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Posted in the Day Trading Forum

Since: Jul 11

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#1 May 1, 2012
A question I often receive is, "How can there be more buyers or sellers at one price? Isn't there a buyer for every seller and a seller for every buyer?"
The answer is yes, but people are forgetting one important thing. There is a bid and an ask (or offer), and only one of them can be traded at a time.

A bid is an expression of willingness to buy at a price; an ask (or offer) is an expression to sell.

If the ES is trading at 1200.50, the bid is either 1200.25 or 1200.50. The answer depends on which way the market has just traded. Let's make it easy and simply say the ES is between 1200.25 & 1200.50, making the bid 1200.25. In order for the market to move from 1200.25 to 1200.50, someone must pay up to get filled.

You may not be in a hurry and attempt to wait to buy 1200.25, but that will usually only happen when the bid/ask drops to 1200.00 & 1200.25 and you are actually filled on the ask.

If you are trying to buy and really want to get filled, you must pay up at the offer or risk missing the trade. Conversely, if you really want to get filled on a sale, you must hit the bid, or reach down to get filled.

Sure, there is someone on the other side of the trade, but without you choosing to reach up and pay the offer the market stands still. Therefore when trades are executed at the offer it is said to be done by the buyers even though there are sellers at that price taking the other side.

Every buy will be filled on the offer and every sell will be filled on the bid, period.

Let's say we once more have a number of 1200.50 and we see that over time (sometimes just a few seconds) the fills were 100 x 1300. We can say that there were 1200 more buyers than sellers at 1200.50 because of how traders reacted to the bid/ask spread when it was at 1200.25 x 1200.50 and higher at 1200.50 x 1200.75 (called the spread.)
When the market was at the lower spread, 1300 buyers reached UP to pay the 1200.50 offer.

When the market was at the higher spread, 100 sellers reach DOWN to sell the 1200.50 bid.
When the spread traded around this price range there truly were more buyers than sellers at 1200.50.

Understanding bid and ask can open up other realms of technical analysis.

There are some traders who will look at the bid and ask order flows to try to get clues to potential movement in the market based on what buyers and sellers are doing. This is often referred to as reading order book flow or depth-of-market.

If you look at the number of orders for each bid and ask around the current market price you can see the probable number of transactions available at those levels. Reading this information is the key to certain kinds of volume based trading systems and other trading methods that follow the book order flow.

Larry Levin

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