Interview with a Professional Forex Analyst
PM: = Paul Mullen (Interviewer)
JF: = John Forman (Forex Analyst)
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Forex Analyst Interview mp3
PM: Hello to everyone, from Trade2Win. Today I have John Forman with me, who is a professional Forex analyst. John is also an author, and has written a book called The Essentials of Trading, and if you wish to contact John, then details of how you can do this will be available at the end of our discussion. So, a very warm welcome to you John, and the first question I would like to ask you is what is a Forex analyst and what do they do?
JF: Well, in my case, I work for a division of Thomson Reuters, which is a name probably most people know, on one level or another. It's involved with what we call "real time analysis." We're a third party. We don't have anybody that's managing money or anything like that. There is no portfolio we're dealing with. There is no axe that we have.
We provide analysis to subscribers. Some of them are institutional level trading desks, funds, that sort of people. We also provide analysis through brokers, and other platforms, into the retail market. Literally, I spend the day in front of the screens, watching the price action myself, and my peers all around the world, coming up with trading ideas, letting people know what's going on in the market, following the news, following the flows, that sort of thing.
PM: I guess this involves a longer term view of Forex markets and from what you're saying; it sounds like because you're looking at charts and daily things and news, that you obviously have short term analysis as well?
JF: Yes, I think I can safely say for all of us that we do have certain macro level views. Each individual obviously is going to have their own opinions, but we do talk amongst each other and kind of have general group identifications. But, most of our work, as you say; because it's on a daily basis, on an inter day, real time basis, much of what we do is very micro oriented what's happening now, in terms of some of the technical strategy sort of things, what's happening or what do we expect to happen over the next few hours, or maybe overnight, that sort of timeframe.
PM: You said that you have subscribers which are both individual and in industry. Do you have an alert system that lets people know that you've just spotted something that's happening, or is it a daily analysis they get? How does that aspect of it work?
JF: Actually, our stuff is you could call it a "push." We go through a couple of different platforms. Some people read us right over the Reuters platform, which is a live, streaming sort of thing. Some get us over Bloomberg; same sort of situation. We also have a website which uses push technology, so there is no need for an alert type of system. We write commentary, it gets posted, and as soon as it's posted our readers are seeing it right away. We do some stuff that is end of day or slightly longer term, a scope that might go out through mailings, and that sort of thing, but primarily it's short pieces that are done inter day for media viewing.
PM: That's what I was really trying to clarify there, that obviously these people can see things pretty much instantly, and it just appears on their screen, I guess, if they have a subscription to your service.
PM: The next question, John, is how did you get started in the industry?
JF: That goes back to when I came out of my undergraduate university training. Actually, predating that, I had become involved in technical analysis while I was going through school, which we're talking early 1990s so at that point, technicals were still not really getting the kind of respect that they are today. Forget about academia, they shot you down for even talking about it. It was fundamentals or nothing.
I was a member of the Market Technicians Association at the time. Having done that really made me stand out when I started interviewing. I ended up with a company, the same company I'm working for now but back then it was called Technical Data. It was a small division of then Thomson Financial, which obviously is now merged into Thomson Reuters. We changed the name of our product a couple of times, so now it's called IFR Markets, but it's the same basic idea.
The folks that I interviewed with were heavily technically oriented, as the name might imply. They were obviously quite impressed that somebody coming out of college actually knew technicals, was a member of the MTA, that sort of thing. The fact that I'd been involved in the markets really laid me up. At that point, I came into it as a fixed income analyst in the U.S. bond market, money markets.
PM: It sounds like you say it's very much technically focused. Is there any aspect of fundamental analysis going on here? I know news can be classed as fundamental, but fundamental in the sense that it's very different to technical analysis.
JF: Yes, we do both. I consider myself primarily a technician, but I write both parts of the equation as an analyst. We have some people in the service who are almost strictly fundamental and flow oriented the user contacts in the industry to find out what the trade flow, what the deal volume is looking like; who the big players are at work, and where the orders are sitting, and that sort of thing.
Myself and some others, while not strictly technically based, tend to handle mostly what we call our "trading pages," which is support and resistance levels, trading strategy, that sort of thing. I post some stuff on fundamentals, giving a view on what's going on in the market, and I post a lot of stuff that's technically driven.
