Arbitrageur: Definition, What They Do, Examples

What Is an Arbitrageur?

An arbitrageur is a type of investor who attempts to profit from market inefficiencies. These inefficiencies can relate to any aspect of the markets, whether it is price, dividends, or regulation. The most common form of arbitrage is price.

Arbitrageurs exploit price inefficiencies by making simultaneous trades that offset each other to capture risk-free profits. An arbitrageur would, for example, seek out price discrepancies between stocks listed on more than one exchange by buying the undervalued shares on one exchange while short selling the same number of overvalued shares on another exchange, thus capturing risk-free profits as the prices on the two exchanges converge.

In some instances, they also seek to profit by arbitraging private information into profits. For example, a takeover arbitrageur may use information about an impending takeover to buy up a company's stock and profit from the subsequent price appreciation.

Key Takeaways

  • Arbitrageurs are investors who exploit market inefficiencies of any kind. They are necessary to ensure that inefficiencies between markets are ironed out or remain at a minimum.
  • Arbitrageurs tend to be experienced investors, and need to be detail-oriented and comfortable with risk.
  • Arbitrageurs most commonly benefit from price discrepancies between stocks or other assets listed on multiple exchanges.
  • In such a scenario, the arbitrageur might buy the issue on one exchange and short sell it on the second exchange, where the price is higher.


Understanding an Arbitrageur

Arbitrageurs are typically very experienced investors since arbitrage opportunities are difficult to find and require relatively fast trading. They also need to be detail-oriented and comfortable with risk. This is because most arbitrage plays involve a significant amount of risk. They are also bets with regards to the future direction of markets.

Arbitrageurs play an important role in the operation of capital markets, as their efforts in exploiting price inefficiencies keep prices more accurate than they otherwise would be.

Examples of Arbitrageur Plays

As a simple example of what an arbitrageur would do, consider the following.

The stock of Company X is trading at $20 on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) while, at the same moment, it is trading for the equivalent of $20.05 on the London Stock Exchange (LSE). A trader can buy the stock on the NYSE and immediately sell the same shares on the LSE, earning a total profit of 5 cents per share, less any trading costs. The trader exploits the arbitrage opportunity until the specialists on the NYSE run out of inventory of Company X's stock, or until the specialists on the NYSE or LSE adjust their prices to wipe out the opportunity.

An example of an information arbitrageur was Ivan F. Boesky. He was considered a master arbitrageur of takeovers during the 1980s. For example, he minted profits by buying stocks of Gulf oil and Getty oil before their purchases by California Standard and Texaco respectively during that period. He is reported to have made between $50 million to $100 million in each transaction.

The rise of cryptocurrencies offered another opportunity for arbitrageurs. As the price of Bitcoin reached new records, several opportunities to exploit price discrepancies between multiple exchanges operating around the world presented themselves. For example, Bitcoin traded at a premium at cryptocurrency exchanges situated in South Korea as compared to the ones located in the United States. The difference in prices, also known as the Kimchi Premium, was mainly because of the high demand for crypto in these regions. Crypto traders profited by arbitraging the price difference between the two locations in real-time.

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