What is a Spot Trade?

A spot trade, also known as a spot transaction, refers to the purchase or sale of a foreign currency, financial instrument or commodity for instant delivery on a specified spot date. Most spot contracts include physical delivery of the currency, commodity or instrument; the difference in price of a future or forward contract versus a spot contract takes into account the time value of the payment, based on interest rates and time to maturity. In a foreign exchange spot trade, the exchange rate on which the transaction is based is referred to as the spot exchange rate.

A spot trade can be contrasted with a forward or futures trade.

Understanding a Spot Trade

Foreign exchange spot contracts are the most common and are usually for delivery in two business days, while most other financial instruments settle the next business day. The spot foreign exchange (forex) market trades electronically around the world. It is the world's largest market, with over $5 trillion traded daily; its size dwarfs the interest rate and commodity markets.

The current price of a financial instrument is called the spot price. It is the price at which an instrument can be sold or bought at immediately. Buyers and sellers create the spot price by posting their buy and sell orders. In liquid markets, the spot price may change by the second, as orders get filled and new ones enter the marketplace.

Special Considerations

Forward Pricing

The price for any instrument that settles later than spot is a combination of the spot price and the interest cost until the settlement date. In the case of forex, the interest rate differential between the two currencies is used for this calculation.

Key Takeaways

  • Spot trades involve financial instruments traded for immediate delivery in the market.
  • Many assets quote a “spot price” and a “futures or forward price.”
  • Most spot market transactions have a T+2 settlement date.
  • Spot market transactions can take place on an exchange or over-the-counter.

Other Spot Markets

Most interest rate products, such as bonds and options, trade for spot settlement on the next business day. Contracts are most commonly between two financial institutions, but they can also be between a company and a financial institution. An interest rate swap in which the near leg is for the spot date usually settles in two business days.

Commodities are usually traded on an exchange. The most popular are CME Group (previously known as the Chicago Mercantile Exchange) and the Intercontinental Exchange, which owns the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). Most commodity trading is for future settlement and is not delivered; the contract is sold back to the exchange prior to maturity, and the gain or loss is settled in cash.