A stock market is a market for the trading of publicly held company stock and associated financial instruments (including stock options, convertibles and stock index futures).
Traditionally such markets were open-outcry where trading occurred on the floor of an exchange. These days increasingly the markets are cyber-markets with buying and selling occurring via online real-time matching of orders placed by buyers and sellers.
Many years ago, worldwide, buyers and sellers were individual investors and businessmen. These days markets have generally become "institutionalized"; that is, buyers and sellers are largely institutions whether pension funds, insurance companies, mutual funds or banks. This rise of the institutional investor has brought growing professionalism to all aspects of the markets.
The character of markets around the world varies, for example with the majority of the shares in the Japanese market being closely held (by financial companies and industrial corporations) compared with the structures of ownership in the USA or the UK.
There are stock markets in most developed economies, with the world's biggest markets being in the USA, China, Japan, and Europe. There are global stock-market indices that, because they delineate the global universe of stock opportunities, shape the choices and distribution of funds of institutional investors.
Main article: stock market index
The movements of the prices in a market or section of a market are captured in price indices called Stock Market Indices, of which there are many, e.g., the Standard and Poors Indices and the Financial Times Indices. Such indices are usually market-capitalisation weighted.
Main article: derivative security
An option is a contract that gives an investor the right to buy or sell a security such as a stock or index at an agreed-upon price during a specified period with no obligation.
A future is a contract that gives an investor the obligation to buy or sell a security at an agreed-upon price during a specified period.
An option buyer who believes that the price of a stock will rise can enter a contract known as a "call" which gives him the right to buy another's stock at a date three to nine months in the future. He pays a fee to the owner of the stock and will forfeit it if he does not exercise the option. But if the stock price rises enough, he can exercise the option and buy the stock at the fixed price, and then resell it for a higher price to recover his premium and make a profit.
Someone who thinks that the price of a stock is about to fall can buy a "put" contract with someone else who agrees to buy the stock at a fixed price. He does not have to own the stock at the time the contract is made. Again, he pays a premium. But if the stock price does fall, he can buy the stock at a low price on the market and then sell it for an agreed-upon higher price.
Option contracts are traded like stocks, often by people who have no intention of exercising them. Although there is a guaranteed loss of the premium when an option is not exercised, there is enormous potential profit from trading the option itself--its price rises or falls with the price of the underlying stock. Someone who has a guaranteed buyer for 10,000 shares of stock at $35 has a contract of enormous value if the price of the stock falls to $10. He may not want to invest $100,000 to fulfill the contract and earn $350,000. But someone will want to buy the contract from him for more than he paid for it.
There are also two sorts of trades involving cash or stock not actually owned, short selling and margin buying.
In short selling, someone sells stock that they don't actually own, hoping for the price to fall. They must eventually buy back the stock. Exiting a short position by buing back the stock is called "covering a short".
See also: leverage (finance)
In margin buying, someone borrows money to buy the stock and hopes for it to rise. Most industrialized countries have regulations that require that if the borrowing is based on collateral from other stocks, it can be at only a certain percentage of those other stocks' value. Other rules include a prohibition of freeriding; that is, putting in an order to buy stocks without paying initially, and then selling them and using part of the proceeds to make the original payment.
Stock Market Regulation
Before 1929, there were few regulations governing trades. In the 1920s there were many abuses in the sale and trading of securities. State Blue Sky laws were easy to evade by making security sales across state lines. After holding hearings on the abuses Congress passed The Securities Act of 1933. It regulates the interstate sales of securities and made it illegal to sell securities into a state without complying with the state law. It requires companies which want to sell securities publicly to file a registration statement with the Securities & Exchange Commission. The registration statement provides a lot of information about the company and is a matter of public record. The SEC does not approve or disapprove the issue, but lets the statement "become effective" if it provides sufficient required detail, including risk factors. Then the company can begin selling the issue, usually through investment bankers.
The next year Congress passed the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 which regulates the secondary market trading of securities. Initially it applied only to stock exchanges and listed companies as its name implies. In the late 1930s it was amended to provide regulation of the over-the-counter market also. In 1964 it was amended to apply also to companies traded in the over-the-counter market.
Levels and flows
Main article: equity levels and flows
Global equity & equity-related issuance totaled $505bn for the year, representing a 29.9% increase over the $389bn raised in 2003. Initial public offerings increased nearly 220% in 233 offerings that raised $44 billion.
- Oldest share (http://www.oldest-share.com/) - the oldest share in the world (VOC 1606, traded in Amsterdam)
- Stock market investment blog (http://www.stock-market-idea.com/) - a blog about investing in the stock market
- Compare commissions of online discount stock brokerages (http://www.online-trading-info.com/compare-online-brokers.htm)
- Stock Market and Investment Forum (http://stockmarketsblog.com/stock_talk/)
- Hussman Funds - Estimating the Long-Term Return on Stocks - June 1998 (http://www.hussman.net/html/longterm.htm)
- Collection of Stock Market Articles (http://www.stockmarketsblog.com/stock_talk/forum-2.html)
- Yahoo! Finance - Stock Screener - Market Cap (http://screen.yahoo.com/b?mc=100000000/&b=1&z=mc&db=stocks&vw=1)
- ECB: Statistics pocket book (http://www.ecb.int/pub/spb/html/index.en.html)