Franklin Escher

Underlying the whole business of foreign exchange is the way in which obligations between creditors in one country and debtors in another have come to be settled—‌by having the creditor draw a draft directly upon the debtor or upon some bank designated by him. A merchant in New York has sold a bill of goods to a merchant in London, having thus become his creditor, say, for $5,000. To get his money, the merchant in New York will, in the great majority of cases, draw a sterling draft upon the debtor in London for a little over £1,000.

Turning now to consideration of the various sources from which springs the demand for foreign exchange, it appears that they can be divided about as follows:

1. The need for exchange with which to pay for imports of merchandise.

2. The need for exchange with which to pay for securities (American or foreign) purchased by us in Europe.

Granted that the obligations to each other of any two given countries foot up to the same amount, it is evident that the rate of exchange will remain exactly at the gold par—‌that in New York, for instance, the price of the sovereign will be simply the mint value of the gold contained in the sovereign.

Before taking up the question of the activities of the foreign exchange department and the question of how bankers make money dealing in exchange, it may be well to fix in mind clearly what the various forms of foreign exchange are. Following is a description of the most important classes of bills bought and sold in the New York market:

1. Commercial Long Bills

The foreign exchange market is in every sense "open"—‌anyone with bills to buy or sell and whose credit is all right can enter it and do business on a par with anyone else. There is no place where the trading is done, no membership, license or anything of the kind.

Complete description of the various forms of activity of the foreign exchange department of an important firm would fill a large volume, but there are certain stock operations in foreign exchange which are the basis of most of the transactions carried out and the understanding of which ought to go a long way toward making clear what the nature of the foreign exchange department's business really is.

1. Selling "Demand" Against "Demand"

Gold exports and imports, while not constituting any great part of the activity of the average foreign department, are nevertheless a factor of vital importance in determining the movement of exchange. The loss of gold, in quantity, by some market may bring about money conditions resulting in very violent movements of exchange; or, on the other hand, such movements may be caused by the efforts of the controlling financial interests in some market to attract gold.

On account of the huge fixed investment of foreign money in the United States, on account of Europe's continuous speculative interest in our markets, and the activity of the "arbitrageurs" in both bonds and shares, dealings in securities between ourselves and the Old World are always on a very great scale. Not infrequently, indeed, Europe's position on American securities is an influence of dominating importance.

Interesting as the movement of gold and the international money markets may be, it is in its application to the every-day importing and exporting of merchandise that foreign exchange has its greatest interest for the greatest number of people. Every bale of cotton exported from the country, every pound of coffee brought in, is the basis of an operation in foreign exchange, such operations involving usually the issue of what is known as "commercial credits."

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