Stocks Basics: How Stocks Trade
  1. Stocks Basics: Introduction
  2. Stocks Basics: What Are Stocks?
  3. Stocks Basics: Different Types Of Stocks
  4. Stocks Basics: How Stocks Trade
  5. Stocks Basics: What Causes Stock Prices To Change?
  6. Stocks Basics: Buying Stocks
  7. Stocks Basics: How to Read A Stock Table/Quote
  8. Stocks Basics: The Bulls, The Bears And The Farm
  9. Stocks Basics: Conclusion

Stocks Basics: How Stocks Trade


Most stocks are traded on exchanges, which are places where buyers and sellers meet and decide on a price. Some exchanges are physical locations where transactions are carried out on a trading floor. You've probably seen pictures of a trading floor, in which traders are wildly throwing their arms up, waving, yelling, and signaling to each other. The other type of exchange is virtual, composed of a network of computers where trades are made electronically.

The purpose of a stock market is to facilitate the exchange of securities between buyers and sellers, reducing the risks of investing. Just imagine how difficult it would be to sell shares if you had to call around the neighborhood trying to find a buyer. Really, a stock market is nothing more than a super-sophisticated farmers' market linking buyers and sellers.

Before we go on, we should distinguish between the primary market and the secondary market. The primary market is where securities are created (by means of an IPO) while, in the secondary market, investors trade previously-issued securities without the involvement of the issuing-companies. The secondary market is what people are referring to when they talk about the stock market. It is important to understand that the trading of a company's stock does not directly involve that company.

The New York Stock Exchange
The most prestigious exchange in the world is the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). The "Big Board" was founded over 200 years ago in 1792 with the signing of the Buttonwood Agreement by 24 New York City stockbrokers and merchants. Currently the NYSE, with stocks like General Electric, McDonald's, Citigroup, Coca-Cola, Gillette and Wal-mart, is the market of choice for the largest companies in America.

The trading floor of the NYSE
The NYSE is the first type of exchange (as we referred to above), where much of the trading is done face-to-face on a trading floor. This is also referred to as a listed exchange. Orders come in through brokerage firms that are members of the exchange and flow down to floor brokers who go to a specific spot on the floor where the stock trades. At this location, known as the trading post, there is a specific person known as the specialist whose job is to match buyers and sellers. Prices are determined using an auction method: the current price is the highest amount any buyer is willing to pay and the lowest price at which someone is willing to sell. Once a trade has been made, the details are sent back to the brokerage firm, who then notifies the investor who placed the order. Although there is human contact in this process, don't think that the NYSE is still in the stone age: computers play a huge role in the process.



The Nasdaq

The second type of exchange is the virtual sort called an over-the-counter (OTC) market, of which the Nasdaq is the most popular. These markets have no central location or floor brokers whatsoever. Trading is done through a computer and telecommunications network of dealers. It used to be that the largest companies were listed only on the NYSE while all other second tier stocks traded on the other exchanges. The tech boom of the late '90s changed all this; now the Nasdaq is home to several big technology companies such as Microsoft, Cisco, Intel, Dell and Oracle. This has resulted in the Nasdaq becoming a serious competitor to the NYSE.
The Nasdaq market site in Times Square

On the Nasdaq brokerages act as market makers for various stocks. A market maker provides continuous bid and ask prices within a prescribed percentage spread for shares for which they are designated to make a market. They may match up buyers and sellers directly but usually they will maintain an inventory of shares to meet demands of investors.

Other Exchanges

The third largest exchange in the U.S. is the American Stock Exchange (AMEX). The AMEX used to be an alternative to the NYSE, but that role has since been filled by the Nasdaq. In fact, the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD), which is the parent of Nasdaq, bought the AMEX in 1998. Almost all trading now on the AMEX is in small-cap stocks and derivatives.

There are many stock exchanges located in just about every country around the world. American markets are undoubtedly the largest, but they still represent only a fraction of total investment around the globe. The two other main financial hubs are London, home of the London Stock Exchange, and Hong Kong, home of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. The last place worth mentioning is the over-the-counter bulletin board (OTCBB). The Nasdaq is an over-the-counter market, but the term commonly refers to small public companies that don't meet the listing requirements of any of the regulated markets, including the Nasdaq. The OTCBB is home to penny stocks because there is little to no regulation. This makes investing in an OTCBB stock very risky.

Stocks Basics: What Causes Stock Prices To Change?

  1. Stocks Basics: Introduction
  2. Stocks Basics: What Are Stocks?
  3. Stocks Basics: Different Types Of Stocks
  4. Stocks Basics: How Stocks Trade
  5. Stocks Basics: What Causes Stock Prices To Change?
  6. Stocks Basics: Buying Stocks
  7. Stocks Basics: How to Read A Stock Table/Quote
  8. Stocks Basics: The Bulls, The Bears And The Farm
  9. Stocks Basics: Conclusion
RELATED TERMS
  1. Equity Market

    The market in which shares are issued and traded, either through ...
  2. Exchange

    A marketplace in which securities, commodities, derivatives and ...
  3. Over-The-Counter - OTC

    Over-The-Counter (or OTC) is a security traded in some context ...
  4. New York Stock Exchange - NYSE

    A stock exchange based in New York City, which is considered ...
  5. American Stock Exchange - AMEX

    The third-largest stock exchange by trading volume in the United ...
  6. Little Board

    A slang term primarily referring to the American Stock Exchange ...
RELATED FAQS
  1. What does it mean when my broker says that shares are for auction?

    An auction market is one in which stock buyers enter competitive bids and stock sellers enter competitive offers at the same ... Read Answer >>
  2. What are the differences between AMEX and Nasdaq?

    While similar in purpose, the American Stock Exchange (AMEX) and the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated ... Read Answer >>
  3. Why are traders on the floor of the exchange?

    Before the advent of electronic trading platforms, the floor of the stock exchange was the location for market transactions ... Read Answer >>
  4. What exactly is being done when shares are bought and sold?

    Most stocks are traded on physical or virtual exchanges. The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), for example, is a physical exchange ... Read Answer >>
  5. What are the advantages and disadvantages of listing on the Nasdaq versus other stock ...

    Discover some of the primary advantages and disadvantages that exist for companies listed on the Nasdaq exchange rather than ... Read Answer >>
  6. Why is the Nasdaq more volatile than the NYSE?

    Learn about the stocks that are traded on the Nasdaq stock exchange, and discover the Nasdaq's relative volatility level ... Read Answer >>

You May Also Like

Hot Definitions
  1. Law Of Demand

    A microeconomic law that states that, all other factors being equal, as the price of a good or service increases, consumer ...
  2. Cost Of Debt

    The effective rate that a company pays on its current debt. This can be measured in either before- or after-tax returns; ...
  3. Yield Curve

    A line that plots the interest rates, at a set point in time, of bonds having equal credit quality, but differing maturity ...
  4. Stop-Limit Order

    An order placed with a broker that combines the features of stop order with those of a limit order. A stop-limit order will ...
  5. Keynesian Economics

    An economic theory of total spending in the economy and its effects on output and inflation. Keynesian economics was developed ...
  6. Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications ...

    A member-owned cooperative that provides safe and secure financial transactions for its members. Established in 1973, the ...
Trading Center