The capital markets witness the participation of thousands of traders and investors on a daily basis. The primary aim of all the participants is to earn a profit. There are a variety of techniques and strategies to trade in the stock markets. However, a trading strategy becomes applicable only if the price of the asset shows a favourable movement. An uncommon but simple technique of gaining from the capital markets is arbitrage.

What is arbitrage?

To understand how arbitrage works, it is crucial to have a clear idea of what is arbitrage. Arbitrage can be defined as the simultaneous buying and selling of the same asset in different markets to gain from the difference in price in both the markets. While arbitrage opportunity can arise in any asset class that is traded in different markets in a standardized form, it is more common in currency and stock markets. Arbitrage opportunities are often short-lived, lasting only a few seconds or minutes. Contrary to popular economic beliefs, markets are not completely efficient, which gives rise to arbitrage opportunities. The price of an asset is a result of the demand and supply in the market. Due to a discrepancy in supply and demand of an asset in different markets, a difference in price arises, which can be utilised for arbitrage trading.

How does arbitrage trading work?

Arbitrage trading is dependent on the ability of the trader to capitalise on the price differential of the same asset in different markets. Since arbitrage opportunities are very short, most traders use computers to conduct arbitrage trades. Let us understand with an example of how arbitrage works in the stock market. Let us assume that a stock XYZ is listed on the National Stock Exchange and the New York Stock Exchange. The price of XYZ is quoted in US Dollar on the NYSE, while the same is quoted in INR on the NSE. The share price of XYZ on NYSE is $4 per share. On the NSE, the share price is Rs 238. Now, if the USD/INR exchange rate is Rs 60, the share price of XYZ on the NYSE in INR will be Rs 240. In this situation, the same stock is being quoted at Rs 238 on the NSE and Rs 240 on the NYSE, if the USD is converted to INR.

To exploit the arbitrage opportunity, a trader will buy the shares of XYZ at Rs 238 per share on the NSE and sell the same number of shares at Rs 240 on the NYSE, earning a profit of Rs 2 per share. Traders have to take into account certain risks while participating in arbitrage trades. The price differential is a result of a favourable exchange rate, which remains in constant flux. Any substantial change in the exchange rate while the trade is being executed can lead to losses. Another important factor to take into account is the transaction charges. If the transaction cost exceeds Rs 2 per share, it will nullify the advantage of the price differential.

How does arbitrage work in India?

There is a lack of companies that are listed on the Indian stock exchanges as well as on foreign exchanges. However, India has two major exchanges—BSE and NSE—and a majority of companies are listed on both the exchanges, creating a potential for arbitrage. Even if there is a difference in the price of a particular share on the NSE and BSE, one cannot simply do arbitrage trade. Traders are not allowed to buy and sell the same stock on different exchanges on the same day. For instance, if you buy the shares of XYZ on NSE today, it cannot be sold on the BSE on the same day. Then how does arbitrage work? One can sell shares that he/she already has in the DP on an exchange and buy the same amount from a different exchange. For example, if you already have the shares of XYZ, you can sell them on BSE and buy it from the NSE. If you already have the stock, it is not an intraday trade on different exchanges, which is not allowed.

Conclusion

Automated systems are generally used for arbitrage trading as the price differential doesn’t hold for a long time. Though it is easy to spot an arbitrage opportunity, manually profiting from them is very difficult.