What Is Bid-Ask Spread and Slippage?

What Is Bid-Ask Spread and Slippage?

The bid-ask spread represents the difference between the buying and selling prices of an asset. Assets with high liquidity, such as bitcoin, have smaller spreads compared to those with lower liquidity. Slippage occurs when a trade settles at a different price than initially requested, typically seen with market orders in low liquidity or volatile markets. To minimize slippage for illiquid assets, it is advisable to split the order into smaller parts.


When trading assets on a crypto exchange, market prices are determined by supply and demand. In addition to price, factors such as trading volume, market liquidity, and order types play a crucial role. However, it's important to note that you may not always achieve the desired price for a trade due to market conditions and the order types you choose.

The bid-ask spread, which represents the difference between the buying and selling prices, is a result of ongoing negotiations between buyers and sellers. Depending on the asset's volatility and the trade amount, you might also encounter slippage, where the final trade price differs from your initial expectation. To avoid any surprises, it is advisable to gain a basic understanding of an exchange's order book.

How Does Bid-Ask Spread Work?

The bid-ask spread is the difference between the highest bid price and the lowest ask price in an order book. In various markets, such as traditional and crypto markets, the spread is influenced by different factors. In general, more liquid assets tend to have narrower spreads, allowing for smoother execution of trades without significant price changes. On the contrary, wider spreads can lead to more pronounced price fluctuations, especially when dealing with larger trade volumes. The bid-ask spread plays a crucial role in determining the costs and potential risks associated with buying and selling assets across different marketplaces.

Market Makers and Bid-Ask Spread

Liquidity is a vital aspect in financial markets, influencing the ease and speed of trading. Low-liquidity markets can result in delays as traders wait for their orders to match with counterparties. In many markets, such as traditional and crypto markets, liquidity is not solely driven by individual traders. Brokers and market makers play a significant role in providing liquidity in exchange for potential profits through arbitrage.

Market makers, in particular, contribute to liquidity by exploiting the bid-ask spread. They engage in simultaneous buying and selling of assets, capitalizing on the price difference between the highest bid and lowest ask prices. Market makers can generate profits from even small spreads by repeatedly executing these trades, especially when dealing with large volumes. The level of demand for an asset can affect the spread, as market makers compete to narrow it down.

In practical terms, a market maker may quote different prices, such as offering to buy an asset at a lower price and sell it at a higher price, creating a spread. Traders looking for immediate transactions must meet these prices, enabling the market maker to profit from the arbitrage opportunity by buying what they sell and selling what they buy.

Depth Charts and Bid-Ask Spread

The Depth chart provides a visual representation of an asset's order book, displaying bids (quantity and price) in green and asks in red. The difference between these two areas is known as the bid-ask spread, which can be calculated by subtracting the green bid price from the red ask price.

Liquidity and bid-ask spreads are closely related. The trading volume serves as an essential indicator of liquidity. Generally, higher trading volumes are associated with smaller bid-ask spreads as a percentage of the asset's price. Assets that are heavily traded, such as cryptocurrencies and stocks, foster more competition among traders seeking to benefit from the bid-ask spread.

Bid-Ask Spread Percentage

To compare the bid-ask spread of various cryptocurrencies or assets, it is important to consider it in percentage terms. The bid-ask spread percentage can be calculated using the following formula:

(Bid Price - Ask Price) / Ask Price x 100 = Bid-Ask Spread Percentage

For example, let's assume we have an asset with an ask price of $10 and a bid price of $9.50. To calculate the bid-ask spread percentage, we substitute these values into the formula:

(9.50 - 10) / 10 x 100 = -5%

In this case, the bid-ask spread percentage is -5%. This indicates that the spread represents 5% of the ask price.

By comparing the bid-ask spread percentages of different cryptocurrencies or assets, we can gain insights into their liquidity and the level of competition among traders in taking advantage of the spread.

What Is Slippage?

Slippage is a common phenomenon in markets characterized by high volatility or low liquidity. It occurs when a trade settles at a price that deviates from the expected or requested price. This can happen in various financial markets, including traditional markets and the world of cryptocurrencies.

In general, when placing a market order, the execution of the trade relies on matching it with existing limit orders in the order book. The goal is to secure the best available price. However, if there is insufficient volume at the desired price level, the order will be filled at progressively higher or lower prices, resulting in slippage.

The extent of slippage can vary depending on factors such as market conditions, asset liquidity, and volatility. In highly volatile or low-liquidity scenarios, slippage can be more pronounced, causing significant deviations from the expected price. This is particularly observed in automated market makers, decentralized exchanges, and with certain altcoins in the cryptocurrency market.

Traders and investors need to be aware of slippage as it can impact the overall execution price and profitability of their trades. Implementing risk management strategies, such as setting limit orders or using smaller order sizes, can help mitigate the potential adverse effects of slippage.

Positive Slippage‍

Slippage doesn't always result in a worse price than anticipated. Positive slippage can occur in certain cases. When you place a buy order, positive slippage happens if the price decreases, allowing you to obtain a more favorable price. On the other hand, if you place a sell order, positive slippage occurs if the price increases, leading to a better selling price. Although relatively rare, positive slippage can be observed in highly volatile markets.

Slippage Tolerance‍

Some exchanges provide the option to manually adjust the slippage tolerance level, allowing users to control the impact of slippage in their trades. This feature can be found in various automated market makers across blockchain networks.

The chosen slippage tolerance can affect the execution time and outcome of an order. Setting a low slippage tolerance may result in a longer waiting time for the order to be filled or even potential non-execution. Conversely, if the slippage tolerance is set too high, there is a risk of being front-run by other traders or bots.

Front running occurs when someone exploits a pending order by using higher transaction fees to execute a trade before the original order is processed. They then proceed to sell the asset to the original order placer at the highest price allowed by the specified slippage tolerance.

Minimizing Negative Slippage

To minimize slippage in your trades, follow these general strategies:

  1. Break large orders into smaller ones to avoid causing price fluctuations.
  2. Consider transaction fees when trading on different platforms or networks.
  3. Be cautious when trading assets with low liquidity.
  4. Utilize limit orders to specify your desired price range.

By implementing these strategies, you can reduce the impact of slippage and enhance your trading outcomes.


When engaging in any type of trading, it's important to be mindful of factors such as bid-ask spread and slippage that can influence the final price of your trades. While it may not always be possible to completely avoid their impact, being aware of their potential consequences is crucial. Whether you're trading cryptocurrency or other financial assets, understanding these concepts is essential for making informed trading decisions and minimizing the risk of unexpected price variations. By staying informed and taking necessary precautions, you can navigate the trading landscape more effectively and reduce the chances of experiencing unfavorable outcomes.

Bid-Ask Spread
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