Speculation Introduction, Meaning & Definition, Objectives, Functions, Types, Strategies

9th September 2022 0 By indiafreenotes

Speculation, or speculative trading, refers to the act of conducting a financial transaction that has substantial risk of losing value but also holds the expectation of a significant gain or other major value. With speculation, the risk of loss is more than offset by the possibility of a substantial gain or other recompense.

An investor who purchases a speculative investment is likely focused on price fluctuations. While the risk associated with the investment is high, the investor is typically more concerned about generating a profit based on market value changes for that investment than on long-term investing. When speculative investing involves the purchase of a foreign currency, it is known as currency speculation. In this scenario, an investor buys a currency in an effort to later sell that currency at an appreciated rate, as opposed to an investor who buys a currency in order to pay for an import or to finance a foreign investment.

Without the prospect of substantial gains, there would be little motivation to engage in speculation. It may sometimes be difficult to distinguish between speculation and simple investment, forcing the market player to consider whether speculation or investment depends on factors that measure the nature of the asset, expected duration of the holding period and/or amount of leverage applied to the exposure.


With the appearance of the stock ticker machine in 1867, which removed the need for traders to be physically present on the floor of a stock exchange, stock speculation underwent a dramatic expansion through the end of the 1920s. The number of shareholders increased, perhaps, from 4.4 million in 1900 to 26 million in 1932.

Objectives & Functions

Market liquidity and efficiency

If any market, such as pork bellies, had no speculators, only producers (hog farmers) and consumers (butchers, etc.) would participate. With fewer players in the market, there would be a larger spread between the current bid and ask price of pork bellies. Any new entrant in the market who wanted to trade pork bellies would be forced to accept this illiquid market and might trade at market prices with large bid–ask spreads or even face difficulty finding a co-party to buy or sell to.

By contrast, a commodity speculator may profit the difference in the spread and, in competition with other speculators, reduce the spread. Some schools of thought argue that speculators increase the liquidity in a market, and therefore promote an efficient market. This efficiency is difficult to achieve without speculators. Speculators take information and speculate on how it affects prices, producers and consumers, who may want to hedge their risks, needing counterparties if they could find each other without markets it certainly would happen as it would be cheaper. A very beneficial by-product of speculation for the economy is price discovery.

On the other hand, as more speculators participate in a market, underlying real demand and supply can diminish compared to trading volume, and prices may become distorted.

Bearing risks

Speculators perform a risk bearing role that can be beneficial to society. For example, a farmer might be considering planting corn on some unused farmland. However, he might not want to do so because he is concerned that the price might fall too far by harvest time. By selling his crop in advance at a fixed price to a speculator, he is now able to hedge the price risk and so he can plant the corn. Thus, speculators can actually increase production through their willingness to take on risk (not at the loss of profit).

Finding environmental and other risks

Speculative hedge funds that do fundamental analysis “are far more likely than other investors to try to identify a firm’s off-balance-sheet exposures” including “environmental or social liabilities present in a market or company but not explicitly accounted for in traditional numeric valuation or mainstream investor analysis”. Hence, they make the prices better reflect the true quality of operation of the firms.


Shorting may act as a “canary in a coal mine” to stop unsustainable practices earlier and thus reduce damages and forming market bubbles.

Economic disadvantages

Winner’s curse

Auctions are a method of squeezing out speculators from a transaction, but they may have their own perverse effects by the winner’s curse. The winner’s curse is, however, not very significant to markets with high liquidity for both buyers and sellers, as the auction for selling the product and the auction for buying the product occur simultaneously, and the two prices are separated only by a relatively small spread. That mechanism prevents the winner’s curse phenomenon from causing mispricing to any degree greater than the spread.

Economic bubbles

Speculation is often associated with economic bubbles. A bubble occurs when the price for an asset exceeds its intrinsic value by a significant margin, although not all bubbles occur due to speculation. Speculative bubbles are characterized by rapid market expansion driven by word-of-mouth feedback loops, as initial rises in asset price attract new buyers and generate further inflation. The growth of the bubble is followed by a precipitous collapse fueled by the same phenomenon. Speculative bubbles are essentially social epidemics whose contagion is mediated by the structure of the market.[Some economists link asset price movements within a bubble to fundamental economic factors such as cash flows and discount rates.

In 1936, John Maynard Keynes wrote: “Speculators may do no harm as bubbles on a steady stream of enterprise. But the situation is serious when enterprise becomes the bubble on a whirlpool of speculation. (1936:159)” Keynes himself enjoyed speculation to the fullest, running an early precursor of a hedge fund. As the Bursar of the Cambridge University King’s College, he managed two investment funds, one of which, called Chest Fund, invested not only in the then ’emerging’ market US stocks, but to a smaller extent periodically included commodity futures and foreign currencies (see Chua and Woodward, 1983). His fund was profitable almost every year, averaging 13% per year, even during the Great Depression, thanks to very modern investment strategies, which included inter-market diversification (it invested in stocks, commodities and currencies) as well as shorting (selling borrowed stocks or futures to profit from falling prices), which Keynes advocated among the principles of successful investment in his 1933 report: “a balanced investment position and if possible, opposed risks”.