What Is a Held Order?
A held order is a market order that requires prompt execution for an immediate fill. In most cases, the trade is expected to be executed at the best offer for buy orders or at the best bid for sell orders. Market orders are a common example of held orders.
This can be contrasted with a not-held order, which provides brokers with both time and price discretion to try and get a better fill for a customer.
- A held order is given to a broker for prompt execution and an immediate fill, such as with a market order.
- The benefit of a held order is that the customer will be sure to have executed the entire size of their order, whether a buy or a sale, with no delay.
- A not-held order, on the other hand, gives some discretion to the broker to work the order to try to find a better price, but these efforts may fail.
Understanding Held Orders
When filling a held order, traders have very little discretion in finding a price because time is scarce. Typically, they will be required to match the highest bid or lowest offer to facilitate an immediate transaction.
For example, if the bid-ask market spread in Apple Inc. is $182.50 / $182.70 and a trader receives a held order to purchase 100 shares, they would place a buy order at the offer price of $182.70, which would be executed immediately under normal market conditions.
Held orders are used by investors who need to change their exposure to a particular stock and want their order(s) executed without delay.
When to Use a Held Order
Most investors want to get the best price possible, but there are two situations that held orders are ideal for:
- Trading Breakouts: A held order could be used to enter the market on a breakout if the trader wants an immediate entry into a stock and is not concerned about slippage costs. Slippage occurs if a market maker alters the spread to their advantage after receiving a market order. In a fast-moving stock, traders are often prepared to pay slippage to ensure they receive an instant fill.
- Closing an Error Position: Traders may place a held order to unwind an error position they want to close immediately to reduce downside risk. For example, an investor may realize they have purchased the wrong stock and would place a held order to quickly reverse the position before they buy the correct security.
- Hedging: If a trader is engaging in a hedged order, the hedge should be filled as soon as possible after the initial position is established so that the price of the hedging instrument does not change such that it is no longer an effective hedge.
When Not to Use a Held Order
One area where it is better to avoid using a held order is when you are dealing in illiquid stocks. Suppose a small-cap stock has a wide bid-ask market spread of $1.50 / $2.25. A trader who uses a held order is forced to pay the 33.3% spread ($0.75 / $2.25) to get prompt execution. In this instance, the trader may get a better price if they use discretion and sit at the top of the bid and incrementally increase the order price to entice a seller out of the woodwork.
Of course, the 33.3% spread may be a reasonable price to pay if the trader is playing a breakout or closing a position that was a fat finger error to begin with.