Book Review: Cultures of Expertise in Global Currency Markets by Leon Wansleben

Cultures of Expertise in Global Currency Markets by Leon WanslebenCultures of Expertise in Global Currency Markets is definitely not some average Forex trading book you read to get the basic understanding of the market or to learn a handful of new strategies. This book is an attempt to explain what is going on with the biggest participants of the FX market from the sociological rather than economical point of view.

The book was published in July 2013 and was never particularly popular. Its abstract gives an impression of a rather nonstandard approach to the description of the foreign exchange market. It is up to you to decide whether crawling through the scientific lingo of the Cultures is worth your money and time.

The author

Cultures of Expertise in Global Currency was written by Leon Wansleben, a Swiss sociologist who gained his PhD at the University of Konstanz and is currently conducting his research at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies. He specializes in a study of the economic and financial analysis practices.

There isn't much info on him besides that, but it should be said that for a non-native English speaker (allegedly), the language of the book is quite lively for a research piece.

Sociology of Forex

Although the author divides the book into three structural parts, it can be said that there are two main parts. The first one is a general introduction into the history of the global currency markets. The second part is the description and results of the field study conducted by Leon on the FX trading floor of a big German bank (supposedly Commerzbank). Additional parallels with other research from the similar studies are drawn to reinforce or provide alternative judgments to the author's. The conclusion is given to wrap the whole research up and provide directions for further investigation of the Forex markets' ethnography.

The history of Forex cultures of knowledge

Wansleben retells the history of the market's structure (divided by him into three major stages) to explain how the participants, their interaction, and distribution of expertise among them changed with the technological and public progress. Here are the things that an active trader can learn from the first part of the book:

  • There is no sound model for measuring performance of currency forecast and analysis.
  • There is still no forecast model that would prove effective in the FX market.
  • How market evolved from exchange-centered markets to interbank to fragmented computerized markets.
  • Why market analysts exist and what purpose they serve.
  • What analysts can learn from traders.

Trading floor — analysis and forecast

The second part is, of course, more interesting than the first one. It describes how the real Forex trading floor is working at a bank. Actually, at two banks as the second bank (supposedly Dresdner Bank) was acquired by the first one during the course of the author's field study. Surely, the author probably leaves some proprietary things out of the published book, but, nevertheless, the amount of information rarely available to retail traders is huge.

Leon Wansleben gives an exhaustive description of the physical structure of the floor, its schedule, its interaction schemes, and a lot more. You literally learn how analysis, forecast, and trading is performed by both the sell-side (traders and analysts catering to external clients) and buy-side (traders and analysts serving proprietary trading purpose) of the major interbank player.

Here is what can be learned from this part:

  • The floor's workday is structured based on the release schedule of macro indicators. As you see, completely ignoring fundamental analysis is not the best choice for a retail trader.
  • Knowledge of the actual indicator values is not enough to use them in forecasts. Their structure and nuances make the whole difference.
  • Some tools that are used by the real professional traders and analysts.
  • The views of the analysts and their stories are more important to most traders than actual rate forecasts.
  • Failure of forecasts is normal and rarely leads to a loss of status by the analysts. How they prove their point and change or reassert their vision is very important to their status.
  • Good analysts stay consistent and flexible by justifying their past forecasts with past assumptions and revise those assumptions, and thus forecasts, when new facts arrive.
  • One of the biggest advantages and most wanted pieces of information big FX trading banks have is the order flow data.
  • Retail traders are significantly handicapped compared to big players out there. Retail traders lack their tools, their data, their work-force, and their organizational culture to consistently beat such market participants.

Pros and cons

Here is the brief list of the advantages and disadvantages of this book. The main problem here is that the list is largely subjective and should be interpreted as something very opinionated.

Advantages

  • Unorthodox view on what is going on in the modern foreign exchange market.
  • Information on internal mechanics and interaction of a major market participant.
  • Well-referenced, precise-language text with little empty talk.

Disadvantages

  • Difficult to read compared to traditional Forex books.
  • Not too much detail is shared.
  • The price is higher than your average trading book, although it is worth it.
  • You hardly get to learn any methods to immediately improve your trading performance.

Conclusion

The bottom line is pretty simple — if you are seeking to elevate your level of understanding of the big market participants and to improve your own organizational level, this book can be a nice choice for you. On the other hand, if you are easily bored with scientific jargon, or if you are already well aware of the situation within the currency trading banks, you probably will not gain anything useful from Cultures of Expertise in Global Currency Markets.

Anyway, the book does not look as if it was intended to be read by the majority of traders. Its likely target audience is other sociologists and scholars of the market's structure, history and psychology.

If you have any questions, comments, or opinion about Cultures of Expertise in Global Currency Markets by Leon Wansleben, please post them on our Forex forum.


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