PM: You said a minute ago, John, that you'd obviously come out of college into this kind of activity. How long have you actually worked in the industry, in total?
JF: I started in 93, worked for 3 years, went to grad school, so I was out for about a year and a half getting my MBA. I came back, worked another 2 and a half or 3 years, and then took a hiatus from the professional ranks to go coach volleyball [laughs] for 7 years, at the collegiate level. Then I came back to the company in 2007. Something like 10 years total as a professional analyst, but I never left the markets in between, I just wasn't getting paid to write about it.
PM: I know what you're saying. I think a lot of people who are involved in trading, while they can sort of move away and focus on other things, they generally tend to drift back if they've got a real passion for it. I know that that's the case with many people.
In terms of working for the company you're with and doing what you're doing, I know in the United States it's probably different to how it is in the United Kingdom. What qualifications are required to be a professional Forex analyst?
JF: I think it kind of depends on where you get your start. Some of the people I work with are ex traders, have experience going back 10, 15, 20 years, and switched into the analyst side of things from there. It's a little less intense. Trading desk activity can kind of burn you out after a few years. We do end up with a lot of those types of folks, but we also have some folks like myself who came up from university or from grad school, that developed through the business, and learned on the job.
In that case, a lot of it is you start in a junior position and it's very much of a learning sort of situation. Obviously, having the willingness and the ability to learn and being open minded to suggestion and understanding is a huge thing. I've seen people who have come in after me, who I was involved in training, and the ones who stood out and advanced well were the ones who listened to what the people ahead of them said. No matter what your experience was before, no matter how good your grades were going through school, no matter how bright you are, once you get into the markets on a professional level you have a whole new set of terminology; everything is different than it was in school. You have to learn these things.
PM: I know that one of the issues that traders have in general is that they come into it, they have a modicum of success, and then they think they know everything. Suddenly they find it doesn't quite work that way. I agree completely with what you're saying. If you've got people who have been in the industry longer than you and they've got experience, it's just common sense to listen to what they're saying and to take on board their experience, really, and you're basically reflecting that in what you're saying.
PM: How so you get paid for what you do? Is it something that comes through the subscriptions, is it a bonus scheme? How does it actually work?
JF: Primarily, I'm salary. We do have a bonus scheme within Thomson Reuters. It's not a classic Wall Street "Here you go, here's a bonus worth twice your annual salary rate." It's much more subdued than that. But, we're not taking risks. We're not running money in that fashion. We get paid out of the money that gets paid to our company in subscriptions.
PM: So it's like a normal business would be in that you obviously have customers, and those customers pay and you basically get paid out of that. I guess, depending on how successful the business is you may get a bonus at the end of it.
PM: What are the hours like, for how you work? Is it a short day? Do you have to be in there dead early? How does it actually work?
JF: I personally am in by about 7:15, and usually I'm done on most days by about 4:15, which is about when Asia is starting to pick up from us. We do have offices around the world, so our service is 24 hours, so there is handoff from region to region.
PM: So depending on which timeframe you're in, it's different for each part of the world. Do you have people who currently work for you, or you're responsible for?
JF: Not at the moment, no. I'm a Senior Analyst, but that's more a seniority thing than a management thing. I'm on a team that covers foreign exchange. We have a local manager for the U.S., and our global product in terms of foreign exchange, is based in the U.K, in the London office.
PM: Have you been across to the London office, at all?
JF: Not recently. The last time I was there was in 2000.
PM: So quite a while ago.
JF: Yeah, it's been a while.
PM: Who are you responsible to in your role?
JF: My direct report is a gentleman in New York. I work out of Boston, but I'm the only one in my team. We've got a 4 person or 5 person team in the U.S. I work in Boston. The rest of the guys work in New York. The head of the group is in New York.
PM: Would you be willing to take us through a typical day you have, John?
JF: Sure, I get in about 7:15. The first thing I normally do is work on Dollar Mexico trading page, setting up the strategy for what's going on there. We don't do a lot with the LatAm currencies. We do try to make sure we've got them touched on and are covering the large themes.
