Saturday, August 8, 2009

Stock Market

A stock market is a public market for the trading of company stock and derivatives at an agreed price; these are securities listed on a stock exchange as well as those only traded privately.
The size of the world stock market was estimated at about $36.6 trillion US at the beginning of October 2008. The total world derivatives market has been estimated at about $791 trillion face or nominal value, 11 times the size of the entire world economy. The value of the derivatives market, because it is stated in terms of
notional values, cannot be directly compared to a stock or a fixed income security, which traditionally refers to an actual value. Moreover, the vast majority of derivatives 'cancel' each other out (i.e., a derivative 'bet' on an event occurring is offset by a comparable derivative 'bet' on the event not occurring.). Many such relatively illiquid securities are valued as marked to model, rather than an actual market price.
The stocks are listed and traded on stock exchanges which are entities of a corporation or mutual organization specialized in the business of bringing buyers and sellers of the organizations to a listing of stocks and securities together. The stock market in the United States includes the trading of all securities listed on the
NYSE Euronext, the NASDAQ, the Amex, as well as on the many regional exchanges, e.g. OTCBB and Pink Sheets. European examples of stock exchanges include the London Stock Exchange,
Participants in the stock market range from small individual stock investors to large hedge fund traders, who can be based anywhere. Their orders usually end up with a professional at a stock exchange, who executes the order.
Some exchanges are physical locations where transactions are carried out on a trading floor, by a method known as
open outcry. This type of auction is used in stock exchanges and commodity exchanges where traders may enter "verbal" bids and offers simultaneously. The other type of stock exchange is a virtual kind, composed of a network of computers where trades are made electronically via traders.
Actual trades are based on an
auction market model where a potential buyer bids a specific price for a stock and a potential seller asks a specific price for the stock. (Buying or selling at market means you will accept any ask price or bid price for the stock, respectively.) When the bid and ask prices match, a sale takes place on a first come first served basis if there are multiple bidders or askers at a given price.
The purpose of a stock exchange is to facilitate the exchange of securities between buyers and sellers, thus providing a
marketplace (virtual or real). The exchanges provide real-time trading information on the listed securities, facilitating price discovery.

New York Stock Exchange.

The
New York Stock Exchange is a physical exchange, also referred to as a listed exchange — only stocks listed with the exchange may be traded. Orders enter by way of exchange members and flow down to a floor broker, who goes to the floor trading post specialist for that stock to trade the order. The specialist's job is to match buy and sell orders using open outcry. If a spread exists, no trade immediately takes place--in this case the specialist should use his/her own resources (money or stock) to close the difference after his/her judged time. Once a trade has been made the details are reported on the "tape" and sent back to the brokerage firm, which then notifies the investor who placed the order. Although there is a significant amount of human contact in this process, computers play an important role, especially for so-called "program trading".
The
NASDAQ is a virtual listed exchange, where all of the trading is done over a computer network. The process is similar to the New York Stock Exchange. However, buyers and sellers are electronically matched. One or more NASDAQ market makers will always provide a bid and ask price at which they will always purchase or sell 'their' stock. .
The
Paris Bourse, now part of Euronext, is an order-driven, electronic stock exchange. It was automated in the late 1980s. Prior to the 1980s, it consisted of an open outcry exchange. Stockbrokers met on the trading floor or the Palais Brongniart. In 1986, the CATS trading system was introduced, and the order matching process was fully automated.
From time to time, active trading (especially in large blocks of securities) have moved away from the 'active' exchanges.
Securities firms, led by UBS AG, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Credit Suisse Group, already steer 12 percent of U.S. security trades away from the exchanges to their internal systems. That share probably will increase to 18 percent by 2010 as more investment banks bypass the NYSE and NASDAQ and pair buyers and sellers of securities themselves, according to data compiled by Boston-based Aite Group LLC, a brokerage-industry consultant
Now that computers have eliminated the need for trading floors like the
Big Board's, the balance of power in equity markets is shifting. By bringing more orders in-house, where clients can move big blocks of stock anonymously, brokers pay the exchanges less in fees and capture a bigger share of the $11 billion a year that institutional investors pay in trading commissions

Market participants

A few decades ago, worldwide, buyers and sellers were individual investors, such as wealthy businessmen, with long family histories (and emotional ties) 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. Thus, the government was responsible for "fixed" (and exorbitant) fees being markedly reduced for the 'small' investor, but only after the large institutions had managed to break the brokers' solid front on fees. (They then went to 'negotiated' fees, but only for large institutions.[citation needed])
However,
corporate governance (at least in the West) has been very much adversely affected by the rise of (largely 'absentee') institutional 'owners'

History

Historian Fernand Braudel suggests that in Cairo in the 11th century, Muslim and Jewish merchants had already set up every form of trade association and had knowledge of many methods of financial dealings, disproving the belief that these were originally invented later by Italians. In 12th century France the courratiers 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 1309 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 counties and "Beurzen" 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. 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. 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 share on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange. It was the first company to issue stocks and bonds.
The
Amsterdam Stock Exchange (or Amsterdam Beurs) is also said to have been the first stock exchange to introduce continuous trade in the early 17th century. The Dutch "pioneered short selling, option trading, debt-equity swaps, merchant banking, unit trusts and other speculative instruments, much as we know them" (Murray Sayle, "Japan Goes Dutch", London Review of Books XXIII.7, April 5, 2001). There are now stock markets in virtually every developed and most developing economies, with the world's biggest markets being in the United States, UK, Japan, China, Canada, Germany, Korea and France.

