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INVESTOR EDUCATION

What is a Stock Exchange?



A stock exchange, share market or bourse is a corporation or mutual organization which provides facilities for stock brokers and traders, to trade company stocks and other securities. Stock exchanges also provide facilities for the issue and redemption of securities as well as other financial instruments and capital events including the payment of income and dividends.

The securities traded on a stock exchange include: shares issued by companies, unit trusts and other pooled investment products and bonds. To be able to trade a security on a certain stock exchange, it has to be listed there.

A stock exchange is often the most important component of a stock market. Supply and demand in stock markets is driven by various factors which, as in all free markets, affect the price of stocks (see stock valuation).

 

Usually there is a central location at least for recordkeeping, but trade is less and less linked to such a physical place, as modern markets are electronic networks, which gives them advantages of speed and cost of transactions. Trade on an exchange is by members only. The initial offering of stocks and bonds to investors is by definition done in the primary market and subsequent trading is done in the secondary market.

There is usually no compulsion to issue stock via the stock exchange itself, nor must stock be subsequently traded on the exchange. Such trading is said to be off exchange or over-the-counter. This is the usual way that bonds are traded. Increasingly, stock exchanges are part of a global market for securities.

History of stock exchanges

In 11th century France the courtiers de change were concerned with managing and regulating the debts of agricultural communities on behalf of the banks. As these men also traded in debts, they could be called the first brokers.

Some stories suggest that the origins of the term "bourse" come from the Latin bursa meaning a bag because, in 13th century Bruges, the sign of a purse (or perhaps three purses), hung on the front of the house where merchants met.

However, it is more likely that in the late 13th century commodity traders in Bruges gathered inside the house of a man called Van der Burse, and in 1309 they institutionalized this until now informal meeting and became the "Bruges Bourse". The idea spread quickly around Flanders and neighbouring counties and "Bourses" soon opened in Ghent and Amsterdam.

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. There were people in Pisa, Verona, Genoa and Florence who also began trading in government securities during the 14th century. This was only possible because these were independent city states ruled by a council of influential citizens, not by a duke.

The Dutch later started joint stock companies, which let shareholders invest in business ventures and get a share of their profits - or losses. In 1602, the Dutch East India Company issued the first shares on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange. It was the first company to issue stocks and bonds. In 1688, the trading of stocks began on a stock exchange in London.

Roles of a Stock Exchange

Raising capital for businesses --The Stock Exchange provides companies with the facility to raise capital for expansion through selling shares to the investing public.

Mobilizing savings for investment -- When people draw their savings and invest in shares, it leads to a more rational allocation of resources because funds, which could have been consumed, or kept in idle deposits with banks, are mobilized and redirected to promote business activity with benefits for several economic sectors such as agriculture, commerce and industry, resulting in a stronger economic growth and higher productivity levels and firms.

Facilitating company growth Companies view acquisitions as an opportunity to expand product lines, increase distribution channels, hedge against volatility, increase its market share, or acquire other necessary business assets. A takeover bid or a merger agreement through the stock market is one of the simplest and most common ways for a company to grow by acquisition or fusion.

Redistribution of wealth -- Stocks exchanges do not exist to redistribute wealth. However, both casual and professional stock investors, through dividends and stock price increases that may result in capital gains, will share in the wealth of profitable businesses.

Corporate governance -- having a wide and varied scope of owners, companies generally tend to improve on their management standards and efficiency in order to satisfy the demands of these shareholders and the more stringent rules for public corporations imposed by public stock exchanges and the government. Consequently, it is alleged that public companies (companies that are owned by shareholders who are members of the general public and trade shares on public exchanges) tend to have better management records than privately-held companies (those companies where shares are not publicly traded, often owned by the company founders and/or their families and heirs, or otherwise by a small group of investors). However, some well-documented cases are known where it is alleged that there has been considerable slippage in corporate governance on the part of some public companies (Pets.com (2000), Enron Corporation (2001), One.Tel (2001), Sunbeam (2001), Webvan (2001), Adelphia (2002), MCI WorldCom (2002), or Parmalat (2003), are among the most widely scrutinized by the media).