At this stage, because we unfortunately had a guy suffer a severe injury and he's been out for a while, it's meant that I also cover some of the fundamental opening stuff in the morning for LatAm. From there, in the morning we're overlapping with London, so our work load is a little bit lighter because we basically split with them coverage of the major pairs. I'll pick up 4 pairs to start working on the trading pages, so the short term strategy, and a lot of times in the morning I'll also do kind of developmental, research type work, doing quantitative stuff and other things related to the business while the network load is a little bit lighter because of that overlap.
Right now, we're talking about 11:00 my time, is when we get the full handover from London, so that's when mid day we start picking everything up. We run it the rest of the day ourselves. It's a mixture between keeping the trading pages, the real time stuff updated, posting some stories. I normally cover Cable and Euro Sterling, once London shuts for the day. Depending on any given day; sometimes it's going to be dull and there's nothing going on and you kind of struggle with what to write about. At other times, everything is moving all at once and you're scrambling to try to keep up.
PM: Just picking up on something there, John, you said you sometimes pick up 4 pairs. Can it vary from day to day?
JF: No, we normally have the same set, which allows us to be consistent with what we're doing, and in sync. Obviously, if people are out or whatever, then we'll have to pick up and shift things around a little bit, but for the most part, we've got a set list of pairs that we cover.
PM: How many different currencies are you currently analyzing? Is it all of them, absolutely everywhere, or do you sort of have it narrowed down a bit?
JF: No, my particular focus, we cover I think a total of 13 pairs, not including the Dollar Mex, in terms of myself, and actually, the head of the group is the other guy that's primarily the technician. We do all the technical, short term trading analysis and what not. Between us, we split 13 pairs, which are all the major crosses. That means for me Cable, Euro Sterling, Sterling Yen, Aussie Yen, Kiwi, and Aussie Kiwi.
PM: Do you find that there are correlations between certain pairs? I guess there must be at certain times.
JF: Yeah, obviously the Dollar, despite what people are talking about in terms of losing its status, and all that; the Dollar is still the dominant currency in the market. Anything that has the Dollar in it, in terms of a pair, is going to be pretty strongly correlated, either positively or negatively. Obviously, a Dollar Yen is going to be negatively correlated to Euro Dollar, but still they're working on primarily the same drivers.
PM: I see that. I know that the Dollar's going to stay as the dominant currency, I think, into the foreseeable future because with the reserves being held by, for example, China, and the likes of the Middle East, there's no way they're going to switch to another currency and just see it collapse. It's very much in their interest to keep the Dollar going.
JF: That, and the thing that I've written about, one of the reasons the Dollar is the world's main reserve currency is the depth and breadth of its financial market. The U.S. Treasury market is massive. Where else are you going to be able to go to park money? There just aren't that many places to go and one of the things that's been talked about is the IMF and some kind of basket sort of situation and things like that, which is all fine and good; create this basket currency but what are people going to do with it? Are they just going to hold these things with no return? There has to be an instrument under that, a dead instrument, or an equity instrument, or something for people to park it in. Otherwise, they're not going to go there. They're going to look for a return.
PM: I completely agree with you, John. I think there is a lot of talk about "The Dollar is going to be dumped," and this, that, and the other. Just coming back to the analysis side of things; you presumably have quite a lot of different data sources available to you. Could you just speak a little bit about those?
JF: The nice thing about working in a big company like Thomson Reuters is there is a massive amount of information that goes through. The negative side of working for a big company like Thomson Reuters is there is a massive amount of information that goes through.
The real positive about being a professional is the access to tools, information, and things like that, that unless you're a big hitter on the retail side and you've got the money to spend, you're just not going to be able to get. The live news, the real time data feeds, the input from all different places, especially in kind of a cross market related market sort of thing. Obviously, I've got all the charting I could ever hope for. MetaStock was a Reuters company coming in, so they're part of what I work for, so I get MetaStock for free. I get all the Reuters stuff for free, all the Thomson stuff. There are some other add ons that we could toss in there, as well. Most of what I do during the day is watch the newswires and watch the charts.
PM: That's curious you're saying that because you're obviously saying you've got an enormous amount of tools which are available to you to actually trade, but of course that could give you this "paralysis by analysis" situation if you're not careful. I think you're right in what you're saying; news tend to move things very quickly, doesn't it, so I'm guessing if you're watching for those sorts of things happening, then you get heads up on it.
