step 2: The short seller buys from the market (in this case, the “seller”) at a lower market price and closes his short-position, making a profit on the difference between the selling and buying price.

Unlike beginners, professional traders don’t hesitate to short-sell a financial instrument. If the analysis is correct, a trader can make money both in bull markets and bear markets, which is the main advantage of short-selling.

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However, bear in mind that short-selling doesn’t come without risks. When buying a financial instrument, there’s theoretically a limited risk associated with the trade. The price of an instrument can only fall to zero, but the upside potential is basically unlimited.

Short-selling is different. Since a trader is profiting from falling prices, there’s a limited profit potential as prices can only fall as low as zero. On the other hand, risks are theoretically unlimited as the price can skyrocket. This is the main reason why beginner traders hesitate to short in the financial markets.

What would you do?

Having strict risk management rules in place is a must when short-selling the market.

With the rising popularity of derivative trading and CFDs, a trader can nowadays short-sell on almost all financial markets. While we’ve focused on stocks in this introduction to explain the concept of short-selling, the same practice works on any other financial market.

Whether you’re trading stocks, currencies, commodities or stock indices, you can profit from falling prices on the markets.

How Do Forex Pairs Work?

There are eight major currencies on the Forex market which are heavily traded on a daily basis. Those are the US dollar, Canadian dollar, British pound, Swiss franc, euro, Japanese yen, Australian dollar and the New Zealand dollar.

However, to trade on the Forex market, traders are dealing with currency pairs and not with individual currencies, because the price of each currency is quoted in terms of a counter-currency.

The first currency in a currency pair is called the base currency and the second currency is called the counter-currency. A rising exchange rate signals any of the following scenarios:

  1. The base currency is appreciating or the counter-currency is depreciating in value
  2. Both the base currency is appreciating and the counter-currency depreciating in value
  3. Both currencies are appreciating, with the extent of appreciation being higher for the base currency
  4. Both currencies are depreciating, with the extent of depreciation being higher for the counter-currency

Read those four points as many times as needed until you fully understand this concept. You need to know what is going on with the base and counter-currencies of a pair when short-selling on the Forex market.

Currency indices can do a great job in determining what currency is appreciating and what is depreciating. For example, take a look at the Dollar index (DXY), which shows the value of the US dollar relative to a basket of six major currencies which have the largest share in the US trade balance.

The following chart shows the US dollar index on the daily timeframe. A bullish candle shows that the US dollar was outperforming most other major currencies that day, while a bearish candle shows a relatively weak greenback.

Finally, currency pairs are usually traded in lots. One lot represents 100,000 units of the base currency. For example, if you short one lot of EUR/USD, you’re basically borrowing €100,000 and selling them at the current market price by funding the position in the counter-value of US dollars.

Can You Short on Forex?

Shorting on Forex is perfectly possible and many traders do it on a regular basis. Unlike on the stock market, risks associated with shorting on Forex are relatively limited because of the inter-relation of currencies in a currency pair.

For an exchange rate to go through the roof, there needs to be dramatic changes in the current market environment.

Similarly, the downside potential of an exchange rate is also limited. It’s an interplay of the value of both currencies that determines the current exchange rate.

Ugly ducklings can throw spanners in the works

However, Black Swan events (unexpected events with severe and long-lasting impact) do happen from time to time on the Forex market and are a nightmare for traders.

Think about the unexpected removal of the EUR/CHF peg by the Swiss National Bank in 2020. The value of the Swiss franc soared by 30% in a matter of minutes. This led to dramatic losses to many market participants who were short on the franc.

Another good example is the Brexit vote in 2020. Investors who were short on the EUR/GBP pair either finished the day with high losses or blew their account completely.

Rollovers and financing

When shorting on the Forex market, you also need to be aware of the rollover and financing costs which can decrease your potential profits.

Since you’re shorting the one currency and funding the position with the other currency of a currency pair, you’ll have to pay interest payments on the shorted currency. That said, you will earn interest payments on the funding currency.

