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What is 'Bid and Ask'

The term bid and ask (also known as bid and offer) refers to a two-way price quotation that indicates the best price at which a security can be sold and bought at a given point in time. The bid price represents the maximum price that a buyer is willing to pay for a security. The ask price represents the minimum price that a seller is willing to receive. A trade or transaction occurs after the buyer and seller agree on a price for the security.

The difference between bid and ask prices, or the spread, is a key indicator of the liquidity of the asset. In general, the smaller the spread, the better the liquidity.

BREAKING DOWN 'Bid and Ask'

The average investor contends with the bid and ask spread as an implied cost of trading. For example, if the current price quotation for security A is $10.50 / $10.55, investor X, who is looking to buy A at the current market price, would pay $10.55, while investor Y who wishes to sell A at the current market price would receive $10.50.

[Note: The bid-ask spread is an important concept for day traders to understand. In addition to paying attention to the size of a spread, some day traders generate an income from ECN credits in exchange for providing liquidity. If you're interested in learning more about day trading strategies, check out Investopedia's Become a Day Trader course for more information.]

Who Benefits from the Bid-Ask Spread?

The bid-ask spread works to the advantage of the market maker. Continuing with the above example, a market maker who is quoting a price of $10.50 / $10.55 for security A is indicating a willingness to buy A at $10.50 (the bid price) and sell it at $10.55 (the asked price). The spread represents the market maker's profit.

Bid-ask spreads can vary widely, depending on the security and the market. Blue-chip companies that constitute the Dow Jones Industrial Average may have a bid-ask spread of only a few cents, while a small-cap stock may have a bid-ask spread of 50 cents or more.

The bid-ask spread can widen dramatically during periods of illiquidity or market turmoil, since traders will not be willing to pay a price beyond a certain threshold, and sellers may not be willing to accept prices below a certain level.

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