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What is Spread in Forex Trading?

Introduction to Spread in Forex Trading

In the world of forex trading, the term ‘spread’ is one you’ll hear often, and for a good reason. Spread is a critical element that traders must understand to make informed trading decisions. Essentially, spread refers to the difference between the bid price and the ask price of a currency pair. It serves as a cost metric for traders and a revenue stream for Forex brokers. This article aims to delve into the nitty-gritty of what spread is and why it matters in forex trading.

The Basics of Spread

What is a Spread in General Terms?

In its most basic form, a spread is the cost of trading on the forex market. More specifically, it is the difference in pips (or points) between the ‘bid’ price and the ‘ask’ price for a currency pair. The bid price is the maximum price a buyer is willing to pay for an asset, while the ask price is the minimum price a seller is willing to accept.

For example, if the EUR/USD pair is quoted with a bid price of 1.1100 and an ask price of 1.1105, the spread would be 5 pips.

Why is it Important in Trading?

Understanding the spread is vital for several reasons:

  1. Cost of Trading: Every time you enter or exit a trade, you effectively pay the spread. The lower the spread, the less you pay, and vice versa.

  2. Trading Strategy: The size of the spread can impact the viability of certain trading strategies. For instance, high-frequency trading strategies like scalping require low spreads to be profitable.

  3. Market Conditions: The spread can also act as an indicator of market conditions. A widening spread typically signals increasing volatility, while a narrowing spread suggests decreasing volatility.

  4. Broker Comparison: Different brokers offer different spreads. Knowing how to compare these can help you choose the right broker and thus minimize your trading costs.

By understanding what the spread is and how it impacts your trading, you can better plan your trades, minimize costs, and maximize profits.

Bid and Ask Price: The Building Blocks

Before diving deeper into the concept of spread, it’s essential to understand its fundamental components: the bid and ask prices.

What Are ‘Bid’ and ‘Ask’ Prices?

  • Bid Price: This is the highest price a buyer is willing to pay for an asset—in this case, a currency pair. If you are looking to sell a currency, this is the price you’ll receive.

  • Ask Price: Conversely, the ask price is the lowest price a seller is willing to accept for an asset. If you’re looking to buy a currency, this is the price you’ll pay.

Foundational Role in Understanding Spread

Understanding bid and ask prices is crucial because the spread is essentially the difference between these two prices. Whenever you enter or exit a trade, you do so at either the bid or ask price, thus encountering the spread as a cost. Without a grasp of what bid and ask prices mean, the concept of spread would be difficult to comprehend fully.

How Spread is Calculated

Mathematical Formula

Calculating the spread is relatively straightforward. The formula is:

Spread=Ask Price−Bid PriceSpread=Ask Price−Bid Price

For example, if the bid price for the EUR/USD pair is 1.1100 and the ask price is 1.1105, the spread would be:


This difference of 0.0005 is typically expressed in pips, so the spread would be 5 pips.

Types of Spread in Forex Trading

Understanding the various types of spreads can help you pick the trading style and broker that suits you best.

Fixed Spreads

Fixed spreads remain constant regardless of market conditions. They are generally wider but provide the advantage of predictability, especially useful for traders who prefer lower volatility.

Variable Spreads

Variable spreads fluctuate based on market conditions. During times of high liquidity, spreads can narrow, offering cost advantages. However, they can also widen significantly during volatile periods, increasing trading costs.

Zero Spreads

Some brokers offer zero spreads on certain trades or as part of premium accounts. Although the name suggests no cost, there are usually commissions or fees that serve as the broker’s compensation.

Understanding the different types of spreads allows you to navigate the forex market more proficiently and pick a trading approach that aligns with your risk tolerance and objectives.

Impact of Spread on Trading Costs

How Does Spread Affect Profitability?

The spread directly influences your trading profitability in several ways:

  1. Transaction Costs: Every time you enter and exit a trade, the spread represents the cost you incur. The wider the spread, the more you pay, thus eating into potential profits or exacerbating losses.