If the interest rate of the shorted currency is higher than that of the funding currency, you’ll incur interest costs equal to the difference in interest rates. And if the interest rate of the shorted currency is lower than that of the funding currency, you’ll earn the difference in interest rates.

In addition, if you’re shorting on leverage, your broker will charge you financing costs depending on the amount you’ve borrowed. Financing costs usually depend on the current interbank rates plus your broker’s markup.

Watch: Is Leverage Your Friend or Foe?

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Best Currencies to Short

How to determine which currencies to short and which not to?

It depends on the analysis you’re using to find trades on the market.

As you already know, the best currencies to short are those which have the highest chance of losing value in the coming period.

Currency pairs that have formed reversal chart patterns on the daily chart during uptrends could be good candidates to short. Popular reversal chart patterns include:

  • Head and shoulders pattern
  • Double tops
  • Triple tops
  • Rising wedges (during uptrends)
  • Triangle breakouts

You can also short currency pairs that have formed continuation chart patterns during downtrends, such as bearish wedges and triangle and rectangle breakouts to the downside.

Fibonacci levels also offer an excellent opportunity to enter into a short position if the price rejects an important Fib level, signalling that a downtrend is about to continue. Rejections of the 61.8% and 38.2% Fib levels are often used to enter into a short position during a downtrend.

Some traders like to use fundamental analysis to find good candidates for shorting.

Currencies that have a high chance of a rate cut (for example, because of weak economic growth, rising unemployment levels or weak inflation) are good to short-sell. Capital flows to currencies which have the highest interest rates, causing low-yielding currencies to depreciate and high-yielding currencies to appreciate.

Finally, political and economic turmoil, especially in emerging market countries, often cause a depreciation of the domestic currency.

Best and Worst Time to Short the Market

Despite being the largest, most liquid and most traded market in the world, there are times at which you should stand on the sidelines.

To explain the best and worst times to short the market, let’s quickly go through the main Forex trading sessions and their liquidity.

The Forex market is an over-the-counter market that trades during trading sessions, which are basically large financial centres where the majority of the daily Forex transactions take place. It’s no wonder that the largest world economies also have the largest share in the daily trading turnover.

The main four Forex trading sessions are:

Recently, Singapore and Hong Kong have also become big players in the currency market.

New York

The New York session, also called the US session, is a heavily traded session during which major US economic reports are published. After the London session, the New York session is the most liquid of all Forex trading sessions with a high number of buyers and sellers available for all major currencies.

When the New York session is at its peak, it’s safe to short-sell a currency pair.

London

The London session is the largest European session and the most liquid trading session of all. The geographic location of London, being in between east and west, allows traders from both the US and Asia to trade during the London open market hours. The few hours during which the New York and the London sessions overlap represent the most-liquid and most-traded hours of all.

During these hours, it’s safe to scalp and short-sell at the same time.

Sydney and Tokyo

Finally, the Sydney and Tokyo sessions are major Asian sessions that trade when London and New York close. Asian currencies, such as the Japanese yen, Australian dollar, and New Zealand dollar are heavily traded during those sessions.

This makes it relatively safe to short those currencies against other majors.

Liquidity is your friend

As you’ve noticed, we mentioned the term “liquidity” several times. If you’re a day trader or scalper, you should only trade and short-sell during periods of high liquidity. Avoid short-selling during these times:

  1. Low liquidity – Liquidity refers to the number of market participants who are ready to buy or sell a financial instrument. If there is a high number of buyers and sellers, the liquidity is high. Similarly, a small number of active market participants are a characteristic of low liquidity. Liquidity is important because it allows you to immediately open and close a position with a market participant who has the opposite market order. When you buy, someone else has to sell, and vice-versa. In times of low liquidity, spreads can widen significantly and slippage can eat up a hefty portion of your profits.
  2. Major economic announcements – Markets can become quite volatile during times of major economic announcements. If you’re a scalper or day trader, avoid short-selling during these times.
  3. Ahead of important political and economic events – Think about Brexit, the presidential elections and the European sovereign debt crisis. All these events and the associated headlines can send shockwaves through the markets.

