Stock exchange is the term commonly used for a secondary market, which provide a place where different types of existing securities such as shares, debentures and bonds, government securities can be bought and sold on a regular basis. A stock exchange is generally organised as an association, a society or a company with a limited number of members. It is open only to these members who act as brokers for the buyers and sellers. The Securities Contracts (Regulation) Act has defined stock exchange as an “association, organisation or body of individuals, whether incorporated or not, established for the purpose of assisting, regulating and controlling business of buying, selling and dealing in securities”.

The main characteristics of a stock exchange are:
1. It is an organised market.
2. It provides a place where existing and approved securities can be bought and sold easily.
3. In a stock exchange, transactions take place between its members or their authorised
agents.
4. All transactions are regulated by rules and by laws of the concerned stock exchange.
5. It makes complete information available to public in regard to prices and volume of transactions taking place every day.

It may be noted that all securities are not permitted to be traded on a recognised stock exchange.
It is allowed only in those securities (called listed securities) that have been duly approved for the purpose by the stock exchange authorities. The method of trading nowadays, however, is quite simple on account of the availability of on-line trading facility with the help of computers.
It is also quite fast as it takes just a few minutes to strike a deal through the brokers who may be available close by. Similarly, on account of the system of scrip-less trading and rolling settlement, the delivery of securities and the payment of amount involved also take very little time, say 2 days.

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Functions of a Stock Exchange:

The functions of stock exchange can be enumerated as follows:
1. Provides ready and continuous market: By providing a place where listed securities can be bought and sold regularly and conveniently, a stock exchange ensures a ready and
continuous market for various shares, debentures, bonds and government securities. This lends a high degree of liquidity to holdings in these securities as the investor can encash
their holdings as and when they want.

2. Provides information about prices and sales: A stock exchange maintains complete record of all transactions taking place in different securities every day and supplies regular information on their prices and sales volumes to press and other media. In fact, nowadays, you can get information about minute to minute movement in prices of selected shares on TV channels like CNBC, Zee News, NDTV and Headlines Today. This enables the investors in taking quick decisions on purchase and sale of securities in which they are interested. Not only that, such information helps them in ascertaining the trend in prices and the worth of their holdings. This enables them to seek bank loans, if required.

3. Provides safety to dealings and investment: Transactions on the stock exchange are conducted only amongst its members with adequate transparency and in strict conformity
to its rules and regulations which include the procedure and timings of delivery and payment to be followed. This provides a high degree of safety to dealings at the stock exchange. There is little risk of loss on account of non-payment or nondelivery. Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) also regulates the business in stock exchanges in India
and the working of the stock brokers. Not only that, a stock exchange allows trading only in securities that have been listed with it; and for listing any security, it satisfies itself about the genuineness and soundness of the company and provides for disclosure of certain information on regular basis. Though this may not guarantee the soundness and profitability of the company, it does provide some assurance on their genuineness and
enables them to keep track of their progress.

4. Helps in mobilisation of savings and capital formation: Efficient functioning of stock market creates a conducive climate for an active and growing primary market. Good
performance and outlook for shares in the stock exchanges imparts buoyancy to the new issue market, which helps in mobilising savings for investment in industrial and
commercial establishments. Not only that, the stock exchanges provide liquidity and profitability to dealings and investments in shares and debentures. It also educates people
on where and how to invest their savings to get a fair return. This encourages the habit of saving, investment and risk-taking among the common people. Thus it helps mobilising surplus savings for investment in corporate and government securities and contributes to capital formation.

5. Barometer of economic and business conditions: Stock exchanges reflect the changing conditions of economic health of a country, as the shares prices are highly sensitive to changing economic, social and political conditions. It is observed that during the periods of economic prosperity, the share prices tend to rise. Conversely, prices tend to fall when there is economic stagnation and the business activities slow down as a result of depressions. Thus, the intensity of trading at stock exchanges and the corresponding rise on fall in the prices of securities reflects the investors’ assessment of the economic and business conditions in a country, and acts as the barometer which indicates the general conditions of the atmosphere of business.

6. Better Allocation of funds: As a result of stock market transactions, funds flow from the less profitable to more profitable enterprises and they avail of the greater potential for
growth. Financial resources of the economy are thus better allocated.

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Advantages of Stock Exchanges:
Having discussed the functions of stock exchanges, let us look at the advantages which can be outlined from the point of view of (a) Companies, (b) Investors, and (c) the Society as a whole.

1. To the Companies:
(i) The companies whose securities have been listed on a stock exchange enjoy a better goodwill and credit-standing than other companies because they are supposed to be
financially sound.

(ii) The market for their securities is enlarged as the investors all over the world become aware of such securities and have an opportunity to invest.

(iii) As a result of enhanced goodwill and higher demand, the value of their securities increases and their bargaining power in collective ventures, mergers, etc. is enhanced.

(iv) The companies have the convenience to decide upon the size, price and timing of the
issue.

2. To the Investors:
(i) The investors enjoy the ready availability of facility and convenience of buying and
selling the securities at will and at an opportune time.

(ii) Because of the assured safety in dealings at the stock exchange the investors are free Notes from any anxiety about the delivery and payment problems.

(iii) Availability of regular information on prices of securities traded at the stock exchanges helps them in deciding on the timing of their purchase and sale.

(iv) It becomes easier for them to raise loans from banks against their holdings in securities traded at the stock exchange because banks prefer them as collateral on account of their liquidity and convenient valuation.

3. To the Society:
(i) The availability of lucrative avenues of investment and the liquidity thereof induces
people to save and invest in long-term securities. This leads to increased capital formation in the country.

(ii) The facility for convenient purchase and sale of securities at the stock exchange provides support to new issue market. This helps in promotion and expansion of
industrial activity, which in turn contributes, to increase in the rate of industrial growth.

(iii) The Stock exchanges facilitate realisation of financial resources to more profitable and growing industrial units where investors can easily increase their investment
substantially.

(iv) The volume of activity at the stock exchanges and the movement of share prices reflect the changing economic health.