  2. Break-Even Point: A wider spread means you start a new trade at a slight ‘loss,’ requiring the market to move more in your favour to break even or profit.

  3. Frequency of Trading: If you are a high-frequency trader, spreads become even more critical. The cumulative cost of the spread can be significant over many trades.

Real-World Examples

  • Let’s say you’re trading the EUR/USD pair, and the spread is 2 pips. If you’re trading 1 standard lot (100,000 units), a 2-pip spread would equate to $20.

  • If you are a scalper making 50 trades a day, that’s $1,000 in spreads alone.

Factors Affecting Spread

Market Volatility

During times of high volatility, spreads can widen. This is because the risk for the broker increases, and they compensate by increasing the spread.


In highly liquid markets or trading hours, the spread is generally narrower. Less liquidity usually means higher spreads because the broker needs to cover the increased risk of holding positions.

Broker-Specific Policies

Each broker has their pricing model for spreads. Some might offer fixed spreads, while others might offer variable spreads based on market conditions. Premium accounts might also offer lower spreads.

Spread and Trading Strategies

Impact on Common Trading Strategies

  1. Scalping: Scalpers aim to make small profits from very short-term market movements. A lower spread is crucial for the success of scalping, as even a 1 or 2-pip difference can significantly impact profitability.

  2. Day Trading: Day traders also benefit from lower spreads but may have a bit more leeway than scalpers. However, higher spreads can still erode profits over time.

  3. Swing Trading: While less sensitive to spread costs due to holding positions over a more extended period, swing traders still need to consider spreads, especially when trading in large volumes.

  4. Long-Term Investing: For long-term strategies like position trading, the spread has a minimal impact. However, it’s still a cost to consider, especially when entering and exiting large positions.

Understanding how spreads impact different trading strategies helps traders to choose not only the strategy that best suits them but also the most cost-effective way to implement it.

Common Misconceptions about Spread

As with any financial concept, there are several myths and misconceptions about spreads in forex trading. Let’s clear some of them up.

  1. Lower Spread Always Means Lower Cost: While a lower spread generally reduces trading costs, some brokers compensate by charging additional fees or commissions.

  2. Fixed Spreads Are Better: Fixed spreads offer predictability but are usually wider than variable spreads during times of high liquidity. Depending on your trading strategy, variable spreads might be more cost-effective.

  3. Zero Spread Means Free Trading: A zero-spread does not mean trading is free. Brokers offering zero spreads typically charge commissions or have other hidden fees.

  4. Spread Is the Only Cost to Consider: While the spread is a significant trading cost, other costs like overnight swap rates (rollover fees) and commissions can also impact your profitability.

FAQs on Forex Spread

Q: Can I avoid paying the spread?

  • A: Generally, no. The spread is a cost that almost every retail trader has to pay. However, some strategies attempt to minimize the impact of the spread.

Q: Do spreads vary between brokers?

  • A: Yes, different brokers offer different spreads based on their business models and the types of accounts they offer.

Q: Can I predict changes in the spread?

  • A: While you can’t predict exact changes, understanding factors like market volatility and liquidity can give you a general idea of when spreads might widen or narrow.

Q: Is spread more critical for day traders or long-term investors?

  • A: The spread is generally more critical for day traders and scalpers, who make multiple trades in a short period and therefore encounter the spread more frequently.


Understanding the spread in forex trading is crucial for every trader at any level of experience. It’s a fundamental concept that impacts trading costs, profitability, and strategy effectiveness. The spread varies based on factors like market conditions and broker policies, making it essential to understand how it works and how to adapt your trading strategy accordingly. Whether you’re a high-frequency trader or a long-term investor, being aware of the spread and how to navigate it can significantly influence your trading success.

  Author Thomas Drury Seasoned finance professional with 10+ years' experience. Chartered status holder. Proficient in CFDs, ISAs, and crypto investing. Passionate about helping others achieve financial goals.


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