How to Close a Short Position?

After you’ve opened a short position, you’ll eventually want to close it to lock in profits or limit losses.

Remember what we’ve said in the introduction about short-selling. A short-seller borrows a currency, sells it at the current market price, waits for the price to fall and buys the currency later at a lower price in order to return the loan.

So, after you sell a currency, you’ll have to buy it to close a short position. This can be done either to lock in profits or to cut losses if the trade starts to go against you. If the currency starts to rise, you’ll still have to buy it in order to return the loan, only that in this case you’ll pay more than what you sold the currency for and incur a loss.

If your trade is in profit, the best time to close a short position is in times of high liquidity. This will ensure a tight spread and allow you to find a buyer close to the current market price.

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Shareholders

Stock markets are measured by stock indexes (or indices), such as the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) in New York, and the FTSE 100 index (often called the Footsie) in London. These indexes show changes in the average prices of a selected group of important stocks. There have been several stock market crashes when these indexes have fallen considerably on a single day (e.g. ‘Black Monday 5 , 19 October 1987, when the DJIA lost 22.6%).

Financial journalists use some animal names to describe investors:

■ bulls are investors who expect prices to rise

■ bears are investors who expect them to fall

■ stags are investors who buy new share issues hoping that they will be over-subscribed. This means they hope there will be more demand than available stocks, so the successful buyers can immediately sell their stocks at a profit.

A period when most of the stocks on a market rise is called a bull market. A period when most of them fall in value is a bear market.

Dividends and capital gains

Companies that make a profit either pay a dividend to their stockholders, or retain their earnings by keeping the profits in the company, which causes the value of the stocks to rise. Stockholders can then make a capital gain – increase the amount of money they have – by selling their stocks at a higher price than they paid for them. Some stockholders prefer not to receive dividends, because the tax they pay on capital gains is lower than the income tax they pay on dividends. When an investor buys shares on the secondary market they are either cum div, meaning the investor will receive the next dividend the company pays, or ex div, meaning they will not. Cum div share prices are higher, as they include the estimated value of the coming dividend.

Institutional investors generally keep stocks for a long period, but there are also speculators – people who buy and sell shares rapidly, hoping to make a profit. These include day traders – people who buy stocks and sell them again before the settlement day. This is the day on which they have to pay for the stocks they have purchased, usually three business days after the trade was made. If day traders sell at a profit before settlement day, they never have to pay for their shares. Day traders usually work with online brokers on the internet, who charge low commissions – fees for buying or selling stocks for customers. Speculators who expect a price to fall can take a short position, which means agreeing to sell stocks in the future at their current price, before they actually own them. They then wait for the price to fall before buying and selling the stocks. The opposite – a long position – means actually owning a security or other asset: that is buying it and having it recorded in one’s account.

June 1: Sell 1,000 Microsoft stocks, to be delivered June 4, at current market price: $26.20 June 3: Stock falls to $25.90. Buy 1,000

June 4: Settlement day. Pay for 1,000 stocks @ $25.90, receive 1,000 x $26.20. Profit $300

A short position

31.1 Label the graph with words from the box. Look at A opposite to help you.

bull market crash

1984 1985 1986 1987 1988

31.2 Answer the questions. Look at A, B and C opposite to help you.

1 How do stags make a profit?

2 Why do some investors prefer not to receive dividends?

3 How do you make a profit from a short position?

31.3 Make word combinations using a word or phrase from each box. Some words can be used twice. Then use the correct forms of the word combinations to complete the sentences below. Look at B and C opposite to help you.

make a capital gain
own a dividend
pay earnings
receive a position
retain a profit
take securities
tax

1 I. less. on capital gains

than on income. So as a shareholder, I prefer

not to. a. If the

company. its. , I can

selling my shares at a profit instead.

