Stock market

What Is the Stock Market and How Does It Work?


The stock market refers to a collection of exchanges and other venues where shares of publicly traded firms can be bought, sold, and issued. Such financial transactions are carried out on institutionalised formal exchanges (physical or electronic) or over-the-counter (OTC) markets that are governed by a set of rules.

Although the phrases “stock market” and “stock exchange” are frequently interchanged, the latter refers to a subset of the former. When someone trades in the stock market, they are buying or selling stocks on one (or more) of the stock exchanges that make up the entire stock market. A country’s or region’s stock market may be made up of one or many exchanges. The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and the Nasdaq are the two most important stock exchanges in the United States. The stock market of the United States is made up of these big national exchanges as well as a number of other exchanges that operate in the country.

Key Points

  • Stock exchanges bring buyers and sellers together to trade equity shares in public companies.
  • Stock exchanges are critical components of a free-market economy because they provide democratised access to trading and capital exchange for all types of investors.
  • In markets, they execute a variety of tasks, including effective price discovery and efficient dealing.
  • The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and local regulatory organisations control the stock market in the United States.
  • The Stock Market: An Overview
  • The stock market brings together, interacts with, and transacts with a large number of buyers and sellers of securities. Stock markets allow for the price discovery of corporate shares and serve as a barometer for the economy as a whole. Because of the large number of stock market players, one may often expect a fair pricing and a high level of liquidity as market participants strive for the best price.
  • A stock market is a tightly managed and regulated environment. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and market participants under the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority are the principal regulators in the United States (FINRA). The stock market maintains fair pricing processes and transaction transparency by bringing together hundreds of thousands of market participants who want to purchase and sell shares. Unlike earlier stock markets, which used paper-based physical share certificates to issue and trade, today’s computerised stock exchanges function entirely electronically.
  • Although it is known as a stock market and is primarily used to trade stocks/equities, it also trades other assets such as exchange-traded funds (ETFs).

How Does the Stock Exchange Work?

In a word, stock markets provide a safe and regulated environment in which market participants can confidently trade shares and other qualified financial instruments with little to no risk of losing money. The stock markets operate as primary and secondary markets, according to the guidelines set forth by the regulator.

The stock market, as a primary market, allows corporations to issue and sell shares to the general public for the first time through an initial public offering (IPO) (IPO). This practise aids businesses in obtaining the funding they require from investors. It essentially means that a company divides itself into a number of shares (for example, 20 million shares) and sells a portion of those shares to the public at a price (for example, $10 per share).

A corporation will require a marketplace where these shares can be sold to make this process easier. The stock market provides this marketplace. If all goes according to plan, the corporation will be able to sell 5 million shares at a $10 per share price and make a profit of $50 million. Investors will receive company shares, which they can expect to hold for the term of their choice, in the hopes of a rise in share price and potential dividend payments. The stock exchange operates as a facilitator for this capital-raising process, receiving a fee from the company and its financial partners in exchange for its services.

Following the initial public offering, or IPO, known as the listing process, the stock market also functions as a trading platform for regular buying and selling of the listed shares. The secondary market is made up of this. Every deal that takes place on the stock exchange’s platform during secondary market activity pays the stock exchange a fee.

Particular Points to Consider

  • In such trading activities, the stock exchange is responsible for assuring price transparency, liquidity, price discovery, and fair transactions. The exchange maintains trading systems that efficiently manage the buy and sell orders from diverse market participants, as practically all major stock markets across the world now function electronically. They execute the price-matching function to make trade execution easier for both buyers and sellers at a fair price.
  • At a later date, a publicly traded firm may offer new, more shares through subsequent offers, such as rights issues or follow-on offerings. They may even decide to repurchase or delist their stock. Such trades are made possible by the stock exchange.
  • The stock exchange frequently generates and maintains numerous market-level and sector-specific indices, such as the S&P (Standard & Poor’s) 500 index or the Nasdaq 100 index, to track the overall market’s behaviour. The Stochastic Oscillator and the Stochastic Momentum Index are two further ways.
  • All corporate news, announcements, and financial reporting are also maintained by the stock exchanges, and may usually be found on their official websites. A stock market also facilitates a variety of other transaction-related operations at the business level. Profitable corporations, for example, may pay dividends to investors, which are normally derived from a portion of the company’s earnings. The exchange keeps track of all of this data and can help with its processing to some extent.

