What is spot trading ?

Jesse
5 mn

Spot trading is a simple way to invest and trade a financial instrument, commodity, or foreign currency or a cryptocurrencies on a specific date. Your first experience with forex or crypto investing will most likely be a spot transaction in the spot market, for example, buying Bitcoin at the market price and holding it in a secure wallet. Below we explore what spot trading is exactly. 

Spot exchanges exist for a variety of assets, including cryptocurrencies, equities, commodities, forex, and bonds. You're probably more familiar with spot markets and spot trading than you think. NASDAQ or the New York Stock Exchange are both examples of spot markets. 

What is spot trading?

Spot traders attempt to make money in the market by purchasing assets and waiting for them to appreciate in value. When the price of a commodity rises, spot traders will sell their assets for a profit. Spot traders can also short markets. This method involves selling financial assets and repurchasing them when the price drops.

The spot price of an asset is the current market value. You can purchase or sell your assets immediately at the best available spot price using a market order on an exchange. However, should there not be enough liquidity in that market at the time your order might not be executed. There also may not be sufficient volume to meet your demand at that price.

For example, if your order is for 5 BTC at the spot price, but only 2 are on offer, you will have to fill the rest of your order with BTC at a different price. Spot prices change in real-time, and are updated and changed in real-time as orders are matched. Over-the-counter spot trading is different than this (more on this below).

Delivery times vary depending on the asset, with cryptocurrencies typically executed instantly while stocks and equities might take a few days. This might be displayed as T+2 which illustrates the trade date plus two business days. With modern-day digitized systems, delivery is almost immediate, particularly with the crypto markets operating 24/7, while OTC and peer-to-peer trading might take a little longer.

Spot trading vs margin trading

In some spot markets, margin trading is available, but it isn't the same as spot trading. Spot trading necessitates that you immediately fully acquire the asset and take delivery of it. 

In contrast, margin trading allows you to borrow money from a third party with interest, allowing you to enter larger bets/trades. As a result, borrowing provides a margin.

However, just like any other investment, trading cryptocurrency carries the risk of massive losses if you don't know what you're doing. Margin trading is advised for seasoned traders only. 

Spot markets vs futures markets

Spot markets allow you to make fast exchanges with a guaranteed delivery time. On the other hand, futures trading is based on contracts that must be paid for in the future. A buyer and seller agree to exchange a specific quantity of items at a specified price in the future. When the settlement date arrives, most buyers and sellers will typically choose to make a cash settlement instead of delivering the asset. 

How OTC exchanges differ from other exchanges

While most people will do spot trading on exchanges, you may also trade directly with others without the assistance of a third party. Over-the-counter trades are the prime example of this. Here we explore how OTC exchanges differ from centralized and decentralized exchanges. 

Centralized Exchanges

Exchanges are divided into two types: centralized and decentralized. A centralized exchange manages the trading of assets like cryptocurrencies, foreign exchange, and commodities. The exchange serves as a go-between for market participants and protects the traded assets as a custodian. 

A centralized cryptocurrency exchange is a marketplace where buyers and sellers of cryptocurrencies trade one for another with one authority overseeing all operations. It is responsible for ensuring that operations like regulation, KYC (Know Your Customer), fair pricing, security, and customer protection are in order and running optimally at all times. 

In return, the exchange takes a cut on transactions, listings, and other trading activities. As long as an exchange has enough users, these exchanges can make money through bull and bear markets. 

To use a centralized exchange, you must first load your account with the fiat or cryptocurrency you want to trade. A reputable centralized exchange must ensure that transactions run smoothly.

Decentralized exchanges

A decentralized exchange (DEX) is another trading platform popular in the cryptocurrency industry. A DEX provides many of the same basic services as a centralized exchange, although instead of matching orders through the use of traditional technology, it does so via blockchain technology. In most cases, DEX users do not need to create an account and can trade peer-to-peer without having to load funds onto the platform. 

DEXs operate using smart contracts which execute trades directly from the traders' wallets, bypassing exchanges entirely. Many individuals appreciate the freedom and privacy that comes with a DEX because it provides greater anonymity than a typical exchange. This, however, has its drawback, such as security concerns. 

Over-the-counter

Lastly, there is over-the-counter trading (OTC), also known as off-exchange trading. OTC exchanges allow brokers, traders, and dealers to trade financial assets, currencies and securities through direct transactions. Spot trading on the OTC market uses a variety of communication channels to arrange trades, including phones and instant messaging.

OTC trades avoid the use of an order book providing certain benefits. If you're trading a low-volume liquid asset like a small-cap coin, a big order on a centralized or decentralized exchange may cause slippage. Because the exchange is unable to completely fill your order at the desired price, you must accept greater prices in order to complete it. With large OTC trades, the trader will get better prices.

Even liquid assets like Bitcoin can suffer from slippage when orders are too big. So, large BTC purchases may also profit from OTC transactions.

Final thoughts

Spot trading is a widely used method of trading, particularly for beginner traders. Although it's relatively straightforward, it’s always best to be well informed and well-educated.