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Spread betting — What is it and how does it work?

Spread betting is a sought-after way of speculating on price movements in the financial markets. Through spread betting, you could access thousands of financial instruments, like forex, indices, shares, and commodities, without having to own the asset.

What also makes spread betting so popular is that it works on a margin basis, allowing traders to deposit only a certain percentage of the trade’s overall value. It gives traders more significant exposure to the markets through leverage.

For anyone looking to trade with leverage, it is essential to remember that even though your profits can be amplified, so can your losses.

But don’t worry; this handy guide explains everything about spread betting in more detail.

In this article

    Key Features

    • Spread betting allows traders to speculate on rising and falling markets for various financial instruments without owning the underlying asset. Stamp-duty is not applicable on these trades.
    • Spread betting uses leverage, allowing traders to participate in the market with larger positions, magnifying potential profits and losses.
    • The spread in spread betting refers to the difference between the bid (sell) price and the ask (buy) price; this amount can vary depending on factors such as market conditions.
    • The bet size is the amount of money you allocate towards a trade with a per-point movement in the market, which will help calculate the potential profits or losses.
    • Bet durations are the time from opening and closing a position; you could close a position anytime during the instruments' trading hours.
    • Risk management involves various factors, such as trading strategies, the level of risk a trader wants to take, and setting an appropriate stop-loss order to limit possible losses.
    • Spread betting in the UK and Ireland is tax-free, meaning residents don't pay capital gains tax on potential profits.

    What is spread betting in the UK?

    In simple terms, spread betting is placing a prediction on a particular financial asset rather than a win/lose bet. As mentioned above, the financial asset you’re trading can occur on various financial instruments such as forex, indices, shares, and/or commodities. 

    Unlike traditional investments, you only speculate if the price of a particular asset will go up or down instead of owning the actual asset. 

    With spread betting, if you predict the market will rise in value, you’ll buy (go long), or if you expect the market will fall in value, you’ll sell (go short). More on that later in the guide.

    As traders won’t own the asset, spread betting is only tax-free in the UK and Ireland. This means traders don’t have to pay stamp duty or capital gains tax on their profits.

    How does spread betting work?

    Within spread betting, you’ll find you have two prices for an asset: the bid price (which you can buy at) and the asking price (which you can sell at).

    You’ll see a difference between the bid (sell) price and the ask (buy) price. That difference is called the spread; that’s the ‘commission’ you’ll pay the broker for the spread bet you might take.

    As a side note, the broker you use will quote the two prices for the specific asset you want to trade.

    If you want to place a bet, you just have to decide if the asset you’re looking at will rise or fall in value, then place the bets accordingly. 

    This is how it works in a nutshell. However, there are a few key concepts you’ll have to take into consideration concerning spread betting, and these are:

    • Going long or short
    • Leverage
    • Margin

    Let’s take a closer look at each of these concepts in more detail to understand why they’re essential.

    Going long or short in spread betting

    As previously stated, going long refers to placing a bet when a trader predicts the market price will rise in value over a certain amount of time.

    Going short refers to placing a bet when a trader predicts the market price will decline in value over time.

    So, if the market is starting to rise in value, you could place a buy trade (going long), and if the market starts declining in value, you could place a sell trade (going short). Unlike traditional investments, which only allow for buy positions, this will enable you to bet on rising and falling markets.

    Let’s use an example: you’re looking at GBP/USD, and you predict it will decline. You could open a bet to sell (go short) the currency pair. If the price goes up, you’ll potentially make a profit; however, if the price goes down, your position will be at a loss.

    going long or short in spread betting

    Leverage in spread betting

    What does leverage mean in spread betting? The trader will be able to gain market exposure for only a small percentage of the total market cost of an underlying asset.

    Let’s say you might be looking to spread bet GBP/USD, and you want to place a buy bet with a position value of £1000. Thanks to leverage, you’ll only need £33.33 of margin to place your bet. That’s because the leverage ratio is 30:1.

