The first stock market in the world was the London Stock Exchange. It was started in a coffeehouse, where traders used to meet to exchange shares, in 1773. The first stock exchange in the United States was started in Philadelphia in 1790. The Buttonwood Agreement, so named because it was signed under a buttonwood tree, marked the beginnings of New York’s Wall Street in 1792. The agreement was signed by 24 traders and was the first American organization of its kind to trade in securities. The traders renamed their venture as the New York Stock and Exchange Board in 1817.
The stock market is one of the most vital components of a free-market economy. It allows companies to raise money by offering stock shares and corporate bonds. It lets common investors participate in the financial achievements of the companies, make profits through capital gains, and earn money through dividends—although losses are also possible. While institutional investors and professional money managers do enjoy some privileges owing to their deep pockets, better knowledge, and higher risk-taking abilities, the stock market attempts to offer a level playing field to common individuals.
The stock market works as a platform through which savings and investments of individuals are efficiently channeled into productive investment opportunities. In the long term, this helps in capital formation and economic growth for the country.
While individual stock exchanges compete against each other to get maximum transaction volume, stock markets as a whole may be facing competitive threats on two fronts.
Dark pools, which are private exchanges or forums for securities trading and operate within private groups, are posing a challenge to public stock markets. Though their legal validity is subject to local regulations, they are gaining popularity as participants save big on transaction fees.
Amid the rising popularity of blockchains, many crypto exchanges have emerged. Such exchanges are venues for trading cryptocurrencies and derivatives associated with that asset class. Though their popularity remains limited, they pose a threat to the traditional stock market model by automating a bulk of the work done by various stock market participants and by offering zero- to low-cost services.
The stock exchange shoulders the responsibility of ensuring price transparency, liquidity, price discovery, and fair dealings in such trading activities. As almost all major stock markets across the globe now operate electronically, the exchange maintains trading systems that efficiently manage the buy and sell orders from various market participants. They perform the price-matching function to facilitate trade execution at a price that is fair to both buyers and sellers.
A listed company may also offer new, additional shares through other offerings at a later stage, such as through rights issues or follow-on offerings. They may even buy back or delist their shares. The stock exchange facilitates such transactions.
The stock exchange often creates and maintains various market-level and sector-specific indicators, like the S&P (Standard & Poor’s) 500 index or the Nasdaq 100 index, which provide a measure to track the movement of the overall market. Other methods include the Stochastic Oscillator and the Stochastic Momentum Index.
The stock exchanges also maintain all company news, announcements, and financial reporting, which can usually be accessed on their official websites. A stock exchange also supports various other corporate-level, transaction-related activities. For instance, profitable companies may reward investors by paying dividends that usually come from part of the company’s earnings. The exchange maintains all such information and may support its processing to a certain extent.
The stock market allows numerous buyers and sellers of securities to meet, interact, and transact. Stock markets allow for price discovery for shares of corporations and serve as a barometer for the overall economy. Since the number of stock market participants is huge, one can often be assured of a fair price and a high degree of liquidity as various market participants compete with one another for the best price.
A stock market is a regulated and controlled environment. In the United States, the main regulators include the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and market participants under the purview of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).
Since the stock market brings together hundreds of thousands of market participants who wish to buy and sell shares, it ensures fair pricing practices and transparency in transactions. While earlier stock markets used to issue and deal in paper-based physical share certificates, the modern-day computerized stock markets operate electronically.
The stock market serves two very important purposes. The first is to provide capital to companies that they can use to fund and expand their businesses. If a company issues one million shares of stock that initially sell for $10 a share, then that provides the company with $10 million of capital that it can use to grow its business (minus whatever fees the company pays for an investment bank to manage the stock offering). By offering stock shares instead of borrowing the capital needed for expansion, the company avoids incurring debt and paying interest charges on that debt.
The secondary purpose the stock market serves is to give investors – those who purchase stocks – the opportunity to share in the profits of publicly-traded companies. Investors can profit from stock buying in one of two ways. Some stocks pay regular dividends (a given amount of money per share of stock someone owns). The other way investors can profit from buying stocks is by selling their stock for a profit if the stock price increases from their purchase price. For example, if an investor buys shares of a company’s stock at $10 a share and the price of the stock subsequently rises to $15 a share, the investor can then realize a 50% profit on their investment by selling their shares.
The stock market broadly refers to the collection of exchanges and other venues where the buying, selling, and issuance of shares of publicly held companies take place. Such financial activities are conducted through institutionalized formal exchanges (whether physical or electronic) or via over-the-counter (OTC) marketplaces that operate under a defined set of regulations.
While both the terms “stock market” and “stock exchange” are often used interchangeably, the latter term generally comprises a subset of the former. If one trades in the stock market, it means that they buy or sell shares on one (or more) of the stock exchange(s) that are part of the overall stock market.
A given country or region may have one or more exchanges comprising their stock market. The leading U.S. stock exchanges include the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and the Nasdaq. These leading national exchanges, along with several other exchanges operating in the country, form the stock market of the United States.
- Stock markets are venues where buyers and sellers meet to exchange equity shares of public corporations.
- Stock markets are vital components of a free-market economy because they enable democratized access to trading and exchange of capital for investors of all kinds.
- They perform several functions in markets, including efficient price discovery and efficient dealing.
- In the United States, the stock market is regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and local regulatory bodies.