2 Day trading is exciting because if a share price

falls, you can. a. by

. a short. But it’s risky

Would you like to be

selling. that you don’t even

The sculpture of a bull near the New York Stock Exchange

a day trader? Or would you be frightened of taking such risks?

Influences on share prices

Share prices depend on a number of factors:

■ the financial situation of the company

■ the situation of the industry in which the company operates

■ the state of the economy in general

■ the beliefs of investors – whether they believe the share price will rise or fall, and whether they believe other investors will think this.

Prices can go up or down and the question for investors – and speculators – is: can these price changes be predicted, or seen in advance? When price-sensitive information – news that affects a company’s value – arrives, a share price will change. But no one knows when or what that information will be. So information about past prices will not tell you what tomorrow’s price will be.

There are different theories about whether share price changes can be predicted.

■ The random walk hypothesis. Prices move along a ‘random walk’ – this means day-to­day changes arc completely random or unpredictable.

■ The efficient market hypothesis. Share prices always accurately or exactly reflect all relevant information. It is therefore a waste of time to attempt to discover patterns or trends – general changes in behaviour – in price movements.

Head and shoulders pattern

■ Technical analysis. Technical analysts are people who believe that studying past share prices does allow them to forecast future price changes. They believe that market prices result from the psychology of investors rather than from real economic values, so they look for trends in buying and selling behaviour, such as the c head and shoulders’ pattern.

■ Fundamental analysis. This is the opposite of technical analysis: it ignores the behaviour of investors and assumes that a share has a true or correct value, which might be different from its stock market value. This means that markets are not efficient. The true value reflects the present value of the future income from dividends.

Analysts distinguish between systematic risk and unsystematic risk. Unsystematic risks are things that affect individual companies, such as production problems or a sudden fall in sales. Investors can reduce these by having a diversified portfolio: buying lots of different types of securities. Systematic risks, however, cannot be eliminated in this way. For example market risk cannot be avoided by diversification: if a stock market falls, all the shares listed on it will fall to some extent.

32.1 Match the two parts of the sentences. Look at A and B opposite to help you.

1 The random walk theory states that

2 The efficient market hypothesis is that

3 Technical analysts believe that

4 Fundamental analysts believe that

a studying charts of past stock prices allows you to predict future changes,

b stocks are correctly priced so it is impossible to make a profit by finding undervalued ones,

c you can calculate a stock’s true value, which might not be the same as its market price,

d it is impossible to predict future changes in stock prices.

32.2 Are the following statements true or false? Find reasons for your answers in B and C opposite.

1 Fundamental analysts think that stock prices depend on psychological factors – what people think and feci – rather than pure economic data.

2 Fundamental analysts say that the true value of a stock is all the income it will bring an investor in the future, measured at today’s money values.

3 Investors can protect themselves against unknown, unsystematic risks by having a broad collection of different investments.

4 Unsystematic risks can affect an investor’s entire portfolio.

32.3 Match the theories (1-3) to the statements (a-c). Look at B opposite to help you.

1 fundamental analysis

2 technical analysis

3 efficient market hypothesis

Share prices are correct at any given time. When new information appears,

they change to a new correct price.

By analysing a company, you can determine its real value. This sometimes allows you to make a profit by buying underpriced shares.

It’s not only the facts about a company that matter: the stock price also depends on what investors think or feel about the company’s future.

Do you believe that it is possible to find undervalued stocks, predict future price and regularly get returns that are higher than the stock market average?

Government and corporate bonds

Bonds are loans to local and national governments and to large companies. The holders of bonds generally receive fixed interest payments, once or twice a year, and get their money – known as the principal – back on a given maturity date. This is the date when the loan ends.

Governments issue bonds to raise money and they are considered to be a risk-free investment. In Britain government bonds are known as gilt-edged stock or just gilts. In the US they are called Treasury notes, which have a maturity of 2-10 years, and Treasury bonds, which have a maturity of 10-30 years. (There are also short-term Treasury bills which have a different function: see Units 25 and 27.)

