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What is arbitrage trading?

Dive into arbitrage trading: Explore how some profit from price differences

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Arbitrage is an alternative trading style where investors buy an asset on one marketplace and sell it on another for a higher price. Used across a wide range of asset classes in different markets, for example, the stock market like the New York Stock Exchange, financial markets, commodity trading, and cryptocurrencies. This style of trading can be very lucrative if you know what you're doing, but as always, there is a risk involved.

Below we explore what arbitrage is, what an arbitrage trade looks like, and what risks are involved.

What is arbitrage?

Arbitration is the process of profiting from differences in asset prices by simultaneously buying and selling the same asset in different markets. Arbitrage exists due to market inefficiencies, which it both exploits and resolves by bringing attention to the price difference. 

Traders that use this form of trading are called arbitrageurs and will typically look for arbitrage opportunities within one chosen asset class. Arbitrageurs look for unique circumstances usually across foreign markets that allow for the same goods to be traded for different prices. For instance, an arbitrageur will buy the same stock on the London Stock Exchange and sell it on the New York Stock Exchange and collect a profit.

While this sounds foolproof, the reality is that arbitrageurs require an in-depth knowledge of different markets, the skills required to spot arbitrage opportunities, and a keen understanding of the relevant news cycles. With notable risks involved, arbitrage trading is not advised for beginners. 

What are the risks involved with arbitrage trades?

While arbitrage trading may sound easy, it is quite complicated. Many things can go wrong if an investor does not fully understand the market and the variables involved before trying to make a quick profit.

Those with fewer resources and expertise are less likely to execute arbitrage because it requires a large amount of up-front cash as well as working knowledge of derivatives and margin trading. Arbitrage trading is not for every investor. Before you jump on any arbitrage opportunities, below are several risks involved in the practice:

Errors in market price differences

Considering that arbitrage trades are based on market inefficiencies, there is a high chance that the price could quickly take a turn, leaving the investor with a large amount of an asset. To overcome this unpredictability, arbitrageurs study financial markets, stay informed with the news, and build a deep understanding of the markets in which they invest. 

Fees and exchange rates

Brokerage fees, transaction costs and foreign exchange rates play a big role in unforeseen expenses when conducting arbitrage trading. These expenses should be factored into the cost calculations prior to taking on any arbitrage opportunities in order to best understand what you're getting into. 


Possibly the most crucial element to this trading technique, timing needs to be well calculated as it plays a role in whether you catch or miss the price discrepancies and ultimately profit from your trades. 

How does one get into arbitrage trading?

As arbitrage trading involved trading between international markets, the first place to start is by thoroughly monitoring and researching international markets and news. In doing so, the arbitrageur will look for any discrepancies in asset prices across the markets, and pinpoint a precise time to buy and sell the asset across the different markets. This is done at the same time so as not to miss out on price opportunities and be left holding onto an asset. 

An example of arbitrage

To assist you in better understanding what is arbitrage, let's take a look at an example of an arbitrage trade. Say you have your eye on a stock that is traded on both the London Stock Exchange and Tokyo Stock Exchange (TYO). From monitoring the price fluctuations you pinpoint the perfect moment to execute a buy-sell trades. Let's say you're looking at stocks in an automotive company as it's valued at $100 on the LSE and $75 on the TYO (obviously priced in their respective currencies).

Taking advantage of the price discrepancy, time difference and fluctuating circumstances of each market, you buy the cheaper version of the stock and simultaneously sell it on the higher-valued exchange. 

While the price discrepancy indicates profits of $25 per share bought and sold, the reality is that there will also be discrepancies in the currencies used and the fees payable for conducting these trades. The more shares you buy the higher your profits will be, so ensure that you calculate the earning potential before investing a large amount of capital. 

Should I get into arbitrage trading?

While the opportunity for profits sounds great, there is a lot of research and calculations required in order to be successful in this field. As with all investment strategies and trading techniques, arbitrage is no exception to the amount of risk involved. If you're willing to do the work and put in the hours, arbitrage trading could work in your favor. 


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