What is Spread Trading

Explore meaning of spread and its use in the stock market, spread trading strategies and much more.
What is Spread Trading
3 mins
17 November 2023

Spread trading is one of the popular trading strategies employed on Indian exchanges, such as the National Stock Exchange of India (NSE) and the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE). This strategy involves simultaneously buying and selling related securities or contracts to profit from the price difference between them. Spread trading is designed to capitalize on relative price movements rather than outright price direction. In this article, we'll delve into the concept of spread trading on Indian exchanges, its various forms, and provide an illustrative example featuring a character named Ravi.

Understanding spread trading on Indian exchanges

In spread trading traders aim to exploit price differentials between two or more related assets listed on exchanges. These assets can include stocks, indices, commodities, and more. Spread traders seek to profit from both upward and downward price movements while minimizing exposure to market direction risk.

Additional Read: What is Arbitrage Trading

Types of spread trading

Intermarket spreads: Traders execute spread trades involving related securities across different stock exchanges, such as the NSE and BSE. For example, a trader might simultaneously buy and sell shares of the same company listed on both the NSE and BSE.

Intracommodity spreads: Traders focus on different contract months of the same commodity futures listed on Indian exchanges. They might buy a futures contract for a near-month expiry and simultaneously sell a contract for a later-month expiry.

Intercommodity spreads: This involves trading related but different commodities. For instance, a trader may trade silver futures against gold futures.

Calendar spreads: Traders execute spread trades involving the same stock or commodity with different expiration dates. They might buy a near-month contract and sell a contract with a later expiration date.

Options spreads: Traders can also utilise options contracts to create spread positions. This can include vertical spreads (buying and selling options with different strike prices) or horizontal spreads (buying and selling options with different expiration dates).

Spread trading example

Let us understand this with an example of Ravi's calendar spread strategy.
To illustrate spread trading, let's follow Ravi, a fictional trader, as he implements a calendar spread strategy in the stock market.

Step 1: Market analysis

Ravi analyses the stock market and identifies a stock that he believes will experience relatively small price fluctuations over the next few months due to stable market conditions.

Step 2: Trade execution

Ravi buys 100 shares of XYZ Ltd. listed on the NSE with an expiry date three months away.

Simultaneously, he sells 100 shares of the same XYZ Ltd. listed on the BSE with an expiry date one month away.

Step 3: Profit potential

Ravi's strategy aims to profit from the price difference between the two contracts. If the spread between the NSE and BSE listings of XYZ Ltd. narrows or remains stable by the time the contracts expire, Ravi stands to profit.

If the spread widens, Ravi may incur losses.
If the spread narrows or remains stable, Ravi can achieve a profit.

Step 4: Risk management

Since Ravi is trading a calendar spread, his risk exposure is reduced compared to taking an outright position in the stock. His potential losses are limited to the difference between the purchase and sale prices of the two contracts.

Step 5: Trade exit

As the contract expiry dates approach, Ravi monitors the spread closely. If the spread has narrowed or remains stable, he may decide to close the position to secure his profit. If the spread has widened beyond his comfort level, he might consider cutting his losses.

Factors that affect spread trading

1. Market conditions:

  • Effect: Spreads tend to be narrow when market conditions are favourable, characterised by a higher number of buyers and sellers.
  • Explanation: In an active market with ample participation, there is increased competition between buyers and sellers, leading to tighter spreads. Conversely, during periods of low market activity, spreads may widen as there are fewer participants.

2. Liquidity:

  • Effect: Spreads are narrow when there is high liquidity, allowing assets to be easily bought and sold.
  • Explanation: High liquidity implies a more active market with a greater number of transactions. This increased transaction volume often results in smaller bid-ask spreads. Conversely, low liquidity can lead to wider spreads due to reduced trading activity.

3. Volatility:

  • Effect: Spreads widen with increased market volatility, and narrow when volatility is low.
  • Explanation: Higher market fluctuations can introduce uncertainty and risk, causing market participants to widen their bid-ask spreads as a form of risk compensation. In contrast, during periods of low volatility, spreads tend to be narrower as market conditions are perceived as more stable.

4.Political factors:

  • Effect: Spreads become wider in the presence of political uncertainty arising from elections, policy changes, or disputes.
  • Explanation: Political events can introduce uncertainty into the market, prompting traders to adjust their risk expectations. As uncertainty increases, market participants may demand a higher spread to account for the perceived risks associated with political factors.

5. Economic factors:

  • Effect: Negative economic factors can widen spreads due to increased market uncertainty.
  • Explanation: Economic indicators and events that signal economic instability or downturns may lead to wider spreads. Investors become more risk-averse in uncertain economic environments, contributing to increased bid-ask spreads.

6. Creditworthiness:

  • Effect: Spreads are wider when issuers with poor creditworthiness release debt securities, and narrow when issuers are creditworthy.
  • Explanation: The creditworthiness of issuers affects the perceived risk associated with their securities. Investors may demand a higher spread for securities issued by entities with poor creditworthiness to compensate for the increased risk. In contrast, securities issued by creditworthy entities may have narrower spreads.

Advantages of spread trading

Spread trading on Indian exchanges offers several advantages to traders:

Mitigated market direction risk: Traders can profit from price differentials regardless of the overall market's direction.

Hedging opportunities: Spread strategies on Indian exchanges can be used to hedge against potential losses in existing positions.

Capital efficiency: Many spread trades require lower margin requirements than outright positions, making them capital efficient.

Diversification: Traders can diversify their portfolios by incorporating different assets or contract months on Indian exchanges.

Potential for consistent returns: In stable market conditions, spread traders on Indian exchanges can generate steady and relatively predictable returns.

Risks and considerations

It's important to note some risks and considerations when engaging in spread trading on Indian exchanges:

Market volatility: Rapid and unexpected market movements can lead to significant losses if not managed effectively.

Liquidity risk: Some spread trades may involve illiquid contracts or assets on exchanges, affecting trade execution and pricing.

Execution timing: Precise execution timing is crucial on Indian exchanges to capture favourable price differentials.

Margin requirements: Unfavourable spread movements can lead to margin calls, necessitating additional capital.


Spread trading on Indian exchanges is a versatile strategy that allows traders to profit from relative price movements between related assets. Whether it's intermarket, intracommodity, intercommodity, or options spreads, this strategy provides a unique approach to navigating Indian financial markets. By employing spread trading strategies on Indian exchanges, traders like Ravi can manage market fluctuations, hedge risk, and potentially achieve consistent returns. However, success requires thorough analysis, risk management, and a solid understanding of Indian market dynamics.

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Frequently asked questions

What is the difference between spread trading and arbitrage?

Spread trading involves taking positions in two or more related securities to profit from the price difference, whereas arbitrage involves taking advantage of the price difference between the same security in two different markets.

What are the benefits of spread trading?

Spread trading can help traders to minimize risk, take advantage of market conditions, and increase profits.

What is the risk involved in spread trading?

The risk involved in spread trading includes market risk, liquidity risk, and credit risk.

What is a short position in spread trading?

In spread trading, a short position involves selling the contract with the expectation of buying it back at a lower price to make a profit.

Can I use leverage in spread trading?

Certainly, several spread trading approaches entail leveraging and margin. Although leveraging may amplify your gains, it may also lead to substantial losses if the market does not perform as expected. So, it is wise to exercise caution while leveraging.

Is spread trading profitable?

Spread trading can be profitable if executed correctly. However, the profitability of this trading technique depends on multiple factors such as the liquidity in the counters, the current market trend, and trading costs, among others.

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