Companies issue bonds, called corporate bonds, because they can usually pay less interest to bondholders than they would have to pay if they raised the same money by a bank loan. These bonds are generally safer than shares, because if a company cannot repay its debts it can be declared bankrupt. If this happens, the creditors can force the company to stop doing business, and sell its assets to repay them. In this way, bondholders will probably get some of their money back.

Borrowers – the companies issuing bonds – are given credit ratings by credit agencies such as Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s. This means that they are graded, or rated, according to their ability to repay the loan to the bondholders. The highest grade (AAA or Aaa) means that there is almost no risk that the borrower will default – fail to pay interest or to repay the principal. Lower grades (e.g. Baa, BBB, C, etc.) mean an increasing risk of the borrower becoming insolvent – unable to pay interest or repay the capital.

Prices and yields

Bonds are traded by banks which act as market makers for their customers, quoting bid and offer prices with a very small spread or difference between them. (See Unit 30) The price of bonds varies inversely with interest rates. This means that if interest rates rise, so that new borrowers have to pay a higher rate, existing bonds lose value. If interest rates fall, existing bonds paying a higher interest rate than the market rate increase in value. Consequently the yield of a bond – how much income it gives – depends on its purchase price as well as its coupon or interest rate. There are also floating-rate notes – bonds whose interest rate varies with market interest rates.

Other types of bonds

When interest rates are high, some companies issue convertible shares or convertibles, which are bonds that the owner can later change into shares. Convertibles pay lower interest rates than ordinary bonds, because the buyer gets the chance of making a profit with the convertible option.

There are also zero coupon bonds that pay no interest but are sold at a big discount on their par value, which is 100%, and repaid at 100% at maturity. Because they pay no interest, their owners don’t receive money every year (and so don’t have to decide how to reinvest it); instead they make a capital gain at maturity.

Bonds with a low credit rating (and a high chance of default), but paying a high interest rate, are called junk bonds. Some of these are known as fallen angels – bonds of companies that were previously in a good financial situation, while others are issued to finance leveraged buyouts. (See Unit 40)

BrE: convertible share; AmE: convertible bond

33.1 Match the words in the box with the definitions below. Look at A and B opposite to help you.

coupon maturity date
credit rating principal
gilt-edged stock Treasury bonds
default Treasury notes
insolvent yield

1 the amount of capital making up a loan

2 an estimation of a borrower’s solvency or ability to pay debts

3 bonds issued by the British government

4 non-payment of interest or a loan at the scheduled time

5 the day when a bond has to be repaid

6 long-term bonds issued by the American government

7 the amount of interest that a bond pays

8 medium-term (2-10 year) bonds issued by the American government

9 the rate of income an investor receives from a security 10 unable to pay debts

33.2 Are the following statements true or false? Find reasons for your answers in A, B and C opposite.

1 Bonds are repaid at 100% when they mature, unless the borrower is insolvent.

2 Bondholders are guaranteed to get all their money back if a company goes bankrupt.

3 AAA bonds are a very safe investment.

4 A bond paying 5% interest would gain in value if interest rates rose to 6%.

5 The price of floating-rate notes doesn’t vary very much, because they always pay market interest rates.

6 The owners of convertibles have to change them into shares.

7 Some bonds do not pay interest, but are repaid at above their selling price.

8 Junk bonds have a high credit rating, and a relatively low chance of default.

33.3 Answer the questions. Look at A, B and C opposite to help you.

1 Which is the safest for an investor?

A a corporate bond B a junk bond C a government bond

2 Which is the cheapest way for a company to raise money?

A a bank loan B an ordinary bond C a convertible

3 Which gives the highest potential return to an investor?

A a corporate bond B a junk bond C a government bond

4 Which is the most profitable for an investor if interest rates rise?

A a Treasury bond B a floating-rate note C a Treasury note

Is this a good time to buy bonds? Why/why not?

