What is the BID ASK Spread? Explanation & Examples

WHAT IS THE BID ASK SPREAD? – EXPLANATION, DEFINITION AND EXAMPLES IN TRADING

Definition and explanation:

The BID is the current buy price (bid price) at which a buyer is willing to buy(per limit order) and the ASK is the current sell price (ask price) of a security at which the seller is willing to sell (per limit order) that is traded on the exchange. Traders are willing to buy by limit at a certain price (BID) and sell at a certain price (ASK). The spread can depend on the broker and the current market!

These limit orders are then executed by market orders (direct market orders). So, for example, if I want to buy directly, then my order will be executed in the ASK price and the market order will trigger the limit order. If I want to sell directly, then my order is executed in the BID price and the market order triggers the limit order (BID).

Important information to understand stock market trading:

  • Spread: The distance between BID and ASK
  • BID: Highest price at which a buyer wants to buy (bid price) with a limit order
  • ASK: Lowest price at which a seller wants to sell(ask price) with a limit order
  • Limit Order: Passive orders that are at certain prices and are waiting to be executed
  • Market Order: Direct market orders that are executed at the next best BID or ASK

UNDERSTANDING BID AND ASK IN THE ORDER BOOK

The order book is the inner workings of the exchange. It is where you can see live price formation. Each exchange traded market has its own order book. The liquidity can always be different. This means how many contracts or values want to be sold or bought. On the BID or ASK there is always a certain number of orders (colloquially). The idea behind this is that a trader wants to buy or sell automatically at a certain price.

Difference between Limit and Market Orders

It is very important to understand the difference between Limit and Market Orders. If you understand this concept, you will know how the exchange or market pricing works.

The price is moved only through the use of market orders. Without the direct buy or sell order, the price would not move, because no one would serve the limits on the BID or ASK. The orders on the BID or ASK are then processed by the market order. If there are no more orders there, there must be a price change.

Example:

On the price (picture above) 2772,25 there are 6 Limit Orders (ASK). 6 buy market orders must be executed for the price to go up 1 tick. In this order book there is no additional BID ASK spread (futures). There is always only 1 tick spread so to speak.

Important summary:

  • Limit orders are on the BID and ASK and want to be served
  • This service is done only by direct market orders (buy or sell)
  • If you buy directly, another trader sells his position directly on the BID
  • If you sell directly, another trader buys your position directly on the ASK
  • If there are no more orders on the BID or ASK, there must be a price change

HOW DOES THE BID AND ASK SPREAD COME ABOUT?

It should be noted that not every market or financial product has an additional BID and ASK spread. Liquid futures contracts, for example, do not have a BID and ASK spread or 1 tick. Non-liquid stocks may have a high BID and ASK spread. Furthermore, the current market situation also plays into the BID and ASK spread.

Facts that influence the BID and ASK Spread:

  • Financial Product
  • Market
  • Liquidity
  • Market situation (volatility and volume)
  • Broker
  • OTC (over the counter) or not

Liquidity

The liquidity of a financial asset is one of the most important factors for the BID ASK spread. It means how easy it is to trade the asset or not. For example, there are stocks that have very high liquidity because many market participants trade this stock. The volume is also accordingly high. Then there are other stocks that are traded very little.

In markets with low liquidity, there is not a limit order on every price. Thus, there may be an increased spread or slippage. The exchange for the market order always at the next best price out. Thus, a fair price for the asset is determined.

Trading volume

In line with liquidity is the trading volume. If the liquidity of a market is very high, the trading volume will also be very high. However, the volume can change at any time and depends on the market situation. For example, in the case of economic news, there is a high trading volume, which is paired with low liquidity. The spread can therefore be higher.

Assets with little liquidity also show low trading volume. You should always be careful with such assets! The larger your order will be the higher the spread will be. So it is also possible to move the market alone. Therefore, you should always check the trading volume and liquidity with the order book before opening an order.

Beware of high volatility

High volatility means that the market makes larger price jumps. High volatility comes from high trading volume and lower liquidity. Volatility increases the BID ASK spread because of lower liquidity.

This can be seen especially during economic news. Many traders close their limit orders before the news. So the order book is very thin with low liquidity. Immediately after the news is published, algorithms and traders start opening positions. The market will fluctuate a lot and the spread can be high.

Spread in stock trading and ETFs

BID ASK spread in stock trading and ETFs depends on 2 important factors: Broker and liquidity of the stock. Securities are normally traded on an exchange. There is no BID and ASK spread for liquid shares. BID and ASK are right next to each other there and normal exchange trading with high liquidity occurs.

See the example of Apple stock:

BID and ASK for Apple shares

Less liquid stocks may experience high BID and ASK spreads. You should therefore be sure to look at the order book, otherwise you could lose a lot of money! If the broker then executes you at a very bad price, it is your bad luck. Therefore, you should also stagger larger orders in stocks with little liquidity and not invest all the money with one order. It is also helpful to use a limit order to limit the BID ASK spread

Hidden spread with discount stock brokers

Many new traders trade with cheap online brokers that offer an innovative app or trading without fees. Most of the time, you do not have an order book available with such brokers. The broker works with a hidden BID ASK spread. The stock is traded on the exchange, but your order is not routed to the exchange.

The business model works like this: there is an additional spread in the stock trade. The broker then buys the stock on the real exchange and resells it to the clients. The spread difference is his profit. This can also work with so-called “dark pools”. Hedge funds or banks act as counterparties and sell or buy the stock on to the trader. The broker only forwards the order flow.

