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What is liquidity


Certain concepts stand out as fundamental, and their importance transcends mere jargon to impact every corner of the economic landscape. One such concept is liquidity. While often thrown around in financial discussions and market commentaries, the term 'liquidity' remains elusive to many. 

Let's try to understand what liquidity is and its essence. 

Whether you're an investor looking to understand your assets better or simply curious about the mechanics of the market, a grasp of liquidity is important.


Liquidity meaning

Liquidity describes how readily an asset can be transformed into cash without notably altering its value. In broader terms, liquidity describes the ability to execute transactions (buying or selling assets) without causing drastic price changes.

There are two main aspects of liquidity to consider:

  1. Market liquidity: Market liquidity is the capacity to purchase or sell assets in the marketplace without triggering substantial fluctuations in their price.Assets like publicly traded stocks typically have high market liquidity because they can be easily bought and sold. On the other hand, assets like real estate might have lower liquidity since they can take longer to sell and require price adjustments quickly.
  2. Account liquidity: Account liquidity refers to how accessible one's assets are for immediate use or expenditure. For example, cash in a checking account is highly liquid because it can be easily accessed and used for transactions. Conversely, money in a retirement account might be considered less liquid because of penalties or withdrawal restrictions.

Liquidity is essential in financial markets because it affects the ease and speed with which assets can be bought and sold. 

Highly liquid markets are more stable because participants can enter or exit positions without causing drastic price swings. 

On the other hand, illiquid markets might see sharper price fluctuations due to large transactions.

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How do we measure liquidity?

Liquidity can be measured in several ways, depending on the context and the type of asset in question. Here are some common methods and metrics used to gauge liquidity:

  • Bid-Ask spread: This represents the gap between the amount a buyer offers for an asset (the bid) and the price a seller seeks in return (the ask). Narrow bid-ask spreads usually indicate higher liquidity, while wider spreads suggest lower liquidity.
  • Trading volume: High trading volumes often point to high liquidity because they indicate a large number of buyers and sellers. Assets that are frequently traded are generally more liquid.
  • Liquidity ratios: These are primarily used for companies to measure their short-term solvency. Common liquidity ratios include:
  • Current ratio: (Current Assets / Current Liabilities) – Indicates a company's capacity to meet its short-term obligations using its immediate assets.
  • Quick ratio: (Current Assets - Inventory) / Current Liabilities – A stricter measure that excludes inventory from current assets.
  • Cash ratio: (Cash Ratio = Cash and Cash Equivalents ÷ Current Liabilities) - A very conservative liquidity metric, the cash ratio measures a company's ability to cover its short-term liabilities using solely its most fluid assets, specifically cash and cash equivalents.


Liquidity examples

Liquidity can be best illustrated through practical examples that bring the concept to life. Let's look at two distinct scenarios — one from everyday life and another from the financial world.

Everyday Scenario

Imagine you have a rare vintage car that's valued at $100,000. While it's a valuable asset, selling it quickly for its full value might be challenging. The market for such cars is niche, and finding a buyer who's willing to pay the asking price on short notice could be difficult. 

In this situation, the vintage car is considered an illiquid asset. On the other hand, if you had $100,000 in cash, you could easily use it for immediate expenses without any delay. The cash is highly liquid compared to the vintage car.

Financial Scenario

Consider a stock listed on a major stock exchange. If the stock is popular and traded in large volumes daily, an investor can quickly buy or sell shares without significantly affecting the stock's price. This stock exhibits high liquidity. 

Conversely, a stock from a smaller company traded infrequently with low volumes might experience drastic price changes if an investor tries to buy or sell large quantities. In this case, the stock is deemed to have lower liquidity.

Both scenarios highlight the fundamental nature of liquidity — the swiftness and simplicity of transforming an asset into cash without affecting its value. Whether in everyday life or the intricate world of finance, liquidity remains a pivotal factor in decision-making processes.


Why is liquidity important?

Liquidity is crucial because it determines the ease and speed at which assets can be converted into cash without affecting their price. This facilitates timely transactions, ensuring individuals and entities meet immediate financial obligations or capitalise on investment opportunities. 

Additionally, in financial markets, liquidity contributes to price stability and confidence, as liquid assets tend to have more predictable prices and can be traded without causing significant price disruptions.


Liquidity FAQs

What happens when liquidity is low?

Stocks with low liquidity are more difficult to sell. Traders may take a bigger loss if they cannot sell the shares when they want to. Liquidity risk is the risk that traders won't find a market for their assets. This may prevent them from entering or exiting at the desired moment.

What is good liquidity for a stock?

A stock is considered to have good liquidity when it can be easily bought or sold without significantly affecting the stock's price. This means that many buyers and sellers are actively trading the stock, and the bid-ask spread (the difference between the highest price a buyer is willing to pay and the lowest price a seller is willing to accept) is small.


Bottom line

Understanding liquidity is pivotal for both casual observers and seasoned investors. It plays a central role in the efficient functioning of markets, impacting asset prices, transaction costs, and overall market confidence.

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"When considering "CFDs" for trading and price predictions, remember that trading CFDs involves a significant degree of risk and could result in capital loss. Past performance is not indicative of any future results. This information is provided for informative purposes only and should not be considered investment advice."

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