Navigating the stock market: How does it really work?

Spoiler: The stock market isn’t just one place, and when you buy a company’s stock, you’re not buying it from them directly. Surprised? Read more here about stock markets and how they work.
5 min read
The following statements do not constitute investment advice or any other advice on financial services, financial instruments, financial products or digital assets. They are intended to provide general information. The following statements do not constitute an offer to conclude a contract for the purchase or sale of financial instruments and financial products or an invitation to submit such an offer and to buy or sell any particular digital asset.Stocks and ETFs are subject to high fluctuations in value. A decline in value or a complete loss are possible at any time. The loss of access to data and passwords can also lead to a complete loss.
Before any investor buys or sells stocks, they need to understand how the stock market works. Not only that, but it's also important to find out how the whole stock system operates, including exchanges and market dynamics. Interested in stocks but not sure how it all functions? This article delves into the fundamental workings of the stock market, with insights and strategies to empower investors in developing their investment portfolios.

What are stock markets? 

Stock markets are marketplaces where investors and traders buy, sell, and trade financial securities, particularly stocks or shares. Stock markets vary worldwide, and different exchanges operate in various countries, each with its own regulations, listings, and trading practices. 

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Why is the stock market important?

Stock markets are vital pillars of the global financial system. They provide a regulated environment for companies to issue shares to the public and for investors to buy and sell these shares. Companies get the opportunity to raise funds for growth and expansion, and it motivates them to maintain transparency and good governance practices so that they’re able to attract investors and maintain market confidence. For investors, the stock market is an opportunity to participate in (and profit from) the success of these companies, as well as a way to create wealth over the long term. The stock market is also a measure of economic health. Its movements reflect investor sentiment, economic conditions, and expectations for future growth. Stock prices can signal broader economic trends, influencing consumer confidence and investment decisions.

How does the stock market work?

The stock market exists to offer investors and traders a secure, regulated transaction environment, minimizing operational risks. Companies conduct initial public offerings (IPOs) to issue shares to the public, which lets them raise capital for their business needs. They might also use the stock market to issue more shares or repurchase them. This is known as the primary market.When purchasing a share of stock within the stock market, you're not acquiring it directly from the company, but from an existing shareholder. Likewise, when selling a stock, you're not returning it to the company — you're trading it to another investor. Investors also use exchanges for trading different kinds of securities with other investors, known as the secondary market. These markets maintain various indicators, like the S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100, that help to gauge what’s happening with overall market movements and specific sectors.

What are the most important stock markets?

Due to their size, liquidity, and influence on global financial systems, the most important stock markets around the world are: 
  • New York Stock Exchange (NYSE): As one of the largest and oldest stock exchanges globally, the NYSE is home to many of the world's leading companies. It's known for its strict listing requirements and high volume of trades.
  • NASDAQ: Renowned for its technology-focused listings, NASDAQ is an electronic exchange that hosts tech companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon. It's recognized for its innovation and attracts growth-oriented companies.
  • Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE): The largest stock exchange in Japan, the TSE is a key player in the Asian markets. It hosts major Japanese corporations and is influential for the region's economy.
  • London Stock Exchange (LSE): The LSE is one of the oldest exchanges globally and is a hub for international trading, particularly in European markets. It's known for its diverse listings and global reach.
  • Shanghai Stock Exchange (SSE): As China's primary stock exchange, the SSE plays a vital role in the country's economy and is a key indicator of trends in the Chinese market.
  • Hong Kong Stock Exchange (HKEX): Known for its strategic location bridging East and West, HKEX is a major international exchange, especially for companies wanting exposure to China and Asia-Pacific markets.
These exchanges serve as crucial financial hubs, providing platforms for companies to raise capital, investors to trade securities, and analysts to track global economic trends. Their influence impacts the global financial landscape, extending far beyond their regions.

What type of products can you invest in the stock market?

In the stock market, investors can access various types of products, each with their own risk level, potential for return, and investment timeframe. These can be:
  • Fixed income: These investments, such as bonds, offer a predetermined fixed return over a specified period. They provide a predictable income and are considered lower risk.
  • Variable income: Stocks and equity-based investments have varying returns based on their performance on the market. While they have the potential for higher returns, there's also higher volatility and market risk.
  • Investment funds: These funds, such as mutual funds or exchange-traded funds (ETFs), are diversified and professionally managed. They give investors access to various markets or sectors.
  • Hybrid products: Combining elements of both stocks and bonds, hybrid products aim to balance risk and return. They can be convertible bonds or preferred stocks, for example, offering characteristics of both instruments.
Each type of investment product carries its own risk and reward profile. So, if you’re interested in investing, that means you can cater your choice of products according to your financial goals, timeline, and tolerance for risk. And remember: Diversifying your investment portfolio is crucial for reducing risk!

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  • What is stock market trading?
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