Importance of stock market:

Function and purpose

The stock market is one of the most important sources for companies to raise money. This allows businesses to be publicly traded, or raise additional capital for expansion by selling shares of ownership of the company in a public market. The liquidity that an exchange provides affords investors the ability to quickly and easily sell securities. This is an attractive feature of investing in stocks, compared to other less liquid investments such as real estate.
History has shown that the price of
shares and other assets is an important part of the dynamics of economic activity, and can influence or be an indicator of social mood. An economy where the stock market is on the rise is considered to be an up and coming economy. In fact, the stock market is often considered the primary indicator of a country's economic strength and development. Rising share prices, for instance, tend to be associated with increased business investment and vice versa. Share prices also affect the wealth of households and their consumption. Therefore, central banks tend to keep an eye on the control and behavior of the stock market and, in general, on the smooth operation of financial system functions. Financial stability is the raison d'ĂȘtre of central banks.
Exchanges also act as the clearinghouse for each transaction, meaning that they collect and deliver the shares, and guarantee payment to the seller of a security. This eliminates the risk to an individual buyer or seller that the
counterparty could default on the transaction.
The smooth functioning of all these activities facilitates
economic growth in that lower costs and enterprise risks promote the production of goods and services as well as employment. In this way the financial system contributes to increased prosperity.

Relation of the stock market to the modern financial system

The financial system in most western countries has undergone a remarkable transformation. One feature of this development is disintermediation. A portion of the funds involved in saving and financing flows directly to the financial markets instead of being routed via the traditional bank lending and deposit operations. The general public's heightened interest in investing in the stock market, either directly or through mutual funds, has been an important component of this process. Statistics show that in recent decades shares have made up an increasingly large proportion of households' financial assets in many countries. In the 1970s, in Sweden, deposit accounts and other very liquid assets with little risk made up almost 60 percent of households' financial wealth, compared to less than 20 percent in the 2000s. The major part of this adjustment in financial portfolios has gone directly to shares but a good deal now takes the form of various kinds of institutional investment for groups of individuals, e.g., pension funds, mutual funds, hedge funds, insurance investment of premiums, etc. The trend towards forms of saving with a higher risk has been accentuated by new rules for most funds and insurance, permitting a higher proportion of shares to bonds. Similar tendencies are to be found in other industrialized countries. In all developed economic systems, such as the European Union, the United States, Japan and other developed nations, the trend has been the same: saving has moved away from traditional (government insured) bank deposits to more risky securities of one sort or another.

The stock market, individual investors, and financial risk

Riskier long-term saving requires that an individual possess the ability to manage the associated increased risks. Stock prices fluctuate widely, in marked contrast to the stability of (government insured) bank deposits or bonds. This is something that could affect not only the individual investor or household, but also the economy on a large scale. The following deals with some of the risks of the financial sector in general and the stock market in particular. This is certainly more important now that so many newcomers have entered the stock market, or have acquired other 'risky' investments (such as 'investment' property, i.e., real estate and collectables).

