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An American depositary receipt (ADR) is a legal certificate issued by a recognized U.S. bank that represents a specific number of shares of a foreign corporation traded on a <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 /?>U.S. stock exchange. An ADR will be used by a foreign corporation that wishes to have a portion of its equity traded in the U.S. market, but doesn't want to actually list its company's shares on a U.S. exchange.

There are four main parties that come into play with ADRs:

1. The issuing corporation is the first party. This is typically a large foreign-based corporation that is already listed on a major foreign exchange. Rather than dual list its shares on its home exchange and on a U.S. exchange, the issuer sells a bulk amount of its shares to a trusted U.S. party - a recognized bank.

2. A U.S. bank is the second party in this process; by accepting the issuing company's shares and selling representative certificates to investors, the bank is said to sponsor the security, making it accessible to investors in the ADR's local market. Essentially, the bank accepts the shares from the foreign corporation, stores all of them in its vault, and prints a bunch of certificates that represent the shares. Those certificates are then issued to investors via an exchange.

3. A major U.S. exchange (i.e. NYSE or Nasdaq) then lists the bank's certificates for trading, allowing investors to buy and sell ADR units just as they would normal shares. (For further reading, see Getting To Know Stock Exchanges.) Investors set market prices for the ADRs through the bidding process, pricing and freely trading the units back and forth in U.S. dollars. Because they are ADRs, investors avoid the problem of converting into foreign currency each time the units are bought and sold. They also don't have to deal with foreign trading rules or laws; however, the appropriate Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rules do apply.

4. The SEC is the fourth major party involved in ADRs. While it plays no direct role in the issuance and trading of the ADR units, the SEC requires ADR issuers to file certain documents with the SEC before allowing the proposed ADR units to be issued and traded in the U.S. markets.

To learn more, check out What Are Depositary Receipts? and our ADR Basics tutorial.

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