Finance Terms: Tick Size

A stock market graph

If you are an active trader or investor, you may have come across the term tick size. But what does it mean? In this article, we’ll explore everything you need to know about tick size in finance, including its history, importance, regulation, and future trends.

What is Tick Size in Finance?

Tick size, also known as price granularity, is the minimum price increment that a security can trade. It is usually expressed in cents or fractions of a dollar, depending on the asset being traded. For example, a stock listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) may have a tick size of $0.01, while a futures contract on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) may have a tick size of $0.25.

The tick size is an important factor to consider when trading securities, as it can affect the profitability of a trade. A smaller tick size allows for more precise pricing and can be beneficial for high-frequency traders, while a larger tick size may be more suitable for longer-term investors. Tick sizes can also vary between different exchanges and markets, so it is important to be aware of the tick size for the specific security being traded.

History and Evolution of Tick Size

The concept of tick size dates back to the early days of trading when brokers used mechanical tickers to relay stock prices. These tickers had limited bandwidth, so to conserve space, prices were displayed in fractions of a dollar. For example, a price of $12 and 3/8 could be displayed as 123.125.

Over time, tick size became standardized, and exchanges started using decimalization instead of fractions. This increased the granularity of prices and made trading more efficient. In 2001, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) mandated the switch to decimalization for all listed stocks.

Since the switch to decimalization, there have been debates about the optimal tick size for different types of securities. Some argue that smaller tick sizes increase liquidity and reduce bid-ask spreads, while others believe that larger tick sizes reduce volatility and promote long-term investing. In 2016, the SEC conducted a pilot program to test different tick sizes for small-cap stocks, and the results showed mixed outcomes. The debate over tick size continues to be a topic of discussion among traders, regulators, and academics.

The Importance of Tick Size in Financial Markets

Tick size plays a crucial role in financial markets because it affects liquidity, price discovery, and transaction costs. A smaller tick size allows for tighter bid-ask spreads, which means that traders can buy and sell securities at more competitive prices. This leads to higher liquidity and more efficient price discovery.

On the other hand, a larger tick size reduces liquidity and increases transaction costs. This is because traders have to pay more to move the price from one tick to the next, which can deter them from entering or exiting positions.

Tick size is not a fixed value and can vary depending on the security being traded. For example, stocks with higher prices tend to have larger tick sizes, while those with lower prices have smaller tick sizes. Additionally, tick sizes can be changed by exchanges or regulators in order to promote market stability or to address issues such as high-frequency trading. It is important for traders to stay informed about tick size changes and to adjust their strategies accordingly.

Differences in Tick Size Across Different Trading Venues

Tick size can vary across different trading venues depending on the asset being traded, the exchange’s rules, and regulatory requirements. For example, stocks listed on the NYSE may have a tick size of $0.01, while stocks listed on the NASDAQ may have a tick size of $0.0001.

Similarly, futures contracts on the CME may have different tick sizes depending on the underlying asset. For instance, a crude oil futures contract may have a tick size of $0.01 per barrel, while a gold futures contract may have a tick size of $0.10 per troy ounce.

Tick size can also be influenced by market conditions and trading volume. In highly liquid markets, tick sizes may be smaller to allow for more precise pricing and trading. Conversely, in less liquid markets, tick sizes may be larger to prevent excessive price movements and volatility.

Tick size can also impact trading strategies and profitability. For example, a trader using a scalping strategy may prefer a smaller tick size to capture small price movements, while a trader using a swing trading strategy may prefer a larger tick size to capture larger price movements.

How Tick Size Affects Market Liquidity and Price Discovery

Tick size impacts market liquidity and price discovery because it affects the competitiveness of bid-ask spreads. A narrower spread leads to higher liquidity and more efficient price discovery, while a wider spread reduces liquidity and increases the possibility of market frictions such as price gaps or order imbalances.

Tick size can also affect the behavior of traders. For example, high-frequency traders may adjust their algorithms to take advantage of tick size movements, while retail traders may find it difficult to trade in assets with large tick sizes because of the higher transaction costs.

Tick size is not a one-size-fits-all solution and can vary depending on the asset class and market conditions. For example, a smaller tick size may be appropriate for highly liquid assets such as large-cap stocks, while a larger tick size may be more suitable for less liquid assets such as small-cap stocks or options. Additionally, tick size can be adjusted by regulators to promote market stability and fairness, as seen in the recent changes to tick size requirements for certain securities.

Tick Size Regulations and Changes Implemented by Regulatory Bodies

Regulatory bodies such as the SEC and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) have the authority to set tick size requirements for different securities and trading venues. The goal is to balance the need for liquidity and price efficiency with the need for investor protection and transparency.

In recent years, regulatory bodies have implemented changes to tick size rules to improve market structure and reduce volatility. For example, in 2016, the SEC implemented the Tick Size Pilot Program, which tested the effects of different tick sizes on liquidity and trading in small-cap stocks.

Another change that regulatory bodies have implemented is the adoption of decimalization. Prior to 2001, tick sizes were quoted in fractions, which made it difficult for investors to accurately determine the price of a security. Decimalization, which requires tick sizes to be quoted in increments of one cent, has made it easier for investors to understand the price of a security and has increased price transparency.