JF: For me, one of the things that I really like, and a big reason why I'm in Boston and they didn't tell me "You've got to go to New York with the rest of the guys," is because most of our U.S. Treasury coverage is based in Boston. I sit in an area where I've got around me people who are looking at the U.S. Treasury market, looking at the short term market. Our economist is in Boston. One of our derivatives guys who cover CDS and swaps and things like that sits right across from me. Not that I get too much out of them, but our [munie] desk is right next to me as well. There is a lot of cross current in information exchange going back and forth, which I couldn't get quite the same amount of if I were in New York with the other guys because they've got the mortgage group and kind of the corporate side of things over there with them. They've got a certain cross dynamic on their side, and I've got a cross dynamic. Between us, we've got all the inter relationships.
PM: Which sounds like kind of the perfect setup, really.
JF: Yeah, and I actually recently blogged on something related to this; there is a lot that drives the market one way or another, and it's not always immediately visual to somebody who's just looking at the prices. On any given day, the Dollar could be driving things, the treasuries could be driving things, or the stock market could be driving things. It changes. It will persist for maybe a day or two but then something else will happen. Suddenly, everybody is focused on the stock market when yesterday everybody was focused on the Dollar.
Being able to be there, hear what's going on, and see the news flow; I've literally got 4 monitors that I look at, with the stock market, the bond market, quotes in individual stocks and commodities, obviously the Forex rate, so taking in that whole big picture.
PM: It's interesting you saying that because a lot of people who say they use, for example, price action only trading, and what you're saying here is that the driving factors in all that can vary from day to day. I'm curious as to your view with regards to that way of trading. Do you think it's possible to trade that way or are you going to get killed?
JF: I think it depends a lot on timeframe. If I'm trading in a timeframe that's slightly longer, maybe kind of a longer swing to our position, where kind of the short term fluctuations aren't that big a deal for you, then I think sticking with straight price action is probably fine. I'll personally say that I tend to go that way myself, but I've found that when you're talking more short term, where prices can be really strongly influenced by short term flows, somebody coming in with a big order one side or the other and that sort of thing, that creates kind of the blips that people can't necessarily understand.
It's also the reaction to news. One of the favorite questions that we see on Trade2Win is there will be an unexpected reaction to the payroll figure or something like that and some newbie will ask the question, "The payroll number was good. Why did the market go down?" If you're watching all the dynamics going into the figure, you might be able to understand that the market is bias one way, or the other. Whereas, if you're just watching the price action of your market alone, then you could get caught out.
PM: Of course, and that happens very frequently, doesn't it? I know some people try to capture either side in case it goes one way or the other but it just doesn't work on the feedback I've seen from people who try and trade that aspect. You were just talking there, John. I just wanted to pick up on something. Obviously, you're a professional Forex analyst, but do you actually trade, yourself, individually?
JF: I do, but not as much as I should. It's mostly a function of forgetting to do it [laughs]. I have to remind myself to open up my trading account and actually put some stuff through. I'm so focused on keeping track of things and writing my commentary and whatnot, that the trading sometimes escapes me. I'm actually better off, generally speaking, focusing more on the longer term type position trading, I guess you could say. It tends to get me away from the clutter of the short term.
One of the real risks about being so close to the market all the time is over analysis, both in terms of thinking too much, but also in terms of rethinking too frequently. I've got to post comments throughout the course of the day, which means I've got to write something new every single time, which means I've got to look at the market again, even though things may not necessarily have changed all that much; I still have to come up with something that people are going to want to read. I learned a long time ago when I did this that that's a trap you could very easily fall into, where you're almost continuously second guessing your prior analysis when you'd be best off just putting your hands up and walking away for a little while.
PM: I was curious because obviously, you hear stories and people post on bulletin boards at Trade2Win exactly that; they're over analyzing, they're looking at the market too much, and they get tempted and take trades that maybe they shouldn't take. Then you hear about other people who just say "No, I just sit and wait for the conditions to be absolutely perfect before I'll take a trade." It would be easy from what you're saying, in your kind of role, because you have to look at the markets constantly to get into that situation. The fact that you actually said you have to remind yourself to place trades means you've obviously got the situation covered.
