Know Your P’s and L’s

Here is where we’re going to do a little math. You've probably heard of the terms "pips" and "lots" thrown around, and here we're going to explain what they are and show you how they are calculated.

Take your time with this information, as it is required knowledge for all Forex traders. Don’t even think about trading until you are comfortable with pip values and calculating profit and loss.

What the heck is a Pip?

The most common increment of currencies is the Pip. If the EUR/USD moves from 1.2250 to 1.2251, that is ONE PIP. A pip is the last decimal place of a quotation. The Pip is how you measure your profit or loss.

As each currency has its own value, it is necessary to calculate the value of a pip for that particular currency. In currencies where the US Dollar is quoted first, the calculation would be as follows.

Let’s take USD/JPY rate at 119.80 (notice this currency pair only goes to two decimal places, most of the other currencies have four decimal places)

In the case of USD/JPY, 1 pip would be .01



.01 divided by exchange rate = pip value
.01 / 119.80 = 0.0000834

This looks like a very long number but later we will discuss lot size.


.0001 divided by exchange rate = pip value
.0001 / 1.5250 = 0.0000655


.0001 divided by exchange rate = pip value
.0001 / 1.4890 = 0.00006715

In the case where the US Dollar is not quoted first and we want to get the US Dollar value, we have to add one more step.



.0001 divided by exchange rate = pip value
.0001 / 1.2200 = EUR 0.00008196

but we need to get back to US dollars so we add another calculation which is

EUR x Exchange rate
0.00008196 x 1.2200 = 0.00009999

When rounded up it would be 0.0001



.0001 divided by exchange rate = pip value

.0001 / 1.7975 = GBP 0.0000556

But we need to get back to US dollars so we add another calculation which is

GBP x Exchange rate

0.0000556 x 1.7975 = 0.0000998

When rounded up it would be 0.0001

You’re probably rolling your eyes back and thinking do I really need to work all this out and the answer is NO. Nearly all forex brokers will work all this out for you automatically. It’s always good for you to know how they work it out.

In the next section, we will discuss how these seemingly insignificant amounts can add up.

What the heck is a Lot?

Spot Forex is traded in lots. The standard size for a lot is $100,000. There is also a mini lot size and that is $10,000. As you already know, currencies are measured in pips, which is the smallest increment of that currency. To take advantage of these tiny increments, you need to trade large amounts of a particular currency in order to see any significant profit or loss.

Let’s assume we will be using a $100,000 lot size. We will now recalculate some examples to see how it affects the pip value.

USD/JPY at an exchange rate of 119.90
(.01 / 119.80) x $100,000 = $8.34 per pip

USD/CHF at an exchange rate of 1.4555
(.0001 / 1.4555) x $100,000 = $6.87 per pip

In cases where the US Dollar is not quoted first, the formula is slightly different.

EUR/USD at an exchange rate of 1.1930
(.0001 / 1.1930) X EUR 100,000 = EUR 8.38 x 1.1930 = $9.99734 rounded up will be $10 per pip

GBP/USD at an exchange rate or 1.8040
(.0001 / 1.8040) x GBP 100,000 = 5.54 x 1.8040 = 9.99416 rounded up will be $10 per pip.

Your broker may have a different convention for calculating pip value relative to lot size but whichever way they do it, they'll be able to tell you what the pip value is for the currency you are trading is at the particular time. As the market moves, so will the pip value depending on what currency you are currently trading.

How the heck do I calculate profit and loss?

So now that you know how to calculate pip value, let’s look at how you calculate your profit or loss.

Let’s buy US dollars and Sell Swiss Francs.

The rate you are quoted is 1.4525 / 1.4530. Because you are buying US you will be working on the 1.4530, the rate at which traders are prepared to sell.

So you buy 1 lot of $100,000 at 1.4530.

A few hours later, the price moves to 1.4550 and you decide to close your trade.

The new quote for USD/CHF is 1.4550 / 14555. Since you're closing your trade and you initially bought to enter the trade, you now sell in order to close the trade so you must take the 1.4550 price. The price traders are prepared to buy at.

The difference between 1.4530 and 1.4550 is .0020 or 20 pips.

Using our formula from before, we now have (.0001/1.4550) x $100,000 -= $6.87 per pip x 20 pips = $137.40

Remember, when you enter or exit a trade, you are subject to the spread in the bid/offer quote.

When you buy a currency you will use the offer price and when you sell you will use the bid price.

So when you buy a currency, you pay the spread as you enter the trade but not as you exit. And when you sell a currency you don't pay the spread when you enter but only when you exit.

What the heck is Leverage?

You are probably wondering how a small investor like yourself can trade such large amounts of money. Think of your broker as a bank who basically fronts you $100,000 to buy currencies and all he asks from you is that you give him $1,000 as a good faith deposit, which he will hold you for but not necessarily keep. Sounds too good to be true? Well this is how forex trading using leverage works.


The amount of leverage you use will depend on your broker and what you feel comfortable with.

Typically the broker will require a minimum account size, also known as account margin or initial margin. Once you have deposited your money you will then be able to trade. The broker will also specify how much they require per position (lot) traded.

For example, for every $1,000 you have, you can trade 1 lot of $100,000. So if you have $5,000 they may allow you to trade up to $500,000 of Forex.

The minimum security (margin) for each lot will vary from broker to broker. In the example above, the broker required a one percent margin. This means that for every $100,000 traded, the broker wants $1,000 as a deposit on the position.

What the heck is a Margin Call?

In the event that money in your account falls below margin requirements (usable margin), your broker will close some or all open positions. This prevents your account from falling into a negative balance, even in a highly volatile, fast moving market.

Example #1
Let’s say you open a regular Forex account with $2,000 (not a smart idea). You open 1 lot of the EUR/USD, with a margin requirement of $1000. Usable Margin is the money available to open new positions or sustain trading losses. Since you started with $2,000, your usable margin is $2,000. But when you opened 1 lot, which requires a margin requirement of $1,000, your usable margin is now $1,000.

If your losses exceed your usable margin of $1,000 you will get a margin call.

Example #2
Let’s say you open a regular Forex account with $10,000. You open 1 lot of the EUR/USD, with a margin requirement is $1000. Remember, usable margin is the money you have available to open new positions or sustain trading losses. So prior to opening 1 lot, you have a usable margin of $10,000. After you open the trade, you now have $9,000 usable margin and $1,000 of used margin.

If your losses exceed your usable margin of $9,000, you will get a margin call.

Make sure you know the difference between usable margin and used margin.

If the equity (the value of your account) falls below your usable margin due to trading losses, you will either have to deposit more money or your broker will close your position to limit your risk and his risk. As a result, you can never lose more than you deposit.

If you are going to trade on a margin account, it’s vital that you know what your broker’s policies are on margin accounts.

You should also know that most brokers require a higher margin during the weekends. This may take the form of 1% margin during the week and if you intend to hold the position over the weekend it may rise to 2% or higher.

The topic of margin is a touchy subject and some argue that too much margin is dangerous. It all depends on the individual. The important thing to remember is that you thoroughly understand your broker’s policies regarding margin and that you understand and are comfortable with the risks involved.

Some brokers describe their leveraging in terms of a leverage ratio and other in terms of a margin percentage. The simple relationship between the two terms is:

Leverage = 100 / Margin Percent

Margin Percent = 100 / Leverage

Leverage is conventionally displayed as a ratio, such 100:1 or 200:1.