Bid and Ask in Trading - Detailed Guide

Nov 7, 2022 Written By LAT Staff

It is essential for investors to have a solid grasp of trading terminology, particularly the phrase "bid-ask spread," since purchasing and selling represent the most crucial aspects of investing.

Understanding the bid-ask spread is essential for traders since it directly affects the one thing that matters most to them: the possible profit they may make. For instance, the stock market operates much like an auction, where buyers and sellers of shares may be anybody, from individuals to organisations or even governments.

Bid Price & Ask Price

Whenever you are trading a financial asset, you will always be presented with two prices: the bid and the ask. It is necessary to pay the asking price in order to initiate a purchase position in the market. Accepting the offer price is required in order to commence trading in the sell direction.

The current price also referred to as the market value, is the real selling price of an asset on an exchange. To grasp the difference between the bid price and the asking price of a financial asset, you must first understand the current price from a trading viewpoint. The price at which an item was last exchanged is the primary factor that determines the current price, which is why it is always changing.

According to fundamental economic theory, the present price is determined by the intersection of supply and demand. Supply or demand fluctuations trigger the current price to increase or decrease correspondingly. Consequently, the current price on a market exchange is determined by the most recent amount paid by a trader for an item. It is the result of interactions between financial traders, investors, and brokers within a specific market.

What is the Bid and Ask Spread?

In any market, transactions are not conducted easily since buyers and sellers are unable to agree on a price, resulting in a great deal of haggling. The discrepancies between the bid and ask sizes become relevant at this point.

Hence, the spread is the difference in price between the bid and ask. Demand and supply are the primary market factors that determine these prices, and the gap between them produces the difference between the buy and selling prices.

The bid-ask Spread may be expressed in both absolute and percentage terms. Spread values may be negligible on a highly liquid market, or they might be enormous on an illiquid or less liquid market.

Bid - Ask Spread (absolute) = Ask/Offer Price - Bid/Buy
Price Bid-Ask Spread (%) = ((Ask/Offer - Bid/Buy Price) - Ask/Offer Price)* 100

Exploring the Importance of Bid-Ask Spread

In general, the bid-ask spread is unlikely to create significant worry or significantly influence the investment decisions of long-term investors who intend to purchase and hold an asset, such as a company's shares, for a prolonged length of time.

However, the bid-ask spread will play a considerably greater role for traders with a shorter time horizon, such as scalpers, day traders, and even swing traders. For their trades to be lucrative, the market must move in their favour more than the difference between the bid and ask price. The greater the bid-ask spread, the greater the necessary price change. 

Demand and supply have a significant impact on defining the spread. Liquidity is abundant when the bid and ask prices are relatively close together. This is known as a "thin" bid-ask spread. With abundant liquidity, acquiring or selling securities at a reasonable price is considerably simpler, particularly for big orders. In contrast, when the bid-ask spread is large, trading the securities may be difficult and costly.

  • Wide Markets - Wide bid-ask spreads often indicate less liquid markets. Because there are insufficient amounts of supply and demand or buy and sell orders, the gap expands. The increased transaction costs, in the form of a wider spread, are market maker compensation for the illiquidity.
  • Thin Markets - In contrast, markets with a thin or narrow bid-ask spread are often very liquid and teeming with traders' buy and sell orders. Apple and Amazon are widely traded companies with small spreads as their strong supply and demand. It is quite simple for market makers to identify a buyer or a seller for these stocks. Because of the lack of investor interest, spreads may be larger for small-cap or obscure stocks.In all cases, the market dynamics establish both the bid and ask prices. They are determined by individuals and institutions that invest in the stock and control purchasing and selling choices.The bid price is often lower than the asking price, so if you purchased an item and sold it quickly, you would incur a loss. You would also lose money if you instantly sold and purchased. You would also lose money if you instantly sold and purchased.In other words, the bid-ask spread, or simply the spread, is the difference between these two prices and one of a brokerage's primary sources of income.If the bid and ask are close enough, there is little difference between what buyers are ready to pay and what sellers are willing to take. This often suggests that there is minimal debate on the asset's worth and that a deal is likely to place swiftly and at a reasonable price.

