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What Are Securities?

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Securities are the vehicles that investors use to ensure their money is working for them. However, securities markets are complex, and there are many options available to investors, new and seasoned alike.

Below, we have outlined everything you should know about securities and how they work.

What are Securities?

Securities are financial instruments, including stocks, bonds, and options, sold by an issuer. They imply company ownership, creditor relationships, or ownership rights through options. A security instrument does not include assets backed by other assets for collateral and varies according to market and internal company conditions.

This web page discusses the definition of securities.

How Securities Work

Stock exchanges list publicly-traded securities, which give issuers a chance to seek investors by ensuring a regulated and liquid market. In recent years, informal electronic trading systems have grown in popularity, and investors directly trade securities online.

Here are three main markets where securities sell:

Initial Public Offerings

An initial public offering (IPO) is a company's first significant public sale of equity securities. Any newly issued stock still sold in the primary market is a secondary offering following an IPO. They are also a form of registered securities.

Private Placement

Alternatively, a qualified group of investors may receive an offer to buy securities through private placement. Occasionally, businesses sell stock through a combination of public and private placements. Private placement securities are a form of bearer securities.

Learn about private placement memorandums .


Securities are transferred as assets from one investor to another in the aftermarket, and shareholders can sell their securities to others for capital gain. Thus, the secondary market complements the primary market. Privately-placed secondary markets are less liquid than primary markets since investors can only transfer them between qualified investors.

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Types of Securities

The type of security you choose depends upon your specific financial and legal situation. Financial services lawyers can ultimately help you decide. However, there are four primary types of securities, including:

Type 1. Equity Securities

Equity securities are shares of ownership in a corporation, trust, or partnership. The term "equity securities” refers to shares of common stock, but they can also refer to preferred stock. When the issuer of equity security earns a profit and retains earnings, the issuer frequently pays dividends to shareholders.

Type 2. Debt Securities

Debt securities, also called fixed-income securities, enable governments and corporations to raise capital through publicly-traded loans in exchange for regular interest payments and principal repayment. The investor is the lender in the case of debt securities, while the issuer is the borrower. The issuer of debt security pays interest to the investor until the loan reaches maturity.

At that point, the issuer repays the principal balance of their initial debt obligation. Corporate and government bonds, including municipal bonds and treasury bonds, are all examples of common debt securities. Government bonds typically pay lower interest rates than corporate bonds but have a high level of liquidity, making them easy to resell on the secondary bond market.

Type 3. Hybrid Securities

Hybrid securities combine the characteristics of both equity and debt securities. They are corporate bonds that investors can convert into shares of the issuing company's stock. An example of hybrid securities is preference shares, which are stocks in a company that entitle the shareholder to receive fixed dividends before receiving dividends on common stock and may even confer voting rights onto shareholders.

Type 4. Derivatives

A derivative security's value is contingent upon the value of another underlying asset. Both parties of a derivatives contract are essentially betting on the underlying asset's value changing in opposite directions. Futures, forwards, swaps, and options are all examples of common derivative securities.

Who Regulates Securities?

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulates public offering and sale securities in the United States. Within the brokerage industry, Self Regulatory Organizations (SROs) frequently take on oversight roles as well. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD) are both examples of SROs.

Examples of Securities

Securities are a challenging topic and even require financial professionals to prove their knowledge for many certifications. The most direct way to understand how securities work is through real-world examples.

Here are four examples of securities below to help solidify our understanding:

Example 1. Stocks

Shareholders retain a portion of the company they invest in, and stock represents their ownership rights. The company can use shareholder equity to fund operations and expansion. In exchange, the shareholder receives voting rights and periodic dividends determined by the profitability of the business.

The value of a company's stock can fluctuate significantly depending on the industry and the specific business. Investing in the public stock market is a risky proposition. However, many people earn a comfortable living by investing in stocks.

Example 2. Bonds

Bonds are the most common type of marketable debt and can be an excellent source of capital for growing businesses. Bonds are financial instruments issued by a business or government that enables the issuer to borrow capital from investors. Like a bank loan, a bond ensures a fixed rate of return, referred to as the coupon rate, in exchange for using the funds invested.

The bond's face value is equal to its par value. Each bond issued is assigned a coupon rate, maturity date, and par value. The maturity date occurs when the issuing entity must remit payment for the bond in full.

Example 3. Preferred Stock

Another type of security combines aspects of both equity and debt. Preferred stock shareholders benefit from fixed dividends that the company pays before common stockholder dividends, making them more similar to bonds. However, bondholders continue to take precedence over preferred shareholders. Bonds may continue to earn interest while preferred share dividends go unpaid even during a financial crisis.

Unlike a bond, the shareholder's initial investment never receives payment, making it a hybrid security. Along with the fixed dividend, preferred shareholders receive a higher priority on funds than common shareholders in the event of a company's bankruptcy.

Example 4. Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs)

An exchange-traded fund (ETF) enables investors to purchase and sell a diversified portfolio of other assets, such as stocks, bonds, and commodities. By definition, ETFs are securities on public exchanges, and investors may invest in securities such as public stocks. On the other hand, ETFs may also invest in non-marketable assets such as gold and other precious metals.

Example 5. Other Securities

Additionally, securities include money market instruments, derivatives, and indirect investments. Each of these categories contains a variety of specific securities. Money market securities are the most liquid, and the majority of money market securities are short-term bonds purchased in bulk by large financial institutions.

Are Securities the Same as Stocks?

Stocks are a type of security. They fall under the classification of certified securities. The term securities can refer to a wide range of financial instruments aside from stocks, including bonds, ETFs, and private placements.

If you are considering investing or selling securities, work with financial lawyers. They can help you draft supporting documents that protect your legal rights, including convertible notes , convertible debt , private placement memorandums, and other investment contracts . Find a legal professional in your state today!

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