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Who is an Arbitrageur?

Financial markets have various participants who play different but interlinked roles. Three major categories are hedgers, speculators, and arbitrageurs. Understanding the difference between these three types of market participants is key to appreciating how markets function efficiently. This article will explore hedgers, speculators, and arbitrageurs in detail, highlighting their roles and differences.

An overview of arbitrageur

An arbitrageur is someone who tries to profit from pricing inefficiencies between markets. For example, if XYZ stock is trading at ₹500 on NSE and ₹520 on BSE, an arbitrageur will simultaneously buy the stock on NSE and sell it on BSE to lock in a riskless profit. 

Arbitrage is when people take advantage of small price differences in the same or similar things in different markets to make a profit. Even though the profit per trade is usually small, it can add up because many people do it. 

When we buy things, we want to make sure we are paying a fair price. Sometimes, we might see the same thing sold for different prices in different places. This can be confusing and unfair. To make sure things are sold for similar prices across different places, people buy things in the cheaper market and then sell them in the more expensive one. This helps to make prices more similar, which is good for everyone.

Types of arbitrageurs

There are various types of arbitrage trades and associated arbitrageurs:

1. Spot-Futures Arbitrage: This involves buying the asset in the spot and selling the equivalent futures contract to capitalise on price differentials. It is one of the most popular arbitrage techniques used by arbitrageurs in India. 

2. Triangular Arbitrage: It exploits exchange rate disparities in the foreign exchange market to make riskless profits from the cyclic conversion of one currency into another.

3. Merger Arbitrage: Here, arbitrageurs buy shares of the target company and short-sell the acquiring company when a merger deal is announced to profit from the price gap.

Tools used by arbitrageurs 

Modern-day arbitrageurs rely extensively on advanced technologies executing complex algorithms for high-speed automated trades. The essential attributes are:

1. Low Latency: The network needs to have minimally delayed price data feeds across linked markets.

2. Co-location: This refers to placing automated trading systems close to an exchange’s matching engine to save precious milliseconds. 

3. Smart Order Routing: This instantaneously identifies the best available price for an order across fragmented markets.

Advanced technologies are crucial in taking advantage of fleeting opportunities to make profitable trades.


Hedging is a technique people use to protect themselves from financial risks. It involves taking a secondary position that helps offset the potential losses from the primary exposure. 

For instance, a farmer who grows wheat may sell wheat futures to make sure they get a good price for their harvest, even if the market price drops. Similarly, an exporter may buy dollar futures to protect their business from currency depreciation, ensuring their profits don’t take a hit due to unfavourable exchange rates.

Key features of hedging strategies

1. Offsetting Positions: The secondary trade offsets primary price risk but allows retaining core exposure. 

2. Risk Mitigation: It caps the downside by giving up some upside. The aim is to reduce volatility rather than maximise returns.

3. Market Timing: Hedging may be tactical based on market outlook or structural based on innate business exposures.

Hedging is a way to manage financial risk smartly and safely rather than taking big risks with your money. People who buy and sell things like goods, services, and currencies use hedging to protect themselves against sudden price changes. This helps them avoid losing money if prices go up or down unexpectedly. 

Difference between hedgers and speculators

There are two types of market participants: hedgers and speculators. Hedgers try to avoid risks, while speculators actively pursue them out to make a profit when the market moves in their favour. It is important to understand the differences between these two groups to make informed investment decisions. A few examples:

1. A trader buying futures of metals because she expects global demand to exceed supplies and prices to rally. 

2. A fund manager going long on technology stocks betting on superior earnings growth.

Therefore, speculators try to make money by predicting which way the market will move. Instead of trying to protect assets they already own, they take a position in the market based on their beliefs about where the market is headed.

Some key differences from hedging:

1. Intent: Speculation is aggressive with profit maximisation goals rather than defensive risk reduction.

2. Upside/Downside: Speculators accept both upside and downside in anticipation of bigger gains. Hedgers forego some gains to limit losses.

3. Time Horizon: Speculation can be short-term tactical or long-term positional. Hedging is aligned to the life of underlying cash market risk.

4. Risk Appetite: Unlike risk-averse hedgers, speculators absorb higher risk in exchange for return potential.

Investors who speculate in the market help increase trading activity, add flexibility, and provide their opinions on the way the market is headed. All of these factors work together to help set fair prices for goods and services.

Hedgers, speculators and arbitrageurs 

We have now individually understood the three categories – hedgers, speculators, and arbitrageurs. We appreciate how their roles and characteristics diverge. Still, together, they constitute the core market participants.

While motives and trading patterns differ, their collective presence and participation are imperative for markets to function smoothly. Hedging leads to risk transfer from those who do not want it to those more willing to bear it. Speculation contributes to better price signals guiding efficient capital allocation. Arbitrage keeps interlinked markets in sync.

Depending on strategy, asset class, market conditions, and risk management priorities, the same trader may act as a hedger, speculator, or arbitrageur at different times. However, overall, the financial ecosystem needs these three pillars to thrive.

Differences between hedgers, speculators and arbitrageurs

Let us consolidate the key differences between hedgers, speculators and arbitrageurs:

BasisHedgers Speculators Arbitrageurs
Intent Risk mitigationProfit maximisationExploiting market inefficiencies
Risk profileLow-riskHigh-risk Low-risk 
Market impactLiquidity providersLiquidity absorbersLiquidity providers
Trading basisExisting exposuresDirectional viewsPrice differentials
Return expectationsCapping lossesMaximising gainsLocking spreads 
Time horizonsMedium to long-termShort to medium-termShort-term
Tools deployedFutures, options, swapsFutures, options, stocksStatistical models   

Hedgers, speculators, and arbitrageurs improve market efficiency. A healthy mix of these players indicates market stability. Regulators strive to balance the needs of different participants.


To understand market trends, we explore how different players behave. Concepts like insider trading, high-frequency trades, and dark pools will be explored in future articles. Understanding everyone, from day traders to big investors, helps us understand how the market works. Even though day-to-day changes might be volatile, the market tends to rise over time. By understanding market psychology, you can make successful trades no matter what happens in the short term.


What is the key difference between a hedger and a speculator in financial markets?

When people invest in the stock market, some of them take on more risk, hoping to earn more money, while others want to protect themselves from potential losses. The second group is called “hedgers,” they make additional trades specifically to offset potential losses from their existing investments. This is called “hedging.” The goal of hedging is to reduce the risk of losing money, even if it means sacrificing some potential gains.

How does an arbitrageur function and contribute to markets?

An arbitrageur is a person who makes profits by quickly buying something in one market and selling it in another market where it’s priced higher. They do this when the two markets have a temporary price difference. This makes the price in both markets more efficient and fair.

What technological capabilities are pivotal for modern-day arbitrageurs?

Arbitrage today uses high-speed computer algorithms to quickly exploit temporary price differences in the market, making prices more consistent and fair.

Can the same trader take on different roles like hedging, speculation and arbitrage at different times?

Yes, traders can act as hedgers, speculators or arbitrageurs during various market conditions or phases of investment priorities. For instance, an exporter hedging currency risk for the near term may take a speculative view on the same currency over a longer horizon when business risks abate.

How do hedgers, speculators and arbitrageurs together contribute to efficient markets?

Different investors use various strategies to trade in the financial market. These strategies support smooth market operations and risk management. They involve buying or selling assets to hedge, speculate or take advantage of price differences. Together, these investors uphold stable financial systems, ensuring fair and accurate pricing while managing risks.

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