Bid vs Ask Spread

Bid vs Ask Spread Differences

Veteran traders throw terms like bid vs ask around like NFL players throw a football. Precision is key to their success in both arenas. Have a spread too wide, and you miss the throw. Tight bid ask spreads are very important because they help you to get a better fill price. You won’t get as good of a fill if your spread is too wide. Keep your spreads below $0.10 if possible—ideally $0.01-$0.02. 

The bid price of a stock represents the highest price someone is willing to pay for a share. Alternatively, the ask is the lowest price someone is willing to sell their shares for. The end result? A difference in price between the bid and the ask, which we call a spread.

If you have a bid and ask too big, you miss out on profits. So that you might avoid this dilemma, I’d like to run through some important considerations when trading stocks with large bid vs. ask spreads. The bid and ask information is considered “Level 1” type information. For “Level 2” information, you would have access to the order book that shows the number of shares at each specific price currently waiting to get their orders filled.

Quick Summary

  • We call the difference between the highest purchase price and the lowest sales price for a stock as the bid-ask spread.
  • Any highly liquid stock typically has a narrow spread, whereas thinly traded stocks usually have wider spreads.
  • Bid and ask refers to a stocks demand in the market
  • Use limit orders, price discovery and all-or-none orders when trading stocks with large bid vs. ask spreads

Supply and Demand

Anything in high demand means you can charge more. High demand means higher prices, from prime real estate in LA to toilet paper during a pandemic. And it’s no different when it comes to stocks. 

We use terms like bid and ask to refer to the stock’s supply and demand on the market. The highest price someone is willing to pay for a stock represents the demand side of the market. 

On the other hand, the lowest possible price someone is willing to sell represents the market’s supply side. At this point, it shouldn’t be surprising that low demand for a stock means lower prices.

Without a doubt, volume is the primary determinant of the bid-ask spread size. In my experience, low-volume or thinly traded stocks tend to have higher spreads. a

One additional point of consideration is market volatility. In times of heightened volatility, spreads usually widen, leaving us with poor trade price executions.

Volume & Volatility

A stock’s trading volume refers to the number of shares traded during a specific period. The resulting number measures the liquidity of the stock.

ETFs and large-cap stocks like Apple are typically highly liquid with narrow spreads. Many traders look to trade these stocks because they can easily get filled at the price they want. 

Unlike highly liquid stocks that are easy to trade, low-volume stocks can be difficult. Few traders are interested in them, and they can be hard to unload if you hold them. For these reasons, market makers often use wider bid-ask spreads to offset the risk of holding these illiquid securities. 

In case you’re wondering, market makers must ensure efficient markets by providing liquidity. On a more positive note, a wide bid vs. ask spread means a higher premium for the market makers.

Volatility measures the severity of price changes in a stock or any security, for that matter. In situations of high volatility, we see drastic price changes.

One characteristic of highly volatile environments is wide bid vs ask spreads. Traders and investors alike try to capitalize on these agitated market conditions.

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How Do You Read the Bid vs Ask Spread?

The bid vs ask spread is really important in trading. So how do you read it? The bid/ask spread is basically the difference between the highest price willing to pay vs the lowest price a seller will accept. In other words, the bid represents demand and the ask represents supply. 

Order Fulfillment

Like anything, there’s a constant push-pull between buyers and sellers. Buyers want to buy low, and sellers want to sell high. It is not until the bid vs. ask matches that an order to buy or sell is filled.  

Unfortunately, no trades will be executed if no orders bridge the bid-ask spread. A situation like this puts the market in a tricky position. Thus, to maintain effective functioning markets, market makers quote both bid and ask prices when no orders cross the spread. 

Consider company AMD; it has a bid of 100 shares at $9.95, and an ask of 200 shares at $10.05. Unless a buyer meets the asking price or a seller meets the bidding price, a trade doesn’t happen. 

Suppose a trader places a market order to buy 100 shares of AMD. They are willing to pay the current market price as a market order. Thus, the bid price would become $10.05, and the shares are traded until the order is filled. Furthermore, once the 100 shares are traded, the bid will revert to $9.95, the next highest bid order.

Slippage

Let’s look at a real-life example of a stock with a bid vs. ask spread of $12.00-$12.02. You’re eager to get in, so you place a market order, thinking you’ll get executed immediately at $12.00. Right? Wrong. 

Unfortunately for you, when your market order arrived at the Exchange, the stock had already soared to $12.15 on the news. Unfortunately for you, your buy market order is $12.15, and you realize a slippage of 15 cents. And that is bad, really, bad. 

Slippage happens when you place market orders. To refresh your memory, if you’re placing a market order, you tell your broker to buy or sell the stock for you immediately at any price. Yes, at any price. 

You have no control over the fill price. A market order buys at the ask (high side) and sells at the bid (low side). Sadly, you are filled on the wrong side of the bid-ask spread. You need to avoid this situation at all costs.

Bid vs Ask Spread Example

Wide Bid Ask Spread

Trading Wide Bid and Ask Spreads

To manage the risks associated with wide spreads (i.e., slippage), traders should consider using limit orders, price discovery, and all-or-none orders. With options-based credit spreads, bid/ask spreads are important! Let’s take a look at this a little bit closer.

Instead of unthinkingly entering a trade with a market order, place a limit order. A limit order will help you avoid excessive spreads and control your entry price. Unlike a market order, a limit order only fills at the price you want or better.

What is key to remember is a limit order limits the price you are willing to pay for the stock. You tell your broker to buy or sell a specific stock at or better than a specified price. The important thing is to avoid slippage. You are in control of your trades, and this should be your ultimate goal.  

Let’s assume a trader wants to purchase a marijuana penny stock with a bid of 30 cents and an ask of 50 cents. If they place a market order, they buy at 50 cents; this is not what they should do for obvious reasons.

What they could do is enter a buy limit order at 31 cents. At 31 cents, they are at the top of the ladder, above all the other buyers at 30 cents. Their order gets filled first because they have priority with the 1 cent higher price.  

Alternatively, if they were long and wanted to sell, they could place a sell limit order at 49 cents – the top of the offer. If you recall from the first scenario, they shouldn’t place a market sell order as they’ll get filled at the bid price. 

Price Discovery

As I mentioned above, stocks with wide bids vs. ask spreads trade infrequently. Even if you trade with limit orders, they can sit unexecuted on the bid or ask for days.

To avoid this scenario, why don’t you run a test on the market? You can increase the buy limit price and decrease the sell limit price by small increments.

For example, if a trader sits at the top of the bid at $1.00, and the best offer is $1.25, they could perform price discovery. They could raise their limit order by 5 cents daily to see if the seller will come down on their bid price. 

All-or-None Orders

All-or-nothing orders specify that either all of the total number of shares bought or sold gets executed or none of them do. Liquidity is often thin in wide bid vs spread markets, which means you might miss out on a fill if only a small amount of stock gets traded.

For instance, if a trader placed an all-or-none buy limit order for 10,000 shares at $1.00 and another trader entered the market with 9,999 shares to sell at the bid price, the trade wouldn’t execute.

Despite having the money to spend, there’s simply a shortage of shares to fill his order completely completely. Even though it’s only one share short, they miss out.  

Final Thoughts: Bid vs Ask Spreads

Stocks with wide bid vs ask spreads can be risky for many reasons. Whether it’s poor fill price or the inability to exit a trade, you need to be careful when trading them. 

During volatile conditions, traders would be wise not to place market orders unless they are completely necessary. Fundamentally the best way to prevent slippage is to utilize a guaranteed stop (limit) order. This type of order will always execute trades at the price you’ve set.

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