Regulatory bodies have also implemented tick size regulations for exchange-traded funds (ETFs). In 2018, the SEC approved a rule that requires ETFs to have a minimum tick size of $0.01 for securities priced above $2.00. This rule was implemented to improve liquidity and price discovery in ETFs, which have become increasingly popular among investors.

The Impact of Electronic Trading on Tick Size

The rise of electronic trading platforms has had a significant impact on tick size. Electronic trading allows for faster and more efficient price discovery, which means that tick sizes can be smaller without sacrificing liquidity. In fact, some exchanges have implemented tick sizes as small as $0.0001 to cater to high-frequency traders.

However, electronic trading also presents challenges for tick size regulation. For example, some traders may use sophisticated algorithms to manipulate tick sizes to their advantage, which can lead to market distortions and unfair practices.

Another challenge presented by electronic trading is the potential for increased volatility. With the ability to execute trades quickly and easily, electronic trading can lead to sudden price movements and increased market volatility. This can be particularly problematic for smaller investors who may not have the resources to keep up with rapid changes in the market.

Despite these challenges, electronic trading has also brought about many benefits for investors. For example, it has made it easier for investors to access global markets and has increased competition among trading platforms, leading to lower costs and better services for investors. As technology continues to evolve, it is likely that electronic trading will continue to play a significant role in the financial markets.

Strategies for Trading in Different Tick Sizes

To trade effectively in different tick sizes, traders need to understand the impact of tick sizes on liquidity, volatility, and transaction costs. For assets with small tick sizes, traders may need to use high-frequency trading strategies to capture small price movements, while for assets with large tick sizes, traders may need to use longer-term strategies to avoid excessive transaction costs.

It’s also essential to stay updated on tick size developments and liquidity conditions in different trading venues to adapt trading strategies to changing market conditions.

Another important factor to consider when trading in different tick sizes is the bid-ask spread. In assets with small tick sizes, the bid-ask spread may be wider, which can increase transaction costs. Traders may need to use limit orders to reduce the impact of the bid-ask spread on their trades.

Additionally, traders should be aware of the impact of tick sizes on market depth. In assets with small tick sizes, market depth may be shallower, which can increase the risk of slippage. Traders may need to adjust their trading strategies to account for the potential impact of slippage on their trades.

The Role of Market Makers in Maintaining Efficient Tick Sizes

Market makers play a crucial role in maintaining efficient tick sizes by providing liquidity and narrowing bid-ask spreads. They do this by continuously quoting bid and ask prices for securities, which enables traders to buy or sell at competitive prices without impacting the market too much.

Market makers also help ensure that tick sizes remain competitive and reflect the underlying asset’s price movements. They do this by adjusting their quotes to reflect changes in market conditions and order flows.

Furthermore, market makers are responsible for managing the risk associated with their positions. They must constantly monitor their exposure to market movements and adjust their quotes accordingly to avoid losses. This risk management function is critical to maintaining a stable and efficient market, as it helps prevent sudden price swings and market disruptions.

Common Misconceptions about Tick Size in Finance

One common misconception about tick size is that it determines the minimum price movement for a security. In reality, the minimum price movement depends on the tick size and the number of decimal places in the security’s price.

Another misconception is that tick size affects the intrinsic value of a security. In reality, tick size is a technical feature of a security that affects liquidity and trading costs but has no bearing on its fundamental value.

It is also important to note that tick size can vary between different exchanges and markets. For example, the tick size for a stock listed on the New York Stock Exchange may be different from the tick size for the same stock listed on the NASDAQ. Additionally, tick size can change over time as market conditions and regulations evolve.

Future Trends and Predictions for the Use of Tick Size in Financial Markets

As electronic trading continues to evolve, we can expect tick sizes to become smaller and more standardized across different trading venues and asset classes. This will create more efficient markets, but also present challenges for regulatory bodies and traders who need to navigate increasingly complex market structures.

It’s also likely that we’ll see more innovations in tick size regulation, such as dynamic tick sizes that adjust based on market volatility, or tick sizes that reflect the underlying asset’s liquidity and trading volume.

Another trend that we may see in the future is the use of tick sizes to promote market fairness and reduce high-frequency trading. Some exchanges have already implemented minimum resting times for orders, and tick sizes could be used in a similar way to discourage rapid-fire trading strategies that can disrupt market stability.


Tick size is an essential concept in finance that affects liquidity, price discovery, and transaction costs. Understanding tick size and its impact on trading can help traders and investors navigate different trading venues and asset classes effectively.

Whether you’re a high-frequency trader, a long-term value investor, or just interested in the mechanics of financial markets, tick size is an essential concept to master.

Tick size is not a fixed value and can vary depending on the asset class, trading venue, and regulatory requirements. For example, tick sizes for stocks listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) are generally larger than those for stocks listed on the NASDAQ. Similarly, tick sizes for futures contracts can vary depending on the underlying asset and the exchange where the contract is traded.

Tick size can also impact market volatility. In markets with smaller tick sizes, prices can move more frequently and in smaller increments, leading to higher volatility. On the other hand, markets with larger tick sizes may experience less frequent price movements, resulting in lower volatility.

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