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Financial markets - statistics & facts

Financial markets encompass the part of a free market economic system in which people and entities can trade financial products like shares, debt securities, ‘derivatives’, and currencies. The trade of these products is essential to the workings of a market economy, allowing for the allocation of resources according to levels of supply and demand determined by buyers and sellers. Perhaps the best-known type of financial market is share markets, where portions of the ownership of companies are bought and sold by investors. The largest share markets in the world are located in the United States, followed by East Asia and Europe. Share markets play a vital role in global financial markets as they allow companies to raise money from investors to grow the company, while allowing investors to grow their wealth by connecting them to companies needing investment.

Types of financial markets

While important, share markets are far from the only – or even the largest – type of financial market. Another key component of financial markets are debt markets. Debt markets are usually divided into: money markets, which deal with short term debt of one year or less; and capital markets, which trade longer term debt. While banks, companies and governments all raise funds on debt markets, government bonds are perhaps the most associated product. Currency markets are another important market, facilitating the exchange of one national currency for another. However, the largest financial market is in fact the derivatives market, which accounts for financial products ‘derived’ from underlying financial assets (for example, ‘options’ and ‘futures’ contracts which lock in a future price for the buying or selling of a financial asset). Unlike with shares, the largest national exchange for derivatives is in India – although often derivatives sold off-exchange (‘over the counter’).

Global vs domestic financial markets

Many financial markets operate on a national level, governed by national regulations. For example, most stock exchanges primarily service locally-based companies. However, most countries will still allow investment from foreigners into their country, increasing the value funds circulating in the domestic economy. In addition, there are many intranational agreements that coordinate financial markets across a group of countries. The European Union is perhaps the best known of these, with the Euronext stock exchange being a common set of regulations and infrastructure that brings together some of Europe’s largest national stock exchanges into a single entity. Finally, there are international agreements that coordinate certain international financial markets - although these are generally agreements between specific countries to align their domestic regulations (thus facilitating trade between these countries), not the creation of an external bodies that independently govern international financial markets.

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