Purchase or sale of a currency with the expectation that its value will change and generate a profit.
Currency Speculation Currency speculation is the purchase or sale of a currency with the expectation that its value will change and generate a profit. The shift in value might be expected to occur suddenly or over a longer period. The foreign exchange trader may bet that a currency’s price will go either up or down in the future. Suppose a trader in London believes that the value of the Japanese yen will increase over the next three months. She buys yen with pounds at today’s current price, intending to sell them in 90 days. If the price of yen rises in that time, she earns a profit; if it falls, she takes a loss. Speculation is much riskier than arbitrage because the value, or price, of currencies is quite volatile and is affected by many factors. Similar to arbitrage, currency speculation is commonly the realm of foreign exchange specialists rather than the managers of firms engaged in other endeavors.
A classic example of currency speculation unfolded in Southeast Asia in 1997. After news emerged in May about Thailand’s slowing economy and political instability, currency traders sprang into action. They responded to poor economic growth prospects and an overvalued currency, the Thai baht, by dumping the baht on the foreign exchange market. When the supply glutted the market, the value of the baht plunged. Meanwhile, traders began speculating that other Asian economies were also vulnerable. From the time the crisis first hit until the end of 1997, the value of the Indonesian rupiah fell by 87 percent, the South Korean won by 85 percent, the Thai baht by 63 percent, the Philippine peso by 34 percent, and the Malaysian ringgit by 32 percent.4 Although many currency speculators made a great deal of money, the resulting hardship experienced by these nations’ citizens caused some to question the ethics of currency speculation on such a scale.
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