Forward and futures contracts are agreements to sell an asset at a fixed price on a fixed date in the future. Futures are traded on a wide range of agricultural products (including wheat, maize, soybeans, pork, beef, sugar, tea, coffee, cocoa and orange juice), industrial metals (aluminium, copper, lead, nickel and zinc), precious metals (gold, silver, platinum and palladium) and oil. These products are known as commodities. Futures were invented to enable regular buyers and sellers of commodities to protect themselves against losses or to hedge against future changes in the price. If they both agree to hedge, the seller (e.g. an orange grower) is protected from a fall in price and the buyer (e.g. an orange juice manufacturer) is protected from a rise in price.

Futures are standardized contracts – contracts which are for fixed quantities (such as one ton of copper or 100 ounces of gold) and fixed time periods (normally three, six or nine months) – that are traded on a special exchange. Forwards are individual, non- standardized contracts between two parties, traded over-the-counter – directly, between two companies or financial institutions, rather than through an exchange. The futures price for a commodity is normally higher than its spot price – the price that would be paid for immediate delivery. Sometimes, however, short-term demand pushes the spot price above the future price. This is called backwardation.

Futures and forwards are also used by speculators – people who hope to profit from price changes.

More recently, financial futures have been developed. These are standardized contracts, traded on exchanges, to buy and sell financial assets. Financial assets such as currencies, interest rates, stocks and stock market indexes fluctuate – continuously vary – so financial futures are used to fix a value for a specified future date (e.g. sell euros for dollars at a rate of € 1 for $1.20 on June 30).

■ Currency futures and forwards are contracts that specify the price at which a certain currency will be bought or sold on a specified date.

■ Interest rate futures are agreements between banks and investors and companies to issue fixed income securities (bonds, certificates of deposit, money market deposits, etc.) at a future date.

■ Stock futures fix a price for a stock and stock index futures fix a value for an index (e.g. the Dow Jones or the FTSE) on a certain date. They are alternatives to buying the stocks or shares themselves.

Like futures for physical commodities, financial futures can be used both to hedge and to speculate. Obviously the buyer and seller of a financial future have different opinions about what will happen to exchange rates, interest rates and stock prices. They are both taking an unlimited risk, because there could be huge changes in rates and prices during the period of the contract. Futures trading is a zero-sum game, because the amount of money gained by one party will be the same as the sum lost by the other.

34.1 Match the words in the box with the definitions below. Look at A opposite to help you

backwardation commodities forwards futures
to hedge over-the-counter spot price

1 the price for the immediate purchase and delivery of a commodity

2 the situation when the current price is higher than the future price

3 adjective describing a contract made between two businesses, not using an exchange

4 contracts for non-standardized quantities or time periods

5 physical substances, such as food, fuel and metals, that can be bought or sold with futures contracts

6 to protect yourself against loss

7 contracts to buy or sell standardized quantities

34.2 Complete the sentences using a word or phrase from each box. Look at A and B opposite to help you.

u banks v companies w farmers

A Commodity futures allow B Interest rate futures allow C Currency futures allow

x food manufacturers y importers z investors

1 to charge a consistent price for their products.

2 to be sure of the rate they will get on bonds which could be

issued at a different rate in the future.

3 to know at what price they can borrow money to finance

4 to make plans knowing what price they will get for their crops.

5 to offer fixed lending rates.

6 . to remove exchange rate risks from future international

34.3 Are the following statements true or false? Find reasons for your answers in B opposite.

1 Financial futures were created because exchange rates, interest rates and stock prices all regularly change.

2 Interest rate futures are related to stocks and shares.

3 Financial futures contracts allow companies to protect themselves against short-term changes in exchange rates.

4 You can only hedge if someone who expects a price to move in the opposite direction is willing to buy or sell a contract.

5 Both parties can make money out of the same futures contract.

Look at some commodity prices, and decide if you think they will rise or fall over the next three months. Check in three months 1 time to see if you would have made or lost money by buying or selling futures.

China Coal Energy’s first-half profit plunges 76pc

First-half net earnings of listed unit of the mainland’s No2 producer hit by falling prices

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