A stock market, equity market or share market is the aggregation of buyers and sellers (a loose network of economic transactions, not a physical facility or discrete entity) of stocks (also called shares), which represent ownership claims on businesses; these may include securities listed on a public stock exchange, as well as stock that is only traded privately. Examples of the latter include shares of private companies which are sold to investors through equity crowdfunding platforms. Stock exchanges list shares of common equity as well as other security types, e.g. corporate bonds and convertible bonds.
A stock exchange is an exchange (or bourse) where stock brokers and traders can buy and sell shares of stock, bonds, and other securities. Many large companies have their stocks listed on a stock exchange. This makes the stock more liquid and thus more attractive to many investors. The exchange may also act as a guarantor of settlement. Other stocks may be traded "over the counter" (OTC), that is, through a dealer. Some large companies will have their stock listed on more than one exchange in different countries, so as to attract international investors.
Stock exchanges may also cover other types of securities, such as fixed interest securities (bonds) or (less frequently) derivatives which are more likely to be traded OTC.
A few decades ago, most buyers and sellers were individual investors, such as wealthy businessmen, usually with long family histories 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 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 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 is that financial portfolios have 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.