What is arbitrage trading?
Arbitrage trading is a trading strategy that aims to generate profit by simultaneously buying an asset in a market and selling it in another. This is most commonly done between identical assets traded on different exchanges. The difference in price between these financial instruments should, in theory, be zero since they’re quite literally the same asset.
The challenge an arbitrage trader, or arbitrageur, has is not only finding these pricing differences, but also being able to trade them quickly. Since other arbitrage traders are likely to see this difference in price (the spread) as well, the window of profitability usually closes very fast.
On top of that, since arbitrage trades are generally low-risk, the returns are generally low. That means arbitrage traders not only need to act quickly, but they need a lot of capital to make it worth it.
Risks associated with arbitrage trading
While arbitrage trading is considered relatively low-risk, that doesn’t mean it’s zero. Without risk, there’d be no reward, and arbitrage trading is certainly no exception.
The biggest risk associated with arbitrage trading is execution risk. This happens when the spread between prices closes before you’re able to finalize the trade, resulting in zero or negative returns. This could be due to slippage, slow execution, abnormally high transaction costs, a sudden spike in volatility, etc.
Another major risk when engaging in arbitrage trading is liquidity risk. This happens when there isn’t enough liquidity for you to get in and out of the markets you need to trade to complete your arbitrage. If you’re trading using leveraged instruments, like futures contracts, it’s also possible that you could get hit with a margin call if the trade goes against you. As usual, exercising proper risk management is crucial.
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