Spot Exchange Rates Explained

Spot exchange rates show how much you must pay to buy or trade one currency for another.

The foreign exchange (forex) market controls currency spot rate regulations. The market sets the price currently available, which traders can lock in for settlement as early as possible – usually within two working days.

Central banks can also set spot exchange rates through a currency peg or take steps to influence the spot rate by adjusting interest rates.

Forex is the most liquid international market, with millions of pounds of transactions processed daily.

What Are Spot Exchange Rates?

The spot rate is the price you pay to buy a currency now. The most actively traded currencies include US dollars, euros, British pounds, Japanese yen and Canadian dollars.

US dollars are the primary currency used in global reserves and forex trades, followed by the euro used throughout continental Europe. Forex trades occur electronically over the decentralised market between:

  • Traders and investors
  • Mutual and hedge funds
  • Insurance providers
  • Government bodies
  • Large and multinational banks
  • International corporations

Spot exchange rates can be used as an investment strategy but are commonly used to determine the rate for transactions covering exports and imports.

While most currencies have a spot rate set by the forex market, some, particularly those of developing countries, peg their currency to another and therefore have a static exchange rate with that denomination.

For example, the Barbados dollar is pegged at $2 BDS to $1 USD, and the Chinese central government pegs the yuan within a range of the USD price.

Facilitating A Spot Rate Transaction

The exchange rate for a forex transaction at the spot rate is confirmed immediately but settled two business days later. The exception is trading USD against CAD, where transactions settle on the following working day, Monday to Friday, excluding national holidays in either country.

Where a spot exchange is made on the weekend or over a period that coincides with a national holiday, the transaction will not settle for up to five days or possibly more.

The parties taking part in the transaction agree to the exchange rate and volume of the trade on the transaction date and confirm the settlement date.

Speculators use spot rates to buy and sell numerous times, often with all trades settling simultaneously to try and make a gain. In this scenario, the net gains and losses are calculated and settled in one combined transaction – no currency changes hands.

Contrasts Between Forward And Spot Rates

Spot rates reflect the cost of a transaction agreed there and then, whereas a forward currency rate is a price available to exchange that currency to clearing on a predetermined point in the future.

Bond markets use forward rates, which are affected by interest rates, the available yield, and the maturity date when the bond is surrendered.

The difference is that bond markets determine the cost of a commodity based on the anticipated yield over a fixed period, so the forward rate will be higher than the interest rate if the bond is approaching maturity.

For example, if a trader purchased a $1,000 two-year bond with a ten per cent interest rate and due to mature in one year, they might achieve a forward rate of 21 per cent, expecting a gain of $210.

In forex, the forward rate is the exchange rate available for future settlements, whereas the spot rate is the exchange rate available immediately.

Options For Spot Exchange Trading

Most spot forex transactions are managed through an online trading system, which deals with foreign exchange trades and has a range of ways to execute a transaction.

  • Direct execution means the two traders finalise their exchange directly, using a dealing system or managing the transaction independently.
  • Brokerage platforms support electronic trading and automatic order matching to support forex trades.
  • Electronic trading systems allow investors to execute spot rate trades, either with a single bank or a multibank platform. In addition, these computer programmes provide live market rates open to investors to access global financial markets.
  • Inter-dealer voice brokers provide brokerage services over the phone, acting as an intermediary between the parties or on behalf of an institutional client.

Because most of the forex market is managed digitally, the most common way to execute a foreign exchange trade at the spot rate is through an online brokerage platform.

Factors That Impact The Spot Exchange Rate

The reason that forex is considered such high-risk is that prices can move dramatically and quickly. However, economic and political indicators often warn that a change to the spot rate is likely.

Numerous factors feeding into the spot rate are determined by the forex market, including investor confidence, supply and demand, economic growth or contraction, inflation, interest rates and the relative strength of one currency against another.


Lower inflation in one country usually means that exports are more competitive, and demand increases for that currency to buy goods at a lower price than elsewhere. As a result, countries with low inflation tend to see their currencies appreciate.

For example, if inflation in the UK were lower than in other countries, the goods purchased from Britain would be more competitively priced than those from foreign countries, meaning that UK consumers would buy fewer imported products.

Interest rates

Although not always the case, a higher interest rate typically causes a currency to appreciate, whereas cutting interest rates causes depreciation.

Investors who believe a currency will rise will buy the currency now to profit on a higher spot rate anticipated in the future.

Exchange rate movements do not always reflect fundamental economic indicators. Instead, they are often caused by investor speculation or the climate of the financial markets and how they foresee the likelihood of medium-term changes.

Governments can also intervene to influence the spot rate available against their currency, in effect undervaluing the national denomination to ensure exports remain competitive. In addition, they usually purchase foreign currencies to boost the comparable value.

Balance of payments

The balance of payments compares the value of a country’s imported goods and services against total exports. The currency is stable if a county has a surplus of finances to fund this. However, if the balance of payments is in the red, the currency will likely depreciate.

Relative strength

Relative strength refers to how a currency appreciates or depreciates against another. For example, even if a currency has low growth and low-interest rates, it might appreciate if it is considered more stable than another.

Economic growth

A country’s economic growth can make a currency rise or fall in value.

Government debts

If a government has high borrowing levels, and there is any hint that it might default on debt, forex traders are likely to sell quickly to cause the spot rate to decline.

Spot Exchange Rates Explained FAQ

What are spot exchange rates in forex?

The spot exchange rate indicates the price set by the forex market for any given currency. Spot refers to the price you could buy a currency for on the spot rather than a forward contract or transaction with a deferred settlement date.

Although trades are confirmed at the spot rate, they usually settle within two working days.

How many spot exchange transactions are processed per day?

The New York Fed published a survey in October 2021 that evaluated daily trading volumes across forex and found that all instruments, including spot, forward, swap and option trades were worth £878.31 million on average.

Spot trades accounted for over £354 million of the average daily trades, making it a more popular transaction than any other.

Who decides the spot rate for a currency?

The forex market typically sets spot rates, although some countries have currency pegs or other mechanisms influencing the spot rate.

How does the spot market work?

The spot market is highly volatile because speculation, technical trading indicators or announcements that may affect the relative strength of a currency can quickly influence exchange rates.

Economic indicators and the differentials between national interest rates affect longer-term spot rates.

Central banks control the domestic currency and financial markets of each country. However, they may intervene to steady economic turbulence and a weakening spot rate by buying or selling currency or changing underlying interest base rates.

How do I execute a currency transaction at the spot rate?

Traders and investors can execute spot rate exchanges in several ways, either as a direct transaction with another party or, more commonly, through an online brokerage.

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