Stocks are shares of ownership in companies. People who buy a company’s stock may receive dividends (a portion of any profits). Stockholders are entitled to any capital gains that arise through their trading activity—that is, to any gain obtained when the price at which the stock is sold is greater than the purchase price. But stockholders also face risks. One risk is that the firm may experience losses and not be able to continue the payment of dividends. Another risk involves capital losses when the stockholder sells shares at a price below the purchase price.
A company can list its stock on only one major stock exchange. However, options on its stock may be traded on another exchange. Where a stock is traded depends on both the requirements of the exchange and the decision of the corporation. Each exchange establishes requirements that a company must meet to have its stock listed. For example, to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange, a company, among other things, must have a minimum of 1.1 million shares outstanding with a market value of at least $100 million. But not all companies that satisfy NYSE requirements apply to have their stock traded on this exchange. Intel and Dell Computer, two very large and well-known
The different exchanges tend to attract different kinds of companies. Smaller exchanges, such as the Nasdaq, typically trade the stock of small, emerging businesses, such as high-tech companies. In the United States, the AMEX lists small to medium-sized businesses, including many oil and gas companies. The NYSE primarily lists large, established companies.
Most security trading is accomplished through brokerage firms. Persons and organizations that wish to purchase securities will call upon the brokerage firm to execute their transaction. To actually conduct the transaction on the stock exchange, the brokerage firm must have a membership, called a seat, on the exchange. Stock exchanges limit the number of available seats, and the cost of a seat on an exchange is high. During 2002 the price of a seat on the NYSE ranged from $2 million to $2.6 million. Brokerage firms that have seats not only can complete trades on the floor of the exchange but also have the right to vote on exchange policy.
Brokerage firms are willing to pay high prices for exchange seats because of the profit opportunities available from membership in an exchange. Profits can be generated from the fees charged for the execution of trades as well as from trading on the firm’s own account. There are, however, risks associated with brokerage firm activity. For example, brokerage firms can lose money if their clients default on margin loans (loans obtained to purchase securities).