    It’s crucial to remember that when trading with leverage, the profits can be magnified, but also the losses. It’s important to create a well-structured risk management plan.

    leverage in spread betting

    Margin in spread betting

    In spread betting, margin refers to a deposit made by a trader into their trading account in order to maintain open positions. In spread betting, the two types of margins you’ll need to remember are:

    • The deposit margin is an amount the trader feels comfortable with to fund the spread betting account in order to execute trades.
    • The second one is maintenance margin; this is a top-up deposit to avoid a margin call should your initial deposit not be enough to cover potential losses. You’ll receive a margin call stating that you need to add funds to your account to avoid your position getting closed automatically. Each spread betting broker has their own required percentage of free margin requirement.

    Your margin requirement percentage for spread betting forex in the UK would typically be 3.33%. Always confirm this with your spread betting provider.

    margin in spread betting

    What are the key features of spread betting?

    In spread betting, there are three main features you’ll need to remember:

    • Spread
    • Bet size
    • Bet duration

    Let’s look at each in more detail to better understand why these three features are important.

    What is the spread?

    In spread betting, the difference between the ask (buy) price and the bid (sell) price is called the spread.

    This is where the commission part of the broker comes into play. When looking at the prices of an underlying asset's market price, you’ll find that the ask (buy) price will always be slightly higher, and the bid (sell) price will be slightly lower.

    The ask (buy) price and the bid (sell) price will differ for various instruments due to multiple factors that can influence the price, such as the liquidity and volatility of the instrument you might be looking to trade. The spread will fluctuate alongside the trading volume and price.

    For example, GBP/USD trades at an ask (buy) price of 1.6015 and a bid (sell) price of 1.6014. The spread will come to 1 point.

    what is spread in spread betting

    What is the bet size?

    The second key feature of spread betting is the bet size, which is the amount you want to allocate to the trade. In other words, the amount of money you wish to place on a trade. 

    Price movements are known as points. When trading an asset, your profit or loss is calculated based on the difference between the opening and closing prices, multiplied by the amount you invested.

    The price movements of an underlying market are measured in points. A point of movement can represent a pound, a penny, or one-hundredth of a penny; this depends on the market you are speculating on.

    But for this example, let’s stick to the one pound per point. If you decide to buy GBP/USD at £1 per point and it moves up with 40 points, you would make £40 (£1 x 40), but if it falls by 40 points, you would lose £40. 

    What is the bet duration?

    When discussing bet duration, it refers to the time within which you could decide to close your position. When spread betting, many tradable instruments have flexible time durations; this means you could close your position within the trading hours of the specific instrument.

    Example of spread betting

    So, you might decide to place a buy spread bet on GBP/USD at £10 per point, predicting the price could rise in your favour. The asking (buy) price is 1.0411, and the bid (sell) price is 1.0410, with one point for spread.

    • Winning trade: You were right in your predictions, and the price rose to a new ask (buy) price of 1.0471 and a new bid (sell) price of 1.0470. You could decide it’s time to get out and close your bet at a sell price of 1.0470. The market moved up by 60 points because you bought at 1.0411 and sold at 1.0470. Multiply the amount you placed and multiply by the number of points it moved (£10 x 60), and you get a profit of £600.
    • Losing trade: In this case, you were wrong, and the market fell by 60 points with a new asking (buy) price of 1.0351 and a bid (sell) price of 1.0350. You close the trade and again multiply the number of points it moved with your initial amount (£10 x 60), but because it moved against you, you lose £600.

    It’s essential to keep up to date with all economic news and data when moving forward with spread betting because many influences can move the market's prices.

    Spread betting risk management

    Having a good, solid risk management plan is important, and it could assist in the dangers of the financial market. Regarding spread betting, a sound risk management plan could go hand in hand with a well-defined trading strategy.

    This strategy could help you recognise low-risk entry points in the market, determine where to place your stop-loss and identify the areas where you could take profit. Combining these factors allows you to create an effective risk management plan to guide your spread betting activities.

    One of the most important aspects is to keep losses to a minimum.

    There are two ways you could do this. 

