What Investors Should Know About Spread

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When trading stocks, there are several market terms that are helpful to understand, such as portfolio, dividend, and volatility. Another key term to know is spread.

In simple terms, a spread represents the difference between any two financial metrics. The type of spread depends on the type of security that’s being traded. For example, when trading bonds, the spread can refer to a difference in yields between bonds of varying maturity lengths or quality.

But there are many differences between bonds vs. stocks—and spread is one of them. With stocks, spread refers to differences in price. Specifically, it measures the gap between the bid price and the ask price. Understanding what is spread and how it works can help you more effectively shape your investment strategy.

What Is Spread?

buying a home. As a home buyer, you may have a set price that you’re willing to pay for a property, based on what you can afford and what you’ve been pre-approved for by your mortgage lender.

You search for homes and eventually find one that has everything on your wishlist. When you check the listing price, you see that the seller has it priced $10,000 above your budget. In terms of spread, the maximum amount you’re willing to offer for the home represents the bid price, while the seller’s listing price represents the ask.

What Does Spread Mean?

Aside from stock spread, spread can have a variety of applications and meanings in the financial world.

As mentioned earlier, bond spread typically refers to differences in yield. But if you’re trading futures, the spread can measure the gap between buy and sell positions for a particular commodity. With options trading, it can refer to differences in strike prices when placing call or put options.

Spread can also be used in foreign currency markets or forex (foreign exchange market) trades to represent the difference between the costs for traders and the profits realized by dealers.

With lending, spread is tied to a difference in interest rates. Specifically, it means the difference between a benchmark rate, such as the prime rate, and the rate that’s actually charged to a borrower. So for example, if you’re getting a mortgage there might be a 2% spread, meaning your rate is 2% higher than the benchmark rate.

Bid-Ask Price and Stocks Spread

If you trade stocks online, it’s important to understand how the bid-ask price spread works and how it can affect your investment outcomes. Since spread can help gauge supply and demand for a particular stock, investors can use that information to make informed decisions about trades and increase the odds of getting the best possible price.

Limit orders. This is an order to buy or sell a security at a certain price or better.
•  Stop orders. A stop order, also called a stop-loss order, is an order to buy or sell a security once it hits a certain price. This is called the stop price and once that price is reached, the order is executed.
•  Buy stop orders. Buy stop orders are used to execute buy orders only when the market reaches a certain stop price.
•  Sell stop orders. A sell stop order is the opposite of a buy stop order. Sell stop orders are executed when the stop price falls below the current market price of a security.

Stop orders can help with limiting losses in your investment portfolio if you’re trading based on bid-ask price spreads. Knowing how to coordinate various types of orders together with stock spreads can help with getting the best possible price as you make trades.

The Takeaway

The more investing terms an investor is familiar with, the better able they’ll be to invest with confidence. Spread is a term that means different things in different situations, but when it comes to stocks, spread is the difference between the bid price and ask price of a given stock. Being able to assess what a spread might mean can help inform individual trading decisions.

As you learn more about stocks, including what is spread and how it works, you can use that knowledge to create a portfolio that reflects your financial needs and goals.

SoFi Invest® makes it easy to get started with stock trading and investing. Members can choose which stocks to buy or sell, based on their investment objectives and risk tolerance, and purchase shares in some of the market’s biggest companies through fractional share investing with Stock Bits.

Find out how SoFi Invest can help you reach your financial goals.


SoFi Invest®
The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . The umbrella term “SoFi Invest” refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
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