Secondary Markets for Bonds

Secondary markets are “aftermarkets” where existing securities are traded among investors. The major players in these markets are large institutional investors and central banks. There are two main classifications of secondary markets:

  • Organized exchanges where buyers and sellers transact according to exchange rules. These days, most traders do not physically meet to buy and sell securities. Instead, all trading takes place over a computer system, which may be operated from almost anywhere
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) markets in which buy and sell orders are matched via a broker-dealer network. The vast majority of bonds are traded in OTC markets since they not listed on formal exchanges.

Bid and Ask Spread

The Bid-offer spread (or bid-ask spread) is the amount by which the ask price exceeds the bid price for an asset. It is usually seen as indicator of liquidity. A reasonable spread is generally 10-12 bps whereas an illiquid asset may trade at a spread beyond 50 bps. When there is no bid or offer price, the bond is said to be completely illiquid.

Settlement of Bonds

Settlement occurs after the trade takes place. The bonds are passed to the buyer and payment is received by the seller. Secondary market settlements for government or quasi-government bonds are usually realized on a cash basis or T+1 basis (one day after the trade) while corporate bonds usually settle on a T+2 or T+3 basis (2 or 3 days after the trade).


ABX Mutual funds buys a large amount of 5-year U.S. T-Notes from a competitor fund. The trade will usually settle:

A. On the trade date plus 1 day

B. On the trade date, plus 2 or 3 days

C. On the trade plus 7 days


The correct answer is A.

Secondary market settlement for government or quasi-government bonds usually occurs on a cash or T+1 basis.

Options B and C are incorrect as corporate bonds usually settle on a T+2 or T+3 basis.

Reading 51 LOS 51d:

Describe secondary markets for bonds


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