Trading Order Types
Market, Limit, Stop and If Touched
All trades are made up of separate orders that are used together to make a complete trade. All trades consist of at least two orders: one to get into the trade, and another order to exit the trade. Order types are the same whether trading stocks, currencies or futures.
A single order is either a buy order or a sell order, and an order can be used either to enter a trade or to exit a trade. If a trade is entered with a buy order, then it will be exited with a sell order. If a trade is entered with a sell order, the position will be exited with a buy order.
For example, if a trader expected a stock price to go up, the simplest trade would consist of one buy order to enter the trade, and one sell order to exit the trade, hopefully at a profit after the price has actually risen.
Alternatively, if a trader expected a stock price to go down, the simplest trade would consist of one sell order to enter the trade, and one buy order to exit the trade. This last example, called shorting or shorting a stock, is when a stock is sold first and then bought back later.
Traders have access to many different types of orders that they can use in various combinations to make trades. Below, the main order types are explained, along with how these orders are used in trading.
Market Orders (MKT)
Market orders buy or sell at the current price, whatever that price may be. In an active market, market orders will always get filled, but not necessarily at the exact price that the trader intended. For example, a trader might place a market order when the best price is 1.2954, but other orders might get filled first, and the trader's order might get filled at 1.2955 instead.
Market orders are used when you definitely want your order to be processed and are willing to risk getting a slightly different price. If you are buying, your market order will get filled at the ask price, as that is the price someone else is currently willing to sell for.
If you are selling, your market order will get filled at the bid price, as that is the price someone else is currently willing to buy at.
Limit Orders (LMT)
Limit orders are orders to buy or sell an asset at a specific price or better. Limit orders may or may not get filled depending on how the market is moving, but if they do get filled it will always be at the chosen price, or better.
For example, if a trader placed a limit order with a price of $50.50, the order would only get filled at $50.50 or better. In this case, a better price would be below $50.50, if it got filled at all. Limit orders are used when you want to make sure that you get a suitable price and are willing to risk not being filled at all. The order only gets filled if someone is willing to sell to you if you are buying at $50.50, or below.
If you wanted to sell at $50.50 or better—which would be above $50.50, in this case—you could use a sell limit order. The order will only be executed if someone else is willing to buy from you at $50.50 or above.
Stop Orders (STP)
Stop orders are similar to market orders in that they are orders to buy or sell an asset at the best available price, but these orders are only processed if the market reaches a specific price.
For example, if the current price of an asset is 1.2567, a trader might place a buy stop order with a price of 1.2572. If the market trades at 1.2572 or above, the trader's stop order will be processed as a market order and will then get filled at the current best price.
Stop orders are processed as market orders, so if the stop or trigger price is reached, the order will always get filled, but not necessarily at the price that the trader intended. Stop orders will trigger if the market trades at or past the stop price. For a buy order, the stop price must be above the current price, and for a sell order, the stop price must be below the current price.
Stop orders can be used to enter a trade, but also used to exit a trade, typically called a stop loss. For example, if a trader buys a stock at $50.50, they may place a sell stop at $50.25. If the price reaches $50.25 or below, the sell order will be executed, getting the trader out of the position at $50.25 or below, limiting the loss on the position.
If a trader is short at $50.50, they may place a buy stop at $50.75 to limit their loss. If the price reaches $50.75 or above the buy stop will execute, closing the trader's position at $50.75 or above.
Stop Limit Orders (STPLMT)
Traders will commonly combine a stop and a limit order to fine-tune what price they get. To open a trade, a trader could place a buy stop limit at $50.75. Assume the stock currently trades at $50.50. If the price reaches $50.75 the buy stop limit order will be executed, but only if the order can be executed at $50.75 or below.
This also works to initiate a short position. If the current price is $25.25, and a trader wants to go short if the price falls to $25.10, they could place a sell stop limit at $25.10. If the price reaches $25.10 the order will be executed, but only if the order can be executed $25.10 or above.
When using a stop limit order, the stop and limit prices of the order can be different. For the buying example, our trader could place a buy stop at $50.75, but with a limit at $50.78. The buy stop kicks in and buys if $50.75 is reached, but due to the limit order, the order will only buy up to $50.78. This assures that the trader buys if $50.75 is reached, but only if the market allows them to do so below $50.78.
Stop limit orders will remain pending until someone else is willing to transact at the stop limit order price(s), or better.
Market If Touched Orders
A buy MIT ("market if touched") order price is placed below the current price, while the sell MIT order price is placed above the current price. For example, assume a stock is trading at $16.50. A MIT buy order could be placed at $16.40. If the price moves to $16.40 or below, the trigger price, then a market buy order will be sent out.
For a sell order, assume a stock is trading $16.50. A MIT sell order could be placed at $16.60. If the price moves to $16.60, the trigger price, then a market sell order be sent out.
Limit If Touched Orders (LIT)
A LIT ("limit if touched") order is like a MIT order, but it sends out a limit order instead of a market order. For a LIT order, there is a trigger price and a limit price.
For example, assume a stock is trading at $16.50. A LIT trigger could be placed at $16.40. In addition, a limit price of $16.35 could be set. If the price moves to $16.40 or below, the trigger price, then a limit order will be placed at $16.35. Since it is a limit order, the buy will only be executed at $16.35 or below.
For a sell order, assume a stock is trading at $16.50. A LIT trigger could be placed at $16.60. In addition, a limit price of $16.65 could be set. If the price moves to $16.60 or above, the trigger price, then a limit order will be placed at $16.65. Since it is a limit order, the sell trade will only be executed at $16.65 or above.
Summary of Trading Order Types
A market order is used to enter or exit a position quickly. It will be filled, but not necessarily at the price expected, called slippage.
A limit order is used to cap the amount that is paid on a buy order or to sell at a specific price, or above, on a sell order. A stop order is used to capture a specific price or higher, on a buy order, or to capture a specific price or lower, on a sell order.
A buy stop limit order is used to buy at a specific price or lower or within a range, while a sell stop limit is used to sell at a specific price or higher, or within a range. This combines elements of the basic stop and limit order types.
Market if touched orders trigger a market order if a certain price is touched. A limit if touched order sends out a limit order if a specific trigger price is reached.