Understanding Spreads

Understanding Spreads

Spreads are a term that every Forex trader encounters. This guide aims to provide a comprehensive and easy-to-understand overview of what spreads are, their types, importance, and the various factors influencing them, ensuring that both novice and experienced traders can navigate this aspect of trading with greater confidence.

What are Forex Spreads?

Forex spreads represent the difference between the bid (selling) price and the ask (buying) price of a currency pair. This gap is essentially the cost of executing a trade in the market. Unlike traditional stock trading where brokers charge a commission, Forex brokers typically earn through spreads.

Types of Spreads

The are two types of Spreads – fixed and variable. Understanding the distinction between them is crucial for traders in the Forex market. This section delves deeper into these two types of spreads, providing insights into how they work, their advantages and disadvantages, and the scenarios in which they are most beneficial.

Fixed Spreads

Fixed spreads are characterized by their unchanging nature. Regardless of market conditions – whether there’s high volatility or calm – the spread between the bid and ask prices of a currency pair remains the same. This constancy means traders know the cost of a trade (the spread) upfront, allowing for more straightforward financial planning and risk management.

The Forex market is known for its dynamic and sometimes wildly fluctuating conditions. Fixed spreads serve as a buffer against this unpredictability. Even if the market is experiencing significant volatility, the cost to the trader (in terms of the spread) does not change.

Traders can strategize more effectively with the knowledge that the spread cost is a fixed variable. This stability in costs is particularly advantageous for certain trading strategies, like those that involve long-term positions where the spread’s impact is accumulated over time.

New traders often find fixed spreads more approachable as they do not have to contend with the added complexity of fluctuating spreads. Traders who operate with strategies sensitive to varying transaction costs (like scalpers) might find variable spreads challenging. Fixed spreads provide a consistent cost structure that can be factored into such strategies with greater ease.

Brokers offering fixed spreads typically operate on a Dealing Desk model. These brokers create their own internal market, often acting as the counterparty to their clients’ trades. This setup can offer more controlled trading conditions.

Fixed Spreads Limitations

Fixed spreads are often higher than the average variable spread under normal market conditions. This can be a drawback for traders seeking the lowest possible trading costs.

Since Dealing Desk brokers might act as the counterparty, there’s a potential conflict of interest, although reputable brokers manage this professionally.

Variable spreads

Variable spreads in Forex trading are an integral aspect that reflects the constantly changing nature of the global currency market. Understanding their fluctuating nature, advantages, and how they are influenced by market events and volatility is crucial for traders. Here’s a detailed breakdown:

Fluctuating Nature and Advantages of the Variable Spreads

Variable spreads are dynamic and adjust in real-time according to market liquidity and volatility. Unlike fixed spreads, they are not set at a constant value but fluctuate throughout the trading day.

During periods of standard market liquidity – usually when there are no major news events or economic upheavals – variable spreads can be quite narrow, offering cost-effective trading opportunities.

Variable spreads are seen as more transparent compared to fixed spreads. They directly mirror the current supply and demand in the market without broker intervention, providing a more accurate reflection of the trading environment.

Impact of Volatility and Market Events

During significant economic announcements or times of market turmoil, variable spreads can widen substantially. This widening is a response to the increased risk and uncertainty in the market.

The widening of spreads during volatile periods can lead to higher trading costs and increased risk. This can particularly impact short-term trading strategies where entry and exit points are critical.

Best Suited For

Variable spreads are ideal for traders who grasp market patterns well. Those who can foresee and react to events impacting spreads benefit the most. This knowledge allows effective use of variable spreads.

Engaging in trading during peak market hours, when liquidity is at its highest, often results in more stable and narrower variable spreads. This environment is conducive to strategies that rely on small price movements.

Impact of Brokerage Models

  1. Dealing Desk and No Dealing Desk: The type of broker, whether a Dealing Desk or No Dealing Desk (like ECN or STP), can significantly impact the spread. ECN and STP brokers often provide lower spreads as they funnel orders directly to liquidity providers.
  2. Leverage and Margin: High leverage can magnify both the benefits and costs of spreads. Margins, which brokers set, also vary based on the spread, influencing the capital traders need to hold.

Market Conditions and Spread Dynamics

  1. Time of Day and Liquidity: Spreads can vary with the time of day, typically widening during off-peak hours when fewer participants are in the market.
  2. Economic News: Major financial announcements can cause spreads to widen dramatically as they introduce uncertainty and volatility.

The Psychological and Strategic Implications

Understanding spreads is not just a matter of arithmetic but also involves a psychological component. Traders must accept spreads as an integral part of trading and plan their strategies accordingly. For instance, day traders and scalpers prefer tighter spreads due to the small profit margins of their trades.

Spread Betting – An Alternative Approach

In some regions, spread betting offers a different way to engage with the markets. It involves predicting the direction of market movement, not the actual buying or selling of currency.


Spreads are a vital element in Forex trading, influencing the choice of broker, trading strategy, and overall profitability. A comprehensive understanding of spreads, along with awareness of how economic factors, brokerage models, and psychological aspects impact them, can equip traders with the knowledge to navigate the Forex markets more effectively. By grasping the nuances of spreads, traders can make more informed decisions, adapt to market changes, and develop strategies that align with their trading goals.

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