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 main difference between ETFs and mutual funds is in how they trade. ETFs trade like stocks, which means you can buy and sell them throughout the day and they fluctuate in price depending on supply and demand. Contrarily, mutual funds are priced each day after the market closes, so everyone pays the same price. Also, mutual funds typically require a higher minimum investment than ETFs.
In one paper the authors draw an analogy with gambling. In normal times the market behaves like a game of roulette; the probabilities are known and largely independent of the investment decisions of the different players. In times of market stress, however, the game becomes more like poker (herding behavior takes over). The players now must give heavy weight to the psychology of other investors and how they are likely to react psychologically.
Stock market participation refers to the number of agents who buy and sell equity backed securities either directly or indirectly in a financial exchange. Participants are generally subdivided into three distinct sectors; households, institutions, and foreign traders. Direct participation occurs when any of the above entities buys or sells securities on its own behalf on an exchange. Indirect participation occurs when an institutional investor exchanges a stock on behalf of an individual or household. Indirect investment occurs in the form of pooled investment accounts, retirement accounts, and other managed financial accounts.
How can I build a diversified portfolio for little money? One easy way is to invest in exchange-traded funds. ETFs are essentially bite-sized mutual funds that are bought and sold just like individual stocks on a stock market exchange. Like mutual funds, each ETF contains a basket of stocks (sometimes hundreds) that adhere to particular criteria (e.g., shares of companies that are part of a stock market index like the S&P 500). Unlike mutual funds, which can have high investment minimums, investors can purchase as little as one share of an ETF at a time.
$4.95 commission applies to online U.S. equity trades in a Fidelity retail account only for Fidelity Brokerage Services LLC retail clients. Sell orders are subject to an activity assessment fee (from $0.01 to $0.03 per $1,000 of principal). Other conditions may apply. See Fidelity.com/commissions for details. Employee equity compensation transactions and accounts managed by advisors or intermediaries through Fidelity Clearing & Custody Solutions® are subject to different commission schedules.
The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) is a physical exchange, with a hybrid market for placing orders electronically from any location as well as on the trading floor. Orders executed on the trading floor enter by way of exchange members and flow down to a floor broker, who submits the order electronically to the floor trading post for the Designated Market Maker ("DMM") for that stock to trade the order. The DMM's job is to maintain a two-sided market, making orders to buy and sell the security when there are no other buyers or sellers. If a spread exists, no trade immediately takes place – in this case the DMM may use their own resources (money or stock) to close the difference. Once a trade has been made, the details are reported on the "tape" and sent back to the brokerage firm, which then notifies the investor who placed the order. Computers play an important role, especially for program trading.