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Thursday, July 22, 2004

BY THE NUMBERS

Forex trading is a popular but risky business


Staff writer

Once considered the exclusive realm of the wealthy and the reckless, foreign-exchange trading is now being touted as accessible to everyone even though it is still a high-risk game.

And people want in.

The market size -- cash deposits put up by individual investors in hopes of profiting from rate fluctuations -- hit around 202.8 billion yen in March, up from 8.7 billion yen four years before, Yano Research Institute Ltd. said.

The explosion began after the government deregulated forex trading in 1998 amid the growing popularity of online trading. Investors cite leverage, which allows them to hold positions of up to 100 times more than their deposits, as the biggest attraction.

"The leverage is very attractive," said Yohei Sunada, a 27-year-old day trader and head of the Japan Day Traders Association. "You only need 1 million yen to trade 100 million yen in foreign currencies. It's highly cost-effective."

But while the opportunities are great, so are the risks.

In the absence of regulations, a handful of unscrupulous brokers have duped or coerced people -- mostly rich elderly people with no investment experience -- into trading by repeatedly calling them or going to their homes.

And many other investors are not told clearly enough that they risk losing more than their original investments, said Shinji Hata, senior deputy general manager at Gaitame.Com, an online forex trading broker.

In the year that ended in March, the National Consumers Affairs Center of Japan received 1,182 complaints related to forex trading, from just four, three years before.

The Financial System Council issued a report June 23, recommending dealers be banned from forcibly soliciting business and requiring them to separate investor money from other funds. But it didn't comment on the trading itself.

Council Chairman Hideki Kanda said the same hands-off approach will be taken when comprehensive investor protection bills are drafted in the near future.

"There is a famous expression in the U.S.," Kanda said. "You can sell even a rotten fish if you state clearly that it's rotten. It's up to investors whether to buy -- and eat it."



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