Thursday, December 8, 2016

What Does Liquidity Mean?

Liquidity describes the degree to which an asset or security can be quickly bought or sold in the market without affecting the asset's price. Market liquidity refers to the extent to which a market, such as a country's stock market or a city's real estate market, allows assets to be bought and sold at stable prices. Cash is the most liquid asset, while real estate, fine art and collectibles are all relatively illiquid. Accounting liquidity measures the ease with which an individual or company can meet their financial obligations with the liquid assets available to them. There are several ratios that express accounting liquidity.

BREAKING DOWN 'Liquidity'
Cash is considered the standard for liquidity because it can most quickly and easily be converted into other assets. If a person wants a $1,000 refrigerator, cash is the asset that can most easily be used to obtain it. If that person has no cash, but a rare book collection that has been appraised at $1,000, they are unlikely to find someone willing to trade them the refrigerator for their collection. Instead, they will have to sell the collection and use the cash to purchase the refrigerator. That may be fine if the person can wait months or years to make the purchase, but it could present a problem if the person only had a few days. They may have to sell the books at a discount, instead of waiting for a buyer who was willing to pay the full value. Rare books are therefore an illiquid asset.

Market Liquidity
In the example given above, the market for refrigerators in exchange for rare books is so illiquid that, for all intents and purposes, it does not exist. The stock market, on the other hand, is characterized by higher market liquidity. If an exchange has a high volume of trade that is not dominated by selling, the price a buyer offers per share (the bid price) and the price the seller is willing to accept (the ask price) will be fairly close to each other. Investors, then, will not have to give up unrealized gains for a quick sale. When the spread between the bid and ask prices grows, the market becomes more illiquid. Markets for real estate are pretty much inherently less liquid than stock markets. Even by the standard of real estate markets, however, a buyer's market is relatively illiquid, since buyers can demand steep discounts from sellers who want to offload their properties quickly. 

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