Creating investment opportunities for small investors -- As opposed to other businesses that require huge capital outlay, investing in shares is open to both the large and small stock investors because a person buys the number of shares they can afford. Therefore the Stock Exchange provides the opportunity for small investors to own shares of the same companies as large investors.

Government capital-raising for development projects -- Governments at various levels may decide to borrow money in order to finance infrastructure projects such as sewage and water treatment works or housing estates by selling another category of securities known as bonds. These bonds can be raised through the Stock Exchange whereby members of the public buy them, thus loaning money to the government. The issuance of such municipal bonds can obviate the need to directly tax the citizens in order to finance development, although by securing such bonds with the full faith and credit of the government instead of with collateral, the result is that the government must tax the citizens or otherwise raise additional funds to make any regular coupon payments and refund the principal when the bonds mature.

Barometer of the economy

At the stock exchange, share prices rise and fall depending, largely, on market forces. Share prices tend to rise or remain stable when companies and the economy in general show signs of stability and growth. An economic recession, depression, or financial crisis could eventually lead to a stock market crash. Therefore the movement of share prices and in general of the stock indexes can be an indicator of the general trend in the economy.

Major stock exchanges

Twenty Major Stock Exchanges In The World: Market Capitalization & Year-to-date Turnover at the end of October 2007

Region Stock Exchange Market Value
(trillions of US dollars)
Total Share Turnover
(trillions of US dollars)
Africa Johannesburg Securities Exchange $0.940 $0.349
Americas NASDAQ $4.39 $12.4
Americas Sao Paulo Stock Exchange $1.40 $0.476
Americas Toronto Stock Exchange $2.29 $1.36
Americas/Europe NYSE Euronext $20.7 $28.7
Asia-Pacific Australian Securities Exchange $1.453 $1.003
South Asia Bombay Stock Exchange $1.61 $0.263
Asia-Pacific Hong Kong Stock Exchange $2.97 $1.70
Asia-Pacific Korea Exchange $1.26 $1.66
South Asia National Stock Exchange of India $1.46 $0.564
Asia-Pacific Shanghai Stock Exchange $3.02 $3.56
Asia-Pacific Shenzhen Stock Exchange $0.741 $1.86
Asia-Pacific Tokyo Stock Exchange $4.63 $5.45
Europe Frankfurt Stock Exchange (Deutsche Borse) $2.12 $3.64
Europe London Stock Exchange $4.21 $9.14
Europe Madrid Stock Exchange (Bolsas y Mercados Espanoles) $1.83 $2.49
Europe Milan Stock Exchange (Borsa Italiana) $1.13 $1.98
Europe Moscow Interbank Currency Exchange (MICEX) $0.9652 $0.4882
Europe Nordic Stock Exchange Group OMX1 $1.38 $1.60
Europe Swiss Exchange $1.33 $1.58

Note 1: includes the Copenhagen, Helsinki, Iceland, Stockholm, Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius Stock Exchanges
Note 2: latest data available is at the end of June 2007
Note 3: latest data available is at the end of September 2007

Listing requirements

Listing requirements are the set of conditions imposed by a given stock exchange upon companies that want to be listed on that exchange. Such conditions sometimes include minimum number of shares outstanding, minimum market capitalization, and minimum annual income.

Requirements by stock exchange

Companies have to meet the requirements of the exchange in order to have their stocks and shares listed and traded there, but requirements vary by stock exchange:

  • London Stock Exchange: The main market of the London Stock Exchange has requirements for a minimum market capitalization (£700,000), three years of audited financial statements, minimum public float (25 per cent) and sufficient working capital for at least 12 months from the date of listing.
  • NASDAQ Stock Exchange: To be listed on the NASDAQ a company must have issued at least 1.25 million shares of stock worth at least $70 million and must have earned more than $11 million over the last three years ([1]).
  • New York Stock Exchange: To be listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), for example, a company must have issued at least a million shares of stock worth $100 million and must have earned more than $10 million over the last three years ([2]).
  • Bombay Stock Exchange: Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) has requirements for a minimum market capitalization of Rs.250 Million and minimum public float equivalent to Rs.100 Million ([3]).

References



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