JF: I do my best.
PM: Obviously a couple of years ago, and this last year we've had a massive credit crunch that's affected pretty much the entire financial sector of the entire planet. Has it affected your sector of the industry, at all?
JF: Not directly in the way that it affected fixed income or the equity market. The advantage to Forex is obviously it's two sided. If you're short one thing, then you're long in the other. If one side of it's in the down trend, the other side is in an uptrend. You're never going to get the same sort of panic actions that you get in other markets. But, obviously, there was a lot of capital moving back and forth.
There were a lot of people piling into the Dollar and to a certain extent the Yen, from a safety perspective, either directly for security or in the case of the Yen unwinding carry trades. There was definitely a big increase of volatility, which made things really interesting because if you look back to prior to 07 in 04, 05 and 06, the Forex markets were really quiet. There were a lot of people whining about it, people who had been in the markets for years going, "Where is all the volatility? We can't trade like we used to." But on the flipside, there were a lot of people who built strategies based on range bound markets. Then you get 2007 and 2008 comes along, and everything completely changes.
PM: That's an interesting point you're making there because I don't imagine that the volatility we saw in 2007 and 2008 will continue forever. It's possible, I'm not saying it will happen but it's possible we could start to go back to the slower moving activities we were seeing in 2004, 2005, 2006 like you've just said.
JF: I think the central banks would certainly like that. That's certainly the way they've been talking.
PM: They certainly would. I was talking to someone else the other day who trades NASDAQ stocks intra day, and they were saying that they also trade Forex but it's such a slow market relative to NASDAQ stocks. I thought, "I'm sure there are a lot of people trading Forex stocks who wouldn't think that." I suppose it depends on your perspective.
JF: Yeah, it's funny; I hear people say it and I see people write it, that "Forex is a much more volatile market than stocks." No, actually if you compare price movements, individual stocks on a general basis are going to be much more volatile than Forex. It's just the fact that you toss in 200 to 1 leverage that makes things more volatile. It's your account that's more volatile, not the prices.
PM: I think there are some quite useful things in trading Forex that you just dont get in trading things like futures, and in stocks; news generally speaking, is not unexpected in the Forex market overall. They normally know when you're going to get news and yes it flips. But, for example, if you have some news that they'd found a major terrorist round the world, then the stock markets could jump, but the Forex markets would probably stay pretty much the same because it's not going to benefit one group as it is to another.
JF: Yeah, the Forex market tends to be the slowest to react to things. If you're talking about general, economic news, interest rates tend to be the most sensitive. That's why if you watch the payroll figure, first Friday of every month, the bond market will be absolutely incredible sometimes. If you watch what happens in Dollar Yen, you're like "Oh, something happened?" If you're into the fun and excitement, trade the bond market.
PM: I think some people like the volatility. Some people like to take a longer term, a little bit less volatile approach to it. I think it's "horses to courses" at the end of the day.
Just coming back to the credit crunch, there were a number of rescue packages that were put together, and new legislation that's been put in. I guess it's the Securities Exchange Commission in the United States. Has that had any effect on the market you're involved in or have you seen any impact from that?
JF: Not really, I think since the credit crisis started, obviously, there has been a big deleveraging across the whole industry. Positions have gotten smaller. If you look at open interest in the stock index futures, you'll see it's generally at lower levels than it used to be. But, from the indications that I've seen for volume in Forex is that it's actually been up over the last few years.
I think the impact has more to do with what's going on in terms of fiscal policy, and central bank policy, in terms of budget deficits, quantitative easing, and all that sort of thing playing out in the Forex market, than necessarily any of the regulatory sort of thing.
PM: There has certainly been a lot of talk about how quantitative easing is going to affect currency. In theory, it should actually devalue it but I suppose if everyone is doing it at once it's going to balance out. It's difficult to say how it will work.
JF: The other thing is quantitative easing is all fine and good in terms of putting reserves in the system, but if the banks aren't lending them out and there's no demand for debt, that's where money supply growth comes from.
PM: Of course it does.
JF: It's the "bank" money. That's not growing right now.
