A stock market, equity market or share market is the aggregation of buyers and sellers (a loose network of economic transactions, not a physical facility or discrete entity) of stocks (also called shares); these may include securities listed on a stock exchange as well as those only traded privately.
Size of the market
Stocks can be categorized in various ways. One common way is by the country where the company is domiciled. For example, Nestlé and Novartis are domiciled in Switzerland, so they may be considered as part of the Swiss stock market, although their stock may also be traded at exchanges in other countries.
At the close of 2012, the size of the world stock market (total market capitalisation) was about US$55 trillion. By country, the largest market was the United States (about 34%), followed by Japan (about 6%) and the United Kingdom (about 6%). This went up more in 2013.
A stock exchange is a place or organization by which stock traders (people and companies) can trade stocks. Companies may want to get their stock listed on a stock exchange. Other stocks may be traded “over the counter” (otc), that is, through a dealer. A large company will usually have its stock listed on many exchanges across the world.
Exchanges may also cover other types of security such as fixed interest securities or interest derivatives.
Trade in stock markets means the transfer for money of a stock or security from a seller to a buyer. This requires these two parties to agree on a price. Equities (stocks or shares) confer an ownership interest in a particular company.
Participants in the stock market range from small individual stock investors to larger traders investors, who can be based anywhere in the world, and may include banks, insurance companies or pension funds, and hedge funds. Their buy or sell orders may be executed on their behalf by a stock exchange trader.
Market participants include individual retail investors, institutional investors such as mutual funds, banks, insurance companies and hedge funds, and also publicly traded corporations trading in their own shares. Some studies have suggested that institutional investors and corporations trading in their own shares generally receive higher risk-adjusted returns than retail investors.
A few decades ago, worldwide, buyers and sellers were individual investors, such as wealthy businessmen, usually with long family histories to particular corporations. Over time, markets have become more “institutionalized”; buyers and sellers are largely institutions (e.g., pension funds, insurance companies, mutual funds, index funds, exchange-traded funds, hedge funds, investor groups, banks and various other financial institutions).
The rise of the institutional investor has brought with it some improvements in market operations. There has been a gradual tendency for “fixed” (and exorbitant) fees being reduced for all investors, partly from falling administration costs but also assisted by large institutions challenging brokers’ oligopolistic approach to setting standardised fees.
In 12th century France, the courretiers de change were concerned with managing and regulating the debts of agricultural communities on behalf of the banks. Because these men also traded with debts, they could be called the first brokers. A common misbelief is that in late 13th century Bruges commodity traders gathered inside the house of a man called Van der Beurze, and in 1409 they became the “Brugse Beurse”, institutionalizing what had been, until then, an informal meeting, but actually, the family Van der Beurze had a building in Antwerp where those gatherings occurred; the Van der Beurze had Antwerp, as most of the merchants of that period, as their primary place for trading. The idea quickly spread around Flanders and neighboring countries and “Beurzen” soon opened in Ghent and Rotterdam.
In the middle of the 13th century, Venetian bankers began to trade in government securities. In 1351 the Venetian government outlawed spreading rumors intended to lower the price of government funds. Bankers in Pisa, Verona, Genoa and Florence also began trading in government securities during the 14th century. This was only possible because these were independent city states not ruled by a duke but a council of influential citizens. Italian companies were also the first to issue shares. Companies in England and the Low Countries followed in the 16th century.
The Dutch East India Company (founded in 1602) was the first joint-stock company to get a fixed capital stock and as a result, continuous trade in company stock occurred on the Amsterdam Exchange. Soon thereafter, a lively trade in various derivatives, among which options and repos, emerged on the Amsterdam market. Dutch traders also pioneered short selling – a practice which was banned by the Dutch authorities as early as 1610.
There are now stock markets in virtually every developed and most developing economies, with the world’s largest markets being in the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, India, Pakistan, China, Canada, Germany (Frankfurt Stock Exchange), France, South Korea and the Netherlands.