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Zimmerman's Research Guide


Foreign Currency Exchange Rates

A foreign currency exchange "rate" is the number you use to convert an amount of money from one country's currency to another (e.g. at a rate of 1.5, $10 U.S. equals $15 Canadian). This entry mostly discusses the various sources for foreign currency exchange rates. At the end of the entry, you'll find links to several currency converters that are pre-programmed with foreign currency exchange rates so they can automatically do the conversions for you, and another section with definitions for the terms "high," "low" and "close".

Sources for Foreign Currency Exchange Rates

The Federal Reserve publishes rates that are treated as the more-or-less "official" rates in the U.S. The Fed's main publication is a periodical called Federal Reserve Statistical Release: Foreign Exchange Rates, which has the "noon closing rates" and other data. This release and many others are posted on the Statistics: Releases and Historical Data page of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors' Web site.

Alternatively, the same data is posted in the Foreign Exchange page posted the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The Historical information on noon rates goes back to 1994 (10AM rates back to 1993), and there's a tremendous amount of other information. For more, the New York site will also link you to "FRED," the St. Louis Federal Reserve's database for historical rates. You might also want to try What Was the Exchange Rate Then?.

For today's rates, call the Fed (212-720-6693) after 1PM or check the Statistics section of the New York Federal Reserve's Web Page after 1:30 (www.ny.frb.org).

To find the highest and lowest noon rates between the U.S. and one other for a given period of time, see the "Weekly" section Federal Reserve's Exchange Rates page, which lists all the historical daily noon rates between countries. Print out the whole thing, then look for the high and low. This is also a good way to get the noon buying rate for the last day of the month for substantial number of months.

For more information on the Federal Reserve's published currency information, call the NY Fed's Public Information line (212-720-6130).

If necessary you can send someone to the Federal Reserve in D.C., where the data is open to the public. Alternatively, the New York Public Library gets most the Fed's publications, and the NYPL Premium Services researchers can look through the materials and fax you copies.

Rates other than Federal Reserve Rates: There are several sources for foreign currency exchange rates other than the Federal Reserve. The Pacific Exchange Rate Service posts current and historical rates between a wide range of currencies. The 164 Currency Converter provides historical interbank, cash and credit card rate tables going back to January 1, 1990.

You can also get rates from the newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times, but they are NOT necessarily the official rates -- they may be preliminary rates or estimates -- and hence they are not appropriate for all purposes, although they are usually close enough for some. Recent rates are posted on the Web sites sponsored by several newspapers including the Financial Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal (which also historical rates). I expect these are as reliable as the figures in the print editions.

For rates from countries not covered above, try the IMF's International Financial Statistics, which is always a bit behind but will give you historical information and a ballpark figure for the present.

An easy, fast but relatively expensive way to get this information is to call DRI/McGraw-Hill (800-933-3374). DRI is an online service that provides a multitude of financial statistics, including the noon closing rate, and probably including any other kind of exchange rate you need. They can also manipulate their data (e.g., to find the highs and lows for the year). They will fax information for non-subscribers ASAP, but their minimum charge is $500.

Finally, the super-source for foreign currency exchange information is Datastream, which is now owned by Thomson Financial. Unfortunately, Datastream is a subscription-only service with a substantial annual fee.

Currency Converters

Several free Internet sites are programmed calculate the conversion of a sum of money from one currency to another, including the Universal Currency Converter, Bank of Canada, A HREF="http://www.reuters.com/finance/currencies">Reuters, Oanda.com and Travelang for conversions. Caution: You might want to try more than one converter and compare because sometimes different converters give different results.

"High," "Low" and "Close"

The terms "High" and "Low" refer to the highest high and the lowest low on all exchanges that trade the relevant currencies on a particular day. "Close" is the closing price on the last exchange to close on that day.

See Also
Foreign Currency Exchange, generally
Interest Rates
Money Rates
Economic Data and Statistics

For comments, questions and suggestions, email the author
Copyright 2015 Andrew Zimmerman