These are venues where companies list their shares and they are bought and sold by traders and investors. Stock markets, or equities markets, are used by companies to raise capital via an initial public offering (IPO), with shares subsequently traded among various buyers and sellers in what is known as a secondary market.
Typical participants in a stock market include (both retail and institutional) investors and traders, as well as market makers (MMs) and specialists who maintain liquidity and provide two-sided markets. Brokers are third parties that facilitate trades between buyers and sellers but who do not take an actual position in a stock.
An over-the-counter (OTC) market is a decentralized market—meaning it does not have physical locations, and trading is conducted electronically—in which market participants trade securities directly between two parties without a broker. Certain derivatives markets, however, are exclusively OTC, and so make up an important segment of the financial markets.
A bond is a security in which an investor loans money for a defined period at a pre-established interest rate. Bonds are issued by corporations as well as by municipalities, states, and sovereign governments to finance projects and operations. The bond market sells securities such as notes and bills issued by the United States Treasury, for example. The bond market also is called the debt, credit, or fixed-income market.
Money markets trade in products with highly liquid short-term maturities (of less than one year) and are characterized by a high degree of safety and a relatively low return in interest. At the wholesale level, the money markets involve large-volume trades between institutions and traders. At the retail level, they include money market mutual funds bought by individual investors and money market accounts opened by bank customers. Individuals may also invest in the money markets by buying short-term certificates of deposit (CDs), municipal notes, or U.S. Treasury bills, among other examples.
A derivative is a contract between two or more parties whose value is based on an agreed-upon underlying financial asset (like a security) or set of assets (like an index). Derivatives are secondary securities whose value is solely derived from the value of the primary security that they are linked to. Rather than trading stocks directly, a derivatives market trades in futures and options contracts, and other advanced financial products, that derive their value from underlying instruments like bonds, commodities, currencies, interest rates, market indexes, and stocks.
Futures markets are where futures contracts are listed and traded. Unlike forwards, which trade OTC, futures markets utilize standardized contract specifications, are well-regulated, and utilize clearinghouses to settle and confirm trades. Options markets similarly list and regulate options contracts. Both futures and options exchanges may list contracts on various asset classes, such as equities, fixed-income securities, commodities, and so on.
The forex (foreign exchange) market is the market in which participants can buy, sell, hedge, and speculate on the exchange rates between currency pairs. The forex market is the most liquid market in the world, as cash is the most liquid of assets. The currency market handles more than $5 trillion in daily transactions, which is more than the futures and equity markets combined.
Commodities markets are venues where producers and consumers meet to exchange physical commodities such as agricultural products (e.g., corn, livestock, soybeans), energy products (oil, gas, carbon credits), precious metals (gold, silver, platinum), or “soft” commodities (such as cotton, coffee, and sugar). These are known as spot commodity markets, where physical goods are exchanged for money. The bulk of trading in these commodities, however, takes place on derivatives markets that utilize spot commodities as the underlying assets.
The past several years have seen the introduction and rise of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum, decentralized digital assets that are based on blockchain technology. Today, hundreds of cryptocurrency tokens are available and trade globally across a patchwork of independent online crypto exchanges. These exchanges host digital wallets for traders to swap one cryptocurrency for another, or for fiat monies such as dollars or euros.