HOW MONEY IS MADE IN FOREIGN EXCHANGE. THE OPERATIONS OF THE FOREIGN DEPARTMENT

About the best example of how exchange managers can be deceived in their forecasts is afforded by the movement of exchange during the summer and fall of 1909. Impelled thereto by the brilliant crop prospects of early summer, foreign exchange houses in New York drew and sold finance-bills in enormous volume. The corn crop was to run over three billion bushels, affording an unprecedented exportable surplus—‌wheat and cotton were both to show record-breaking yields. But instead of these promises being fulfilled, wheat and corn showed only average yields, while the cotton crop turned out decidedly short. The expected flood of exchange never materialized. On the contrary, rise in money rates abroad caused such a paying off of foreign loans and maturing finance bills that foreign exchange rose to the gold export point and "covering" operations were conducted with extreme difficulty. In the foreign exchange market the autumn of 1909 will long be remembered as a time when the finance-bill sellers had administered to them a lesson which they will be a good while in forgetting.

6. Arbitraging in Exchange

Arbitraging in exchange—‌the buying by a New York banker, for instance, through the medium of the London market, of exchange drawn on Paris, is another broad and profitable field for the operations of the expert foreign exchange manager. Take, for example, a time when exchange on Paris is more plentiful in London than in New York—‌a shrewd New York exchange manager needing a draft on Paris might well secure it in London rather than in his home city. The following operation is only one of ten thousand in which exchange men are continually engaged, but is a representative transaction and one on which a good deal of the business in the arbitration of exchange is based.

Suppose, for instance, that in New York, demand exchange on Paris is quoted at five francs seventeen and one-half centimes per dollar, demand exchange on London at $4.84 per pound, and that, in London, exchange on Paris is obtainable at twenty-five francs twenty-five centimes per pound. The following operation would be possible:

Sale by a New York banker of a draft on Paris, say, for francs 25,250, at 5.17-1/2, bringing him in $4,879.23. Purchase by same banker of a draft on London for £1,000, at 4.84, costing him $4,840. Instructions by the American banker to his London correspondent to buy a check on Paris for francs 25,250 in London, and to send it over to Paris for the credit of his (the American banker's account). Such a draft, at 25.25 would cost just £1,000.

The circle would then be complete. The American banker who originally drew the francs 25,250 on his Paris balance would have replaced that amount in his Paris balance through the aid of his London correspondent. The London correspondent would have paid out £1,000 from the American banker's balance with him, a draft for which amount would come in the next mail. All parties to the transaction would be satisfied—‌especially the banker who started it, for whereas he paid out $4,840 for the £1,000 draft on London, he originally took in $4,879.23 for the draft he sold on Paris.

Between such cities as have been used in the foregoing illustrations rates are not apt to be wide enough apart to afford any such actual profit, but the chance for arbitraging does exist and is being continuously taken advantage of. So keenly, indeed, are the various rates in their possible relation to one another watched by the exchange men that it is next to impossible for them to "open up" to any appreciable extent. The chance to make even a slight profit by shifting balances is so quickly availed of that in the constant demand for exchange wherever any relative weakness is shown, there exists a force which keeps the whole structure at parity. The ability to buy drafts on Paris relatively much cheaper at London than at New York, for instance, would be so quickly taken advantage of by half a dozen watchful exchange men that the London rate on Paris would quickly enough be driven up to its right relative position.

It is impossible in this brief treatise to give more than a suggestion of the various kinds of exchange arbitration being carried on all the time. Experts do not confine their operations to the main centers, nor is three necessarily the largest number of points which figure in transactions of this sort. Elaborate cable codes and a constant use of the wires keep the up-to-date exchange manager in touch with the movement of rates in every part of Europe. If a chance exists to sell a draft on London and then to put the requisite balance there through an arbitration involving Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam, the chances are that there will be some shrewd manager who will find it out and put through the transaction. Some of the larger banking houses employ men who do little but look for just such opportunities. When times are normal, the margin of profit is small, but in disturbed markets the parities are not nearly so closely maintained and substantial profits are occasionally made. The business, however, is of the most difficult character, requiring not only great shrewdness and judgment but exceptional mechanical facilities.

7. Dealing in "Futures"

As a means of making—‌or of losing—‌money, in the foreign exchange business, the dealing in contracts for the future delivery of exchange has, perhaps, no equal. And yet trading in futures is by no means necessarily speculation. There are at least two broad classes of legitimate operation in which the buying and selling of contracts of exchange for future delivery plays a vital part.