Variables Influencing the Bid and Ask Prices

The most influential factors on spreads are liquidity, volatility, and time.
  • Time: Typically, the busiest times are market opening and closing. During the middle of the trading day, equities are often much less liquid. This often results in a bigger bid-ask gap in the middle of the trading day compared to the opening and closing prices. Other variables include catalysts, stock-related buzz, and stock. Stocks with a greater price have a larger spread on average.
  • Liquidity: Liquidity, also referred to as trading volume, includes the number of accessible shares for purchase and sale and the number of recently traded shares. In general, the bid-ask spread of a stock will be less when it has more liquidity.
  • Volatility: Volatility denotes the extent to which the price of a stock fluctuates over a specific time. Typically, volatile equities have broader bid-ask spreads. This is because traders have less confidence in short-term price fluctuations.

Using Bid and Ask Prices to Trade

When ready, a person may place an order with their broker to trade stocks. It may be either a buy or sell order, depending on what the customer desires and believes would benefit them in the market. The investor will see an offer filed by the broker to the stock market if they choose to purchase and bid. The purchase order will specify the number and price per share. The highest recommended price reveals the market's desire for a particular stock.

The bid-ask spread also indicates which direction the stock price will likely go in in the near future. It is also vital to only trade equities when there is sufficient trading liquidity to promptly enter and exit a position. The bid-ask spread provides an indicator of the present liquidity of the market.

When examining the current market price, it is usually beneficial to consider the purchase price, the selling price, and the orders below and above these. You may always place a buy limit order and a stop order (stop loss/stop price) to improve your entrance.

If you choose to sell, the broker will provide several shares for the specified stock together with the suggested asking price. The lowest suggested price represents the supply of a specific stock on the market.

How to profit from the offer-bid differential 

If you intend to profit from the bid-ask spread, you may do it by using a variety of order forms:

Market Order - A market order represents a trading order to sell or purchase shares instantly. While experts may ensure the order's execution, they cannot guarantee the price at which the order will be completed. A market order is executed at (or near) the current bid-ask level per the bid-ask spread.

Limit OrderThe limit order allows for the purchase and sale of securities at a specified price or higher. You should be familiar with the limit order varieties as an investor. For example, most purchase limit orders are executed at or below the limit price of the share. Therefore, if you place an order to acquire ABC Corp stocks at a price over $300 per share, your order will only be executed if the stock price falls below that.

Stop Order - A stop order, often known as a "stop-loss" order, is the command to buy or sell a stock at a certain price level. This level is also known as a stop-price, and a transaction may be completed once the stop order reaches it. Stop orders are often implemented as limit orders. It is subdivided into buy-stop orders and sell-stop orders.

Example of Bid and Ask Spread

Now, let’s illustrate how this actually works in practice. If the bid price is $110 and the asking price is $120, then the spread bid vs ask is $10. Returning to buying and selling using market orders necessitates embracing the possibility of a $10 worse-than-expected order execution.

Suppose the last price you saw was $100, the bid price is $100, the asking price is $101, and you order 100 market shares. In this instance, your purchase will likely be fulfilled for a price of $101, which is $1 less than anticipated. This spread between the desired and actual prices is referred to as slippage. The greater the stock spread, the greater your slippage might be.

Bottom Line

Understanding the bid-ask spread is crucial for investors since it shows the cost of purchasing or selling securities. While the spread is advantageous to both buyers and sellers, it is more advantageous to market makers and other liquidity providers.

When purchasing or selling an asset, it is important to examine the bid-ask spread, especially if the investment has limited liquidity. Some assets, such as large-cap stocks, may have so much supply and demand that the spread is scarcely evident, but other securities, such as micro-cap stocks or certain bonds, may have spreads that comprise a significant portion of the price of the asset.

Next Steps

Start developing your profitable trading strategy through a combination of fundamental analysis and technical analysis by enrolling on one of our award-winning, accredited trading courses.

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