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Navigating the Financial Market: A Guide to Bid-Ask Spreads

The bid price represents the maximum price that a buyer is willing to pay for a security, while the ask price signifies the minimum price at which a seller is willing to sell their security.

Market makers play an influential role in bid-ask spreads. Their primary function is to facilitate the smooth operation of financial markets. They achieve this by offering to buy securities at the bid price and sell at the ask price, thus creating a market for traders. The difference between the bid and ask price is known as the spread, and it's the market maker's source of profit.

The Role of Market Makers in Bid-Ask Spreads

Market makers use bid-ask spreads as a mechanism to manage risk and gain profit. They are essentially the intermediaries that ensure liquidity in the marketplace. Their continuous commitment to buy and sell securities at publicly quoted prices is what keeps the financial markets moving efficiently.

Without market makers being present liquidity will likely be severely diminished in a given market. The absence of a ready buyer or seller can cause drastic price changes, which could deter investors and bring the market to a halt. Hence, market makers play a pivotal role in maintaining the stability of financial markets.

Identifying the Lowest Price and Maximum Price in Bid-Ask Spreads

The bid price is always lower than the ask price. The difference between these two prices constitutes the bid-ask spread, which is essentially the cost of trading a particular security.

To identify the lowest and the maximum price in a bid-ask spread, you simply need to look at the bid and ask prices quoted by the market maker. However, it's important to note that these prices are not fixed and can fluctuate based on supply and demand dynamics in the market.

For instance, if there's a high demand for a particular security, the bid price may rise as buyers compete to purchase the security. Conversely, if supply exceeds demand, the ask price may fall as sellers try to offload their securities.

Example of Bid-Ask Spread Formula

One way to calculate the bid-ask spread is to subtract the bid price from the ask price. For example, if the bid price is £5 and the ask price is £6, the bid-ask spread would be £1.

However, it's often more useful to express the spread as a percentage of the mid-price, which is the average of the bid and ask prices. This gives you the relative spread, which allows you to compare spreads across different securities. The formula for calculating the relative spread is:

(Bid-Ask Spread / Mid-Price) x 100%

Using the previous example, the mid-price would be £5.50, so the relative spread would be (£1 / £5.50) x 100% = 18.18%. This tells you that the cost of trading this security is roughly 18% of its price.


The Impact of Wider Spreads on Trading

Wider spreads can significantly impact your trading strategy. Generally, a wide spread indicates a less liquid market with higher trading costs. This is because the market maker has to assume more risk when the difference between the bid and ask price is large.

If you're a trader, wide spreads can eat into your profits. The larger the spread, the more the price has to move in your favour before you can make a profit. Additionally, if you need to exit your position quickly, a wide spread can result in significant losses.

That said, wider spreads are not always detrimental. For example, if you're a long-term investor, the impact of the spread may be negligible over time. Moreover, wider spreads can sometimes signal potential opportunities, such as in the case of undervalued securities.

How Bid-Ask Spreads Affect Current Stock Prices

Bid-ask spreads have a direct impact on the current price of a stock. When the spread is narrow, it suggests high liquidity and a strong consensus on price, which can lead to a more stable stock price. However, a wide spread indicates low liquidity and a lack of consensus on price, resulting in potentially more volatile stock prices.

Additionally, bid-ask spreads also reflect the perceived risk associated with a particular stock. If a stock is considered risky, market makers will widen the spread to compensate for the increased risk of holding that stock. This can result in a lower current price for the stock.

Furthermore, in times of market uncertainty or when important news is released, bid-ask spreads can widen dramatically. This is because market makers increase the spread to protect themselves from potential losses. Such situations can cause sudden changes in the stock's current price.

Strategies for Navigating Bid-Ask Spreads

  • Monitor the bid-ask spread closely. A sudden change in the spread can signal a shift in market sentiment or an upcoming news event, allowing you to adjust your trading strategy accordingly.
  • Use limit orders instead of market orders. A limit order allows you to specify the price at which you're willing to buy or sell a security. This can help you avoid buying at the ask price or selling at the bid price, thus reducing the impact of the spread on your trades.
  • Consider the timing of your trades. Spreads tend to be wider at the start and end of the trading day, so it may be beneficial to trade during the middle of the day when spreads are typically narrower.

The Importance of Monitoring Bid-Ask Spreads

Monitoring bid-ask spreads is essential in trading. They provide valuable insights into market conditions and can help you make more informed trading decisions.

Moreover, monitoring bid-ask spreads can help you manage your trading costs. By carefully timing your trades and using limit orders, you can potentially reduce the impact of the spread on your profits.


Navigating the financial market and understanding bid-ask spreads can be complex, but with the right knowledge and strategies, you can use them to your advantage. By understanding the role of market makers, identifying the lowest and maximum price in bid-ask spreads, and learning how to navigate wider spreads, you can make more informed trading decisions. Remember, knowledge is power in the world of financial trading.

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