A Stock Market’s Functions

The following are the primary purposes of a stock market:

  • Fair Dealing in Securities Transactions is a concept that has been around for a long time.
  • The stock exchange must ensure that all interested market participants have quick access to data for all buy and sell orders, based on established supply and demand principles, thereby assisting in the fair and transparent pricing of securities. It should also be capable of efficiently matching appropriate buy and sell orders.
  • For instance, three buyers may have placed orders for Microsoft shares at $100, $105, and $110, while four sellers may be willing to sell Microsoft shares at $110, $112, $115, and $120. The exchange must ensure that the best purchase and sell are matched (through automated trading systems), which in this example is $110 for the given quantity of trade.

Price Discovery with Ease

The act of determining the right price of a security is normally conducted by examining market supply and demand, as well as other aspects involved with the transactions, and stock markets must enable an efficient method for price discovery.

Let’s say a software business based in the United States is trading at $100 per share and has a market capitalization of $5 billion. According to the latest news, the European Union (EU) authority has slapped a $2 billion fine on the corporation, thereby wiping off 40% of the company’s value. While the stock market may have set a trading price range of $90 to $110 for the company’s stock, it should update the allowed trading price limit quickly to account for probable fluctuations in the stock price, or shareholders may find it difficult to trade at a reasonable price.

Maintaining Liquidity

While the stock market has no influence over the quantity of buyers and sellers for a given financial security, it must ensure that anybody who is eligible and wants to trade has immediate access to place orders that should be executed at a fair price.

Transaction Security and Validity

While more participants are vital for a market’s smooth operation, the same market must also ensure that all participants are verified and adhere to the appropriate rules and regulations, leaving no room for any of the parties to default. It should also verify that all related firms operating in the market follow the regulations and operate within the legal framework established by the regulator.

All Eligible Market Participants Should Be Supported

Market makers, investors, traders, speculators, and hedgers are among the participants who make up a marketplace. All of these people work in the stock market, but they have various jobs and responsibilities. For example, an investor may buy stocks and keep them for a long time, whereas a trader may enter and exit a position in a matter of seconds. A market maker ensures that there is enough liquidity in the market, whereas a hedger may prefer to trade derivatives to reduce the risk associated with investing. To guarantee that the stock market continues to operate properly, the stock market should ensure that all such players are able to work in a seamless manner, performing their expected duties.

Protecting Investors

Along with affluent and institutional investors, the stock market also serves a huge number of small investors who have little amounts of money to invest. These investors may have insufficient financial expertise and are unaware of the risks associated with investing in stocks and other publicly traded securities. The stock exchange must take the appropriate steps to ensure that such investors are protected from financial loss and that customer trust is maintained.

For example, a stock market may divide equities into different groups based on their risk profiles, and allow only restricted or no trade by ordinary investors in high-risk stocks. Exchanges frequently apply limits to keep people with little income and understanding out of dangerous derivatives bets.

Regulation that is well-balanced

Listed firms are heavily regulated, and market regulators such as the SEC keep an eye on their activities. Exchanges also impose certain criteria, such as prompt submission of quarterly financial reports and immediate publication of any relevant developments, to ensure that all market participants are informed about business events. Failure to follow the rules might result in the exchanges suspending trade and taking other disciplinary actions.

Stock Market Regulation

The responsibility of regulating a country’s stock market is delegated to a local financial regulator or competent monetary body or agency. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is the regulatory agency in charge of supervising the stock markets in the United States. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is a federal agency that operates independently of the government and political pressure. “Protecting investors, ensuring fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and facilitating capital formation” is the SEC’s stated objective.

Participants in the Stock Market

The stock market attracts a diverse range of players, including long-term investors and short-term traders. Each has a distinct job to play, yet many of the roles are interconnected and reliant on one another to keep the market running well.