The behavior of
the stock market
From experience we know that investors may 'temporarily' move financial prices away from their long term aggregate price 'trends'. (Positive or up trends are referred to as
bull markets; negative or down trends are referred to as bear markets.) Over-reactions may occur—so that excessive optimism (euphoria) may drive prices unduly high or excessive pessimism may drive prices unduly low. New theoretical and empirical arguments have since been put forward against the notion that financial markets are 'generally' efficient (i.e., in the sense that stock prices in the aggregate tend to follow a Gaussian distribution).
According to the
efficient market hypothesis (EMH), only changes in fundamental factors, such as the outlook for margins, profits or dividends, ought to affect share prices beyond the short term, where random 'noise' in the system may prevail. (But this largely theoretic academic viewpoint—known as 'hard' EMH—also predicts that little or no trading should take place, contrary to fact, since prices are already at or near equilibrium, having priced in all public knowledge.) The 'hard' efficient-market hypothesis is sorely tested by such events as the stock market crash in 1987, when the Dow Jones index plummeted 22.6 percent—the largest-ever one-day fall in the United States. This event demonstrated that share prices can fall dramatically even though, to this day, it is impossible to fix a generally agreed upon definite cause: a thorough search failed to detect any 'reasonable' development that might have accounted for the crash. (But note that such events are predicted to occur strictly by chance , although very rarely.) It seems also to be the case more generally that many price movements (beyond that which are predicted to occur 'randomly') are not occasioned by new information; a study of the fifty largest one-day share price movements in the United States in the post-war period seems to confirm this.
However, a 'soft' EMH has emerged which does not require that prices remain at or near equilibrium, but only that market participants not be able to systematically profit from any momentary market '
inefficiencies'. Moreover, while EMH predicts that all price movement (in the absence of change in fundamental information) is random (i.e., non-trending), many studies have shown a marked tendency for the stock market to trend over time periods of weeks or longer. Various explanations for such large and apparently non-random price movements have been promulgated. For instance, some research has shown that changes in estimated risk, and the use of certain strategies, such as stop-loss limits and Value at Risk limits, theoretically could cause financial markets to overreact. But the best explanation seems to be that the distribution of stock market prices is non-Gaussian (in which case EMH, in any of its current forms, would not be strictly applicable). Other research has shown that psychological factors may result in exaggerated (statistically anomalous) stock price movements (contrary to EMH which assumes such behaviors 'cancel out'). Psychological research has demonstrated that people are predisposed to 'seeing' patterns, and often will perceive a pattern in what is, in fact, just noise. (Something like seeing familiar shapes in clouds or ink blots.) In the present context this means that a succession of good news items about a company may lead investors to overreact positively (unjustifiably driving the price up). A period of good returns also boosts the investor's self-confidence, reducing his (psychological) risk threshold.
Another phenomenon—also from psychology—that works against an
objective assessment is group thinking. As social animals, it is not easy to stick to an opinion that differs markedly from that of a majority of the group. An example with which one may be familiar is the reluctance to enter a restaurant that is empty; people generally prefer to have their opinion validated by those of others in the group.
In one paper the authors draw an analogy with gambling. In normal times the market behaves like a game of roulette; the probabilities are known and largely independent of the investment decisions of the different players. In times of market stress, however, the game becomes more like poker (herding behavior takes over). The players now must give heavy weight to the psychology of other investors and how they are likely to react psychologically.
The stock market, as any other business, is quite unforgiving of amateurs. Inexperienced investors rarely get the assistance and support they need. In the period running up to the 1987 crash, less than 1 percent of the analyst's recommendations had been to sell (and even during the 2000 - 2002 bear market, the average did not rise above 5%). In the run up to 2000, the media amplified the general euphoria, with reports of rapidly rising share prices and the notion that large sums of money could be quickly earned in the so-called
new economy stock market. (And later amplified the gloom which descended during the 2000 - 2002 bear market, so that by summer of 2002, predictions of a DOW average below 5000 were quite common.)

Irrational behavior

Sometimes the market seems to react irrationally to economic or financial news, even if that news is likely to have no real effect on the technical value of securities itself. But this may be more apparent than real, since often such news has been anticipated, and a counterreaction may occur if the news is better (or worse) than expected. Therefore, the stock market may be swayed in either direction by press releases, rumors, euphoria and mass panic; but generally only briefly, as more experienced investors (especially the hedge funds) quickly rally to take advantage of even the slightest, momentary hysteria.
Over the short-term, stocks and other securities can be battered or buoyed by any number of fast market-changing events, making the stock market behavior difficult to predict. Emotions can drive prices up and down, people are generally not as rational as they think, and the reasons for buying and selling are generally obscure. Behaviorists argue that investors often behave 'irrationally' when making investment decisions thereby incorrectly pricing securities, which causes market inefficiencies, which, in turn, are opportunities to make money. However, the whole notion of EMH is that these non-rational reactions to information cancel out, leaving the prices of stocks rationally determined.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average biggest gain in one day was 936.42 points or 11 percent, this occurred on October 13, 2008


Investment strategies

One of the many things people always want to know about the stock market is, "How do I make money investing?" There are many different approaches; two basic methods are classified as either fundamental analysis or technical analysis. Fundamental analysis refers to analyzing companies by their financial statements found in SEC Filings, business trends, general economic conditions, etc. Technical analysis studies price actions in markets through the use of charts and quantitative techniques to attempt to forecast price trends regardless of the company's financial prospects. One example of a technical strategy is the Trend following method, used by John W. Henry and Ed Seykota, which uses price patterns, utilizes strict money management and is also rooted in risk control and diversification.
Additionally, many choose to invest via the
index method. In this method, one holds a weighted or unweighted portfolio consisting of the entire stock market or some segment of the stock market (such as the S&P 500 or Wilshire 5000). The principal aim of this strategy is to maximize diversification, minimize taxes from too frequent trading, and ride the general trend of the stock market (which, in the U.S., has averaged nearly 10%/year, compounded annually, since World War II).

Taxation

According to much national or state legislation, a large array of fiscal obligations are taxed for capital gains. Taxes are charged by the state over the transactions, dividends and capital gains on the stock market, in particular in the stock exchanges. However, these fiscal obligations may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction because, among other reasons, it could be assumed that taxation is already incorporated into the stock price through the different taxes companies pay to the state, or that tax free stock market operations are useful to boost economic growth.

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