Spread for futures (forward contracts)

Futures contracts are very liquid and I can tell you from my experience that there is hardly any spread here. You only have to be careful in case of high volatility. When there is news or events, the liquidity becomes smaller and the market moves fast. There may also be slippage and you will get a worse execution.

Spreads in Forex and CFD trading

Forex and CFD brokers always mark out a spread on the current market price, depending on the account model. Behind these brokers are liquidity providers who provide the prices. The spread difference is the broker’s profit, this is how they make money. However, some Forex and CFD brokers also offer accounts without an added BID ASK spread. But there you will have to pay a trading commission depending on the volume. However, a spread can still occur, because they are over the counter financial products. The spread depends on the market and liquidity.

Forex and CFD brokers earn money through an additional spread

Forex and CFD brokers can intervene in the BID and ASK spread. Many providers add an additional spread to the normal market to make money. A commission or fee per order is then omitted. However, most of the time a broker offers both models in different accounts. There is often an account with additional spread without trading commission and an account with direct spread and a trading commission.

Account types with BID and ASK spread

In addition, the broker may hedge through a spread in volatile market situations. In case of too fast movements, a slippage may occur and you will not be executed at the desired price. To avoid this, a spread is added. In addition, the broker itself must get the price executed in the market. In the further course of this page I recommend providers with a very low spread and fees.

Brokers and the BID ASK Spread:

  • There are brokers that make money from an additional spread
  • There are brokers who do not add an additional spread but charge a trading commission
  • The broker can hedge against high volatility and slippage by charging a spread

Where is there a high BID and ASK spread?

In the table below I would like to clarify where you can expect a high or low BID and ASK spread:

LOW SPREAD: HIGH SPREAD:
Futures (forward contracts) Stocks with low liquidity
Highly traded stocks (high liquidity) Markets with high volatility/movement and low trading volume
Forex (currencies) – very liquid market, but the spread depends on the broker

Saving costs with a low cost broker:

As mentioned above, brokers also affect the spread because it earns you trading fees. An additional spread is added to the disadvantage of the trader. This compensates for the lack of commission. This business model unproblematic, however, when choosing a broker, care should be taken that the provider offers favorable conditions to the trader.

The BID and ASK spread in day trading plays an important role

In day trading and scalping there is a high order volume and trade frequency. The spread plays an important role in keeping the costs low. Therefore, it is recommended to use markets and financial products with high liquidity for day trading:

  • Large futures contracts (S&P500, oil, gold, euro)
  • Forex (EUR/USD, USD/JPY, GBP/USD)
  • Shares of large companies

Futures contracts are very suitable for daily trading if you want to trade only small market movements with high volume. However, this financial product requires a high initial capital of tens of thousands of euros. Liquid currencies and indices are also suitable for trading via CFD (Contracts for Difference). The spread is generally very low.

Personally, I recommend for day trading to switch to American stocks or large European stocks. Some German stocks have very little liquidity and it is difficult to get market data for the order book. Stocks that are listed on Nasdaq are suitable for this.

Scalping

Scalping is a more extreme form of day trading. Traders work directly with the order book and trade only very small movements with high volume. I recommend using futures contracts for this purpose. All other financial products are usually too expensive for this and you do not get the transparent insight into the pricing.

Currencies at an ECN broker are also suitable for scalping. Always use a commission model. Some brokers even offer a spread of 0.0 pips. For futures, the spread is generally always 1 tick if you buy via market order. A fee is then charged per contract. This is usually as high as the tick value of the future. So for a profitable trade you need to make 2-3 ticks profit.

Brokers with fixed spread

It is rare to find the offer of a fixed spread in Forex and CFD trading. Hardly any broker offers this account model today. The broker guarantees the client a fixed spread (fee) for each order. However, the fixed spread is always higher than a variable spread, because the broker must also be able to hedge against high volatility. Overall, the offer of fixed spreads is a very big problem for the broker, because he must guarantee the execution in the background and make it possible in the first place. If there is too little liquidity in the market, there will be requotes or the broker himself will make a big loss

Requotes with too high spread

With some brokers it comes to the problem of a high BID and ASK spread that the trade order is not executed with low liquidity. You want to open an order by market and it is simply rejected by the broker. This can be a safety mechanism, because current prices are not available. Depending on what kind of infrastructure the broker has, requotes occur more frequently. Often it is smaller and unknown brokers.

With regulated brokers with a professional order routing, you should not have problems with requotes.

Costs due to commissions

If the broker does not add a spread to the current market price, he makes his money through commissions. Sometimes traders can even choose between a commission account and spread account. I always recommend using the account without additional spread with a trading commission. According to my calculations and experience, you can save a lot of money there. Especially for traders who trade only small movements, it is much easier to trade without a spread and to plan for a commission.

Conclusion: The BID and ASK spread is necessary

The spread is necessary for smooth price formation and exchange trading. There is not always enough liquidity (supply and demand) on a given price. Therefore, the spread may increase. BID is the price at which traders are willing to buy and ASK is the price at which traders are willing to sell. The orders are executed by direct market orders (buy and sell).

Stock market trading is not witchcraft. For beginners it is especially important to understand the terminology in Trading to understand, in order to avoid fatal errors.

Good luck with your trading!

Summary:

  • Limit orders are waiting to be triggered by market orders
  • ASK is a sell limit
  • BID is a buy limit
  • Market orders trigger the limit orders on the ASK or BID
  • The spread can be caused by the broker, market situation or the financial product
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