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Forex Hedging

There are a number of forex dealers, dare I say even the majority, who allow clients to practice what is commonly referred to as “hedging” in the forex. What this means is that they allow clients to open both long and short positions in the same currency pair, at the same time. Other dealers, on the other hand, automatically close your positions when you enter orders that are exactly opposite to your open positions. There is an ongoing debate among retail traders about whether the practice of “hedging” is useful or not. There are traders out there who swear by “hedging” and others who think it is absolute bollocks.

First off, let’s differentiate this type of hedging from hedging in other markets.

In finance, a hedge is a position established in one market in an attempt to offset exposure to the price risk of an equal but opposite obligation or position in another market.” (Wikipedia)

An example of this would be someone who believes in the inherent weakness of the Canadian dollar (CAD), but is afraid that escalating violence in the Middle East may push oil prices up. Since CAD has been known to have a fairly strong positive correlation to oil, the investor decides to sell CAD (long USD/CAD) based on his belief that the CAD fundamentals are weakening, but he hedges this position by buying some oil. This way, if oil does spike, driving up the value of CAD, he will lose out on his short CAD position, but this loss will be somewhat offset by his long oil position. Note that hedging is not meant to eliminate the risk, but only to mitigate it. It is a form of insurance against overwhelming loss. What it does, if done properly, is to smooth out the equity curve of a portfolio, which has benefits which are beyond the scope of this article.

The careful reader will notice immediately that the last words of the definition above read “in another market”, which automatically invalidates the buying and selling of the same currency pair as a hedge. There is no other word to describe this practice however, so you will see it in quotes whenever I refer to it, to differentiate it from the real hedging described in the example.

So we have determined so far that “hedging” is not the same as hedging. In order to go further, we should also define several other terms:

Equity – specific to a retail forex account, this word describes the “value” of the account at the present time. It is calculated by taking the total value of all open positions in the market and adding that value to the account balance. For example, if you have a $10,000 account and one open position that is currently losing $1,000, your equity is $10,000 - $1,000 = $9,000. If you have open positions, this value fluctuates every time your positions do. If you were to liquidate all your positions at current prices, your account balance would become equal to your equity.

Balance – the amount of money you have in the account as margin. This amount varies only when positions are closed, but is not a good measure of the total value of your account, as it does not account for open positions. To judge the value of an account, equity should always be used instead of balance.

Understanding the above terms is crucial in judging whether “hedging” is beneficial or not, since they will be affected differently when a “hedge” is applied.

So what does happen when a “hedge” is applied? When an exact “hedge” is applied, meaning that you buy and sell the same amount of the same currency, your net position in the market is zero (you are market neutral). You are buying and selling the exact same thing at the exact same time, so it doesn't matter which way the market moves, the gain in one trade will be exactly offset by the loss in the other trade. The only thing that has happened is that you have paid your broker the commission or spread payment twice. This is also true of "hedged" trades which are not exactly equal. If you buy x units of EUR/USD and you simultaneously sell y units of EUR/USD, then your net position is x-y units of EUR/USD, where a negative value indicates a net short position and a positive value indicates a net long position. You can see from here that if x=y, then we have a net position of 0. Let's study 2 cases where one trader uses the "hedge" option and another trader simply closes his trade in order to become market netural, that is, to close his positions.

Case 1: No "hedging"

$10,000 account

Open 1 mini lot (10,000 units) long EUR/USD at 1.2500/02 (1.2502 is ask price, so this is the one used)

EUR/USD goes to 1.2000/02 and we exit (1.2000 is used)

Total loss of 0.0502 or 502 pips

Total loss is 502 x $1 = $502 ($1 is the EUR/USD pip value on a mini lot)

Equity = $9,498


Case 2: "hedging"

$10,000 account

Open 1 mini lot long EUR/USD at 1.2500/02 (1.2502 is ask price, so this is the one used)

EUR/USD goes to 1.2000/02 and we enter a 1 mini lot short (at 1.2000)

Now we are market neutral (our equity does NOT change regardless of where EUR/USD goes). We have, in effect, closed our position.

However, our platform says we have 2 positions open:

  1. -502 pips = -$502
  2. -2 pips = -$2 (due to spread)

Equity = $9,496

Then price continues downward to 1.1000 and we have:

  1. -1502 pips = -$1502
  2. +998 pips = $998

Equity = $9,496 (unchanged because we are "hedged")

Adding our two positions together yields an account equity of -$504. Compared to Case 1, where we lost only $502 and had no trades to worry about any more. Now we have lost $2 more due to paying an extra spread, AND we still have to worry about having open positions.

It may not seem like much, losing 2 pips more than in case 1, but you are in effect doubling your spread, and forex is not a game where you can afford to throw away perfectly good pips. Add to that the fact that you still technically have 2 trades open, and the inherent risk of slippage or other execution problems when it comes to trying to close these 2 trades, and you have another possible disadvantage.


DISCLAIMER: Hypothetical performance results have many inherent limitations. No representation is being made that any account will or is likely to achieve profits or losses similar to those shown. In fact, there are frequently sharp differences between hypothetical performance results and the actual results subsequently achieved by any particularly trading program.

One of the limitations of hypothetical performance results is that they are generally prepared with the benefit of hindsight.  In addition, hypothetical trading does not involve financial risk. Variables such as the ability to adhere to a particular trading program in spite of trading losses as well as maintaining adequate liquidity are material points which can adversely affect actual real trading results.


So we can safely say that in most common cases, "hedging" offers no advantage to the trader, and in fact adds to his costs, and should therefore be avoided.

There is however, a fringe example where it could be argued that "hedging" does provide some benefit. This scenario is sometimes encountered before major economic releases such as the NFP, and it banks on the fact that markets usually become very volatile and illiquid at such times. This can cause spreads to widen and it can lock you in or out of your trades, as all potential counterparties pull their orders from the market. Some traders claim that some market makers will allow you to enter trades at times like these, but won't let you exit in profit. A way around this is to actually open another "hedge" trade in order to make yourself market neutral while you are in profit, and then wait until normal market conditions are restored to exit both trades. While this may very well be true, I would stay away from any market maker that engages in such practices, not only because it is unethical, but also because they will reverse your trades if they find out that what you are doing is technically scalping, and most market makers, particularly ones that engage in such shady practices, are not scalper friendly. Remember, they have your money, and can decide what will and won't happen to it.

So in conclusion, by “hedging” your positions, you are doubling your transaction costs (spread), you are exposing yourself to double the execution risk (slippage), and in return, you get NOTHING AT ALL. It would seem that the only reason forex dealers allow this practice is so that they can fatten their wallets by taking advantage of inexperienced traders and collecting the extra spread. Some traders argue that they consistently make money using this technique, which may very well be true, but they are making money despite using it, not because they are using it. There is a world of difference between the two. They could easily make more money by not "hedging" and donate their extra earnings to a worthwhile organization rather than donating it to their broker.

Also, please be advised that as of May 15, 2009, the National Futures Association (NFA) no longer allows regulated FCMs to practice "hedging" in forex in an attempt to stop unscrupulous brokers from taking advantage of inexperienced market participants.

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