Stockbrokers are certified professionals that buy and sell shares on behalf of investors. In the United States, they are known as registered representatives. By purchasing and selling stocks on behalf of investors, brokers operate as a link between the stock exchanges and the investors. To access the markets, you’ll need an account with a retail broker.

Portfolio managers are individuals who manage client portfolios, or groupings of securities. Analysts provide suggestions to these managers, and they decide whether to buy or sell the portfolio. Portfolio managers are employed by mutual fund firms, hedge funds, and pension plans to make investment decisions and develop investment strategies for the money they hold.

Investment bankers represent corporations in a variety of capacities, including private companies seeking to go public through an initial public offering (IPO) or companies undergoing mergers and acquisitions. They handle the listing procedure in accordance with the stock market’s regulatory standards.

Custodians and depot service providers are businesses that store customers’ assets for safekeeping in order to reduce the risk of theft or loss. These institutions also work in tandem with the exchange to transfer shares between transacting parties’ accounts based on stock market activity.

Market makers are broker-dealers who help people trade stocks by posting bid and ask prices and keeping a stock inventory. They maintain adequate market liquidity for a specific (set of) share(s) and earn on the spread between the bid and ask prices that they quote.

Individual stocks or bigger indices are used by speculators to make market directional wagers. Speculators can acquire shares to build a long position or sell them to build a short position. Based on fundamental or technical analysis, some speculators keep their holdings for a lengthy time. Day traders, for example, trade frequently and swiftly.

Arbitrageurs are traders that seek out market mispricing in exchange for low-risk rewards. As a result, the market remains more efficient. This type of arbitrage is frequently used by algorithmic and high-frequency trading (HFT) algorithms.

Stock exchanges are profit-making businesses that charge a fee for their services. The money from transaction fees charged for each trade executed on their platform is the primary source of income for these stock exchanges. The listing fee payable to corporations throughout the IPO process and any follow-on offers also generates revenue for exchanges. Market data generated on an exchange’s platform, such as real-time data, historical data, summary data, and reference data, is also valuable for equities research and other purposes. Many exchanges will also supply technical items to interested parties for a charge, such as a trading terminal and a dedicated network connection to the exchange.

Stock Markets Face Competition

While individual stock exchanges fight for the most transaction volume, the stock market as a whole may be threatened on two fronts by competition.

Pools of Darkness

Dark pools, which operate within secret groups and are private exchanges or forums for securities trading, are posing a threat to mainstream stock markets. Despite the fact that their legality is subject to local restrictions, they are growing popularity as participants save a lot of money on transaction costs.

Blockchain Business Opportunities

Many crypto exchanges have sprung up in response to the growing popularity of blockchains. These exchanges are trading platforms for cryptocurrencies and derivatives related to that asset type. Despite their modest popularity, they pose a threat to the existing stock market paradigm by automating a large portion of the work done by various stock market players and providing free or low-cost services.

The Stock Market’s Importance

One of the most important aspects of a free market economy is the stock market. It enables businesses to raise funds by issuing stock and corporate bonds. It allows ordinary investors to share in a company’s financial success, profit from capital gains, and receive money from dividends—though losses are also conceivable. While institutional investors and professional money managers benefit from some advantages due to their big resources, superior knowledge, and greater risk-taking ability, the stock market tries to provide a level playing field for ordinary people.

The stock market serves as a platform for individuals to efficiently channel their savings and investments into profitable investment possibilities. In the long run, this aids the country’s capital formation and economic progress.

Illustrations of Stock Markets

The London Stock Exchange was the world’s first stock exchange. In 1773, it began in a cafe where dealers gathered to exchange stock. In 1790, Philadelphia hosted the first stock exchange in the United States. In 1792, the Buttonwood Agreement, named for the fact that it was signed under a buttonwood tree, heralded the start of New York’s Wall Street. The agreement, which was signed by 24 traders, was the first of its sort in the United States for trading in securities. In 1817, the traders renamed their company the New York Stock and Exchange Board.

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