Understanding Dealer Markets

Understanding Dealer Markets

3 Min.

A dealer market involves multiple dealers posting prices to buy or sell securities, providing liquidity and transparency. Market makers in dealer markets use bid-ask spreads for risk control. This differs from auction and broker markets. Traders and dealers have distinct roles in these markets.


A dealer market is a financial mechanism where multiple dealers, designated as "market makers," publicly display prices at which they are willing to trade a specific security. These prices include the buying (bid) and selling (offer) prices, offering liquidity and transparency. Dealer markets are prevalent in bonds, foreign exchanges, and the Nasdaq stock exchange for equities.

A Closer Look at Dealer Markets

In a dealer market, a market maker invests their own capital to provide liquidity to investors. They manage risk primarily through bid-ask spreads, which serve as both a cost to investors and a profit source for dealers. This contrasts with auction markets where a centralized specialist facilitates trading and liquidity, matching buyers and sellers for a specific security.

Dealer Markets vs. Broker Markets

Dealer markets differ significantly from broker markets:

  • Buyer-Seller Arrangement: In broker markets, a trade requires defined buyers and sellers, whereas, in dealer markets, buyers and sellers execute orders independently through market makers.
  • Execution on Behalf of: Brokers execute trades on behalf of others, while dealers trade on their behalf.
  • Rights to Buy/Sell: Brokers lack the rights to buy or sell securities themselves, whereas dealers have this freedom.
  • Commissions: Brokers earn commissions for transactions, while dealers, as primary principals, do not receive commissions.

Dealer Market Example

For example, if Dealer X has excess XYZ Corporation stock (quoted on the NYSE at $25.00 / $25.05 by various market makers) and wants to sell, they may post a bid-ask quote of $24.95 / $25.03. Investors looking to buy XYZ Corporation stock might choose Dealer X's offer price of $25.03, as it's slightly lower than the $25.05 offered by other market makers. Conversely, sellers might not be keen on Dealer X's $24.95 bid since it's 2 cents less than what other dealers offer.

Difference Between a Trader and a Dealer

Dealers are specialized traders committed to continuously making two-sided markets in the securities they handle. This involves posting both bid and offer prices and profiting from the bid-ask spread. Traders, in contrast, need not create two-sided markets and can freely buy or sell. They are considered price takers and rely on market movements to exit trades profitably.

Types of Securities Dealers

In modern financial markets, broker-dealers (BDs) are regulated entities engaging in securities trading for their own accounts and on behalf of clients. Some act as agents, facilitating trades solely for customers and earning commissions. Others function as both principals and agents, trading from their own accounts while dealing with customers.

There are two broad categories of broker-dealers: wirehouses that sell their products and independent broker-dealers selling products from external sources.


Dealer markets play a crucial role in financial markets, offering liquidity and transparency through market makers. These markets differ from broker and auction markets, with distinct roles for traders and dealers. Understanding these distinctions is essential for participants in the financial industry. Online trading platforms like Robinhood are brokers, not dealer markets, as they execute trades solely on behalf of customers without operating their own marketplace or exchange.

Dealer Market
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