    • The first one is to calculate how much money you are willing to risk on a single bet.
    • The second one is placing strategic stop-loss orders. A stop-loss order could help you when the markets are exceptionally volatile and when it moves too quickly for you to take action. Stop-loss orders ensure you don’t lose more than you set out to lose.

    stop loss parameters

    You might need to become familiar with the type of market you could decide to partake in. You could become knowledgeable in various ways, such as looking at economic data and events, any important economic announcements that are known to move the market, and through chart review. 

    This is particularly helpful, as you could review recent and historical price movements.

    What are the benefits of spread betting for UK traders?

    Spread betting offers numerous benefits for individuals seeking to participate in financial markets.

    • Trading bull and bear markets, if you think the markets are going to rise, you could buy (go long), and if you think the markets will fall, you can sell (go short).
    • You have various financial instruments to trade, such as indices, forex, commodities, and stock markets.
    • The spread does not lead to any additional commission charges.
    • The profits you could gain are tax-free for residents of the UK and Ireland. This means you don’t pay capital gains tax for profits you could make or stamp duty because you do not own the asset. Tax laws can change and might also depend on individual circumstances.
    • You could use leverage to trade a larger asset with a small deposit.
    • You could place spread bets with GBP on all the markets. You might not need different currencies to place bets.
    • Retail traders are protected from negative balances, preventing losses beyond their deposited funds. This is known as negative balance protection.

    How you can start spread betting with Trade Nation?

    Now that you’re equipped with everything you need to know, opening a spread betting account with Trade Nation is quick and simple.

    • First, open your free spread betting account here.  
    • To verify your account, you’ll need to submit a few documents for review.
    • Once your account is approved, you can go ahead and fund it using your preferred method. We accept various popular payment methods, which you can view on your account.
    • Now you’re all set to start spread betting through Trade Nation, regulated and authorised by the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

    *This is not financial advice, this article is solely for educational purposes. Spread betting is only available to residents of the UK and Ireland.

    People also ask

    Yes, spread betting is only available for residents of the UK and Ireland. If you’re outside the UK or Ireland, you might want to look at Options, Futures, or CFDs.

    How much do I need to start spread betting?

    This will depend on the broker you use. Every broker has their own deposit amount to start spread betting.

    Depositing more than the minimum is wise to keep your account active.

    Can I spread bet without leverage?

    Unfortunately, you won’t be able to spread bet without leverage because it’s an integral part of spread betting. Conducting thorough research with a comprehensive understanding of spread betting with leverage might be essential while developing a robust risk management strategy.

    With that said, you could deposit more funds than required and bet with a tight stop-loss to limit the risk of losing.

    How can I hedge with spread betting? 

    To hedge in spread betting, you should open a position in the opposite direction to counterbalance negative price movements.

    For example, if there's a buy position open on GBP/USD, but the market starts going down, you could open a sell position to counter the loss of the buy position. 

    Most often, the trade will end up in breakeven, so it’s important to keep your eyes on the market while the trades are open.

    What can I spread bet on?

    You have a variety of markets to choose from with spread betting; these include:

    • Forex: Currency pairs such as GBP/USD or EUR/USD
    • Commodities: Like gold, silver, or copper
    • Shares: Like Vodafone or Barclays
    • Indices: Like UK100, Wall Street 30, or US 500
    • You could also look at Options or Bonds.

    Could I profit from spread betting? 

    Yes, you could stand to profit only if your prediction of the market is correct. If you’re wrong, you’ll take a loss. Even though you could profit through spread betting, you’ll still have to remember your risk management plan and never risk more than what you could afford to lose when the market doesn’t go how you predicted.

    What is the difference between spread betting and CFDs? 

    With spread betting, you’re placing a bet on the number of points you predict the market will move in the future. In comparison, CFDs (Contracts for Differences) allow traders to trade the difference in the price of an asset’s value from when it opened to when it closed.

    How are spread bets taxed? 

    For the UK and Ireland, spread bets are tax-free. Any profits you could make are not subjected to capital gains tax, and you don’t have to pay stamp duty because you don't own the asset.

    With that said, tax laws can change and will also depend on individual circumstances.

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