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17.20 Foreign Exchange Market

A foreign exchange market is where one currency is traded for another. There is a demand for each currency and a supply of each currency. In these markets, one currency is bought using another. The price of one currency in terms of another (for example, how many dollars it costs to buy one Mexican peso) is called the exchange rate.

Foreign currencies are demanded by domestic households, firms, and governments who wish to purchase goods, services, or financial assets that are denominated in the currency of another economy. For example, if a US auto importer wants to buy a German car, it must buy euros. The law of demand holds: as the price of a foreign currency increases, the quantity of that currency demanded will decrease.

Foreign currencies are supplied by foreign households, firms, and governments that wish to purchase goods, services, or financial assets denominated in the domestic currency. For example, if a Canadian bank wants to buy a US government bond, it must sell Canadian dollars. As the price of a foreign currency increases, the quantity supplied of that currency increases.

Exchange rates are determined just like other prices: by the interaction of supply and demand. At the equilibrium exchange rate, the supply and demand for a currency are equal. Shifts in the supply or demand for a currency lead to changes in the exchange rate. Because one currency is exchanged for another in a foreign exchange market, the demand for one currency entails the supply of another. Thus the dollar market for euros (where the price is dollars per euro and the quantity is euros) is the mirror image of the euro market for dollars (where the price is euros per dollar and the quantity is dollars).

To be concrete, consider the demand for and supply of euros. The supply of euros comes from the following:

  • European households and firms that wish to buy goods and services from non-euro countries
  • European investors who wish to buy assets (government debt, stocks, bonds, etc.) that are denominated in currencies other than the euro

The demand for euros comes from the following:

  • Households and firms in non-euro countries that wish to buy goods and services from Europe
  • Investors in non-euro countries that wish to buy assets (government debt, stocks, bonds, etc.) that are denominated in euros

Figure 17.17 "The Foreign Exchange Market" shows the dollar market for euros. On the horizontal axis is the quantity of euros traded. On the vertical axis is the price in terms of dollars. The intersection of the supply and demand curves determines the equilibrium exchange rate.

Figure 17.17 The Foreign Exchange Market

The foreign exchange market can be used as a basis for comparative statics exercises. We can study how changes in an economy affect the exchange rate. For example, suppose there is an increase in the level of economic activity in the United States. This will lead to an increase in the demand for European goods and services. To make these purchases, US households and firms will demand more euros. This will cause an outward shift in the demand curve and an increase in the dollar price of euros.

When the dollar price of a euro increases, we say that the dollar has depreciated relative to the euro. From the perspective of the euro, the depreciation of the dollar represents an appreciation of the euro.

Key Insights

  • As the exchange rate increases (so a currency becomes more valuable), a greater quantity of the currency is supplied to the market and a smaller quantity is demanded.