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Gray market

By Konstantin Vasilev Member of the Board of Directors of Cbonds, Ph.D. in Economics
Updated July 1, 2023

What is a Grey Market?

The grey market, also referred to as the gray market or parallel market, encompasses both the unofficial trade of financial securities and the import and sale of goods by unauthorized dealers. Grey market trading in securities typically occurs when a stock is temporarily suspended from official trading or when new securities are bought and sold prior to the commencement of official trading.

In the context of financial securities, the grey market serves as a platform for "when issued" trading, allowing the issuer and underwriters to assess the demand for a forthcoming offering. It provides an opportunity to trade securities that will be officially offered in the near future, giving insights into customer demand and price expectations. Despite operating as an unofficial market, grey market trading is not considered illegal and serves as an additional avenue for investors and traders to participate in the market.

In the realm of goods, the grey market involves the sale of products by unauthorized distributors or parallel importers. These goods are typically authentic and original, but they are sold outside of the authorized distribution channels designated by the manufacturer. This can lead to different prices, lower costs for buyers, and the availability of products that may not be officially sold in a particular market or at a specific time. However, buyers should exercise caution as grey market goods may lack official warranty coverage or after-sales support.

It is important to note that the grey market should not be confused with the black market, which involves illegal activities and the sale of counterfeit or illegal goods. The grey market operates within legal boundaries, albeit outside of the authorized distribution channels. Consumers and businesses have the choice to buy products from the grey market, considering factors such as pricing, availability, and their own risk tolerance.

Understanding Grey Markets

In grey market trading, where the trade itself is binding but unsettled until the official trading period, there is a risk of unscrupulous parties reneging on their trades. This risk deters certain institutional investors, including pension funds and mutual funds, from participating in grey market trading.

The grey market for goods thrives when there is a significant price disparity for popular products across different countries. Many nations witness a robust grey market for sought-after consumer devices and electronics, facilitated by the convenience of online purchasing and international shipping. Luxury cars, high-end apparel, handbags, shoes, cigarettes, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics are among the commonly traded goods in the grey market. Unauthorized dealers often import these items in bulk and, despite marking up the prices, manage to sell them at a considerably lower cost than the local market.

Customers who take advantage of discounted prices on such products should be aware of potential future issues and ensure that the products meet local safety and certification standards. Post-sale service and support can also pose challenges, as authorized dealers may be reluctant to service goods purchased through the grey market.

On occasion, consumers may unknowingly purchase a product from the grey market. Indicators that a product is likely from the grey market include significantly lower prices compared to other local retailers, user manuals in a different language, and the presence of photocopied manuals or duplicated software CDs.

Types Of Grey Markets

Grey markets can be classified into two primary categories. The first type pertains to the trade of imported goods, particularly those that are either highly expensive or not readily available through official channels. The second type of grey market involves securities that have not yet been issued or traded within the official market.

Types of Trading in Grey Market

Within the grey market for initial public offerings (IPOs), there are two distinct modes of trading:

  • The trading of allocated IPO shares before their official listing on stock exchanges allowing for the buying and selling of these shares.

  • The trading of IPO applications at a predetermined rate, commonly known as a premium, is where individuals buy and sell these applications.

Pros and Cons Of The Grey Market


  • Flexibility for Investors. Investors can withdraw from the IPO even before its official listing, allowing them to take advantage of potential price movements during this period.

  • Valuation Insights. In the case of financial securities, the grey market provides the issuer and underwriter with an estimated share price and valuation before the IPO goes public, offering valuable insights.

  • Discounted Prices. The grey market for goods enables customers to purchase authorized products from the same manufacturer at discounted prices, attracting customers seeking lower-priced options.

  • Trading Opportunity for Suspended Securities. Securities suspended from trading on the stock exchange can find an opportunity to be traded in the IPO grey market.

  • Short-Term Benefits for Manufacturers. In the short term, the grey market helps manufacturers boost their incremental sales and generate profits through both official and unofficial distribution channels. Sometimes, even official distributors participate in the grey market to dispose of excess supply and gain higher profits.

  • Valuation Support for Start-ups. The IPO grey market serves as a valuable marketplace for start-ups, aiding them in making decisions about going public and assisting in the valuation process.


  • Unreliable Price Estimates. Price estimates based on premiums in the IPO grey market may not always be reliable, as institutional investors’ additional subscriptions can significantly influence the price range.

  • Limited Market Participation. The relatively small number of participants in the IPO grey market may not accurately reflect the true market dynamics.

  • Lack of After-Sales Service. In the case of goods, as they are delivered through unauthorized channels and dealers, customers may not receive after-sales service for their purchases.

  • Quality Risk. Despite being manufactured under the same brand, Grey market products do not guarantee consistent quality, posing a higher risk to consumers.

  • Regulatory Concerns. The grey market for financial securities operates outside the purview of regulatory authorities, increasing the potential for manipulation and associated risks.

  • Limited Institutional Investor Participation. Due to the perceived risks, many institutional investors, such as pension funds, foreign direct investments (FDIs), foreign portfolio investments (FPIs), and mutual funds, tend to avoid investing in the grey market.

  • Negative Impact on Brand Reputation. Grey market activities can negatively affect the manufacturer’s brand name, especially if the products do not meet quality standards.

  • Disruption of Regular Supply Channels. Unauthorized delivery channels in the grey market can disrupt the regular supply chain of a company, affecting designated retailers, distributors, and wholesalers and potentially destabilizing product pricing.

  • Absence of Assistance from Unofficial Distributors. Official distributors of a company play a role in advertising and business development, which unofficial distributors in the grey market do not provide, limiting support to the manufacturer.

Parallel Trading

Grey market trade, also known as parallel trade, involves importing and exporting authentic goods protected by intellectual property (IP) rights. Parallel trade occurs when the intellectual property rights in these goods have been exhausted, meaning they have already been introduced into a specific territory by the rights holder or with their permission.

Grey Market Stock

Through brokers and trading providers, grey market stocks are traded in the parallel market rather than on a stock exchange. When you invest in grey market stocks, you are speculating on the potential market capitalization of a company before its official listing.

Grey market stocks, also known as parallel market stocks, operate outside of traditional stock exchanges. Instead, they are bought and sold through intermediaries such as brokers and trading providers. By participating in grey market trading, investors can take a position on the anticipated market capitalization of a company prior to its initial public offering (IPO).

In the grey market, stocks are traded through unofficial channels, allowing investors to engage in speculative trading based on projected demand and valuation. Official trading platforms or stock exchanges do not regulate these stocks. Instead, they are bought and sold through alternative channels facilitated by brokers and trading providers.

One of the main attractions of grey market stocks is the opportunity to trade them before they become officially listed on a stock exchange. This enables investors to potentially capitalize on price movements and fluctuations based on market sentiment and expectations.


  • How are IPO shares traded in the grey market?

  • What is Grey Market Premium?

  • Is the grey market illegal?

  • What is an example of a grey market?

  • Is it okay to buy from the grey market?

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