PM: No it isn't. I'm very aware of the fact that the way you sort of get business if you're a bank is to go out and effectively buy debt. Of course, they're so worried about this at the moment. The United Kingdom, I guess, it's not dissimilar to the United States, but it can't last forever. Something has to give, doesn't it?
JF: Yeah, eventually people will relax, they'll feel better about the economy, and they'll start borrowing again. Banks will start loosening up, but I think it's going to be a while.
PM: I agree with you. In fact, it is going to be driven by the banks, very much in this country. I know there are people who are wanting to get credit in this country who can't get any, virtually at all. If they don't loosen up then the economy will contract. That's my view of course, and I'm just expressing a view in the conversation we're having.
I've got another question. Does your role attract much media attention, and if so, is it warranted?
JF: [laughs] It does in a couple of different ways. Obviously, the news media is always looking for somebody to talk to, to quote for their stories, and things like that. Folks in our positions will get the phone calls, and the emails, and whatnot, asking about this or about that. We generally are not attention seeking, in terms of putting our analysts out in the forefront, trying to get them on CNBC or Bloomberg or whatever. But, that's not to say that we don't get requests to do things, speak at seminars, or do public appearances, and whatnot. But, it's not something we factor into our work load very much.
PM: I suppose it can be a two edged sword, can't it? If you've got somebody from your company saying what their view is, on CNBC or something similar, and they get it hopelessly wrong, it just brings in criticism to the company. If you're giving a seminar on how things work, it's a different situation. I can see what you mean.
What advice would you give to somebody who wants to become a professional Forex analyst, John?
JF: I guess it depends on how they're coming at it. If they're coming out of school, then they're going to have to realize the path may not be a direct one to get there. It's not like there are thousands upon thousands of Forex analysts positions all over the world, and you could just walk into one. It may have been that way, once upon a time, but thanks to a lot of the technology innovations in this market, the number of people who are actually involved in it as desk traders, analysts, and what not, are significantly fewer.
For example, when I first became a Forex analyst with the company, I think it was in 94, there were myself and 2 other women who were dedicated to technicals, and then I think there were 4 or 5 people who were fundamental, flow oriented writers on our service and that was just in Boston. That was 8 people right there, plus the London team, plus teams in Asia. Right now, we're on 4 or 5 people doing effectively the same sort of coverage. The industry as a whole has shrunk. The positions aren't going to be so readily available. You're going to have to do some legwork to identify whose got the types of positions you're after, what types of services on the plus side, some of the brokers like FXCM, FXDD, that sort of group have developed their own in house analysts groups.
PM: That's interesting because what reason would FXCM have for having in house analysts?
JF: Totally about driving business. Brokers are all about transaction flow and if they've got an in house research group that's producing transactions, just like it would be for equity analysts working for a stock broker.
PM: I can see exactly what you mean, now. For some reason, I couldn't see what benefit there would be. I can definitely see that now.
JF: I think in the case of brokers and other businesses, I think the one advantage people have today is you can blog, do all sorts of stuff on your own that can actually get you a bit of a public profile, get you experience writing about the market, get you something you can show to somebody as a kind of portfolio to demonstrate your capacity, your abilities, and your skill.
Back in my day, it was you either used to be on a trading desk so we know you know your thing, or you're bright coming out of school so we'll train you up. We didn't have an opportunity to create a kind of record of our performance. A lot of people like blogging, and that's one path that people get in through.
PM: I think we've covered most of the things we wanted to cover. Is there anything else you wanted to add?
JF: I suppose, like I said before, the markets have become increasingly inter related as the years have gone by. When I first started, you were focused on one market. When I was in the bond market I looked at bonds. When I was on the Forex market I looked at Forex. These days you can't do that anymore, at least not in the short term, or probably in the big macro picture. You need to be aware, unless you're a pure systems trader I suppose, you need to be aware of what's going on across the markets and not just tunnel vision on one thing.
PM: Okay John, thanks very much for the interview. I found it very interesting, particularly the aspects of what drives the markets on a short term. That's something I didn't know about. I'd just like to say thanks very much to John Forman. He's a professional Forex analyst, and his website is www.theessentialsoftrading.com. Thanks very much for your time, John.
JF: Thanks for having me.
PM: I'll speak to you soon.
JF: Bye bye
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Forex Analyst Interview mp3