Market participants include individual retail investors, institutional investors such as mutual funds, banks, insurance companies and hedge funds, and also publicly traded corporations trading in their own shares. Some studies have suggested that institutional investors and corporations trading in their own shares generally receive higher risk-adjusted returns than retail investors.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 rise of the institutional investor has brought with it some improvements in market operations. There has been a gradual tendency for "fixed" (and exorbitant) fees being reduced for all investors, partly from falling administration costs but also assisted by large institutions challenging brokers' oligopolistic approach to setting standardised fees. A current trend in stock market investments includes the decrease in fees due to computerized asset management termed Robo Advisers within the industry. Automation has decreased portfolio management costs by lowering the cost associated with investing as a whole.
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.
Trends in market participation
The total value of equity-backed securities in the United States rose over 600% in the 25 years between 1989 and 2012 as market capitalization expanded from $2,790 billion to $18,668 billion. Direct ownership of stock by individuals rose slightly from 17.8% in 1992 to 17.9% in 2007, with the median value of these holdings rising from $14,778 to $17,000. Indirect participation in the form of retirement accounts rose from 39.3% in 1992 to 52.6% in 2007, with the median value of these accounts more than doubling from $22,000 to $45,000 in that time. Rydqvist, Spizman, and Strebulaev attribute the differential growth in direct and indirect holdings to differences in the way each are taxed in the United States. Investments in pension funds and 401ks, the two most common vehicles of indirect participation, are taxed only when funds are withdrawn from the accounts. Conversely, the money used to directly purchase stock is subject to taxation as are any dividends or capital gains they generate for the holder. In this way the current tax code incentivizes individuals to invest indirectly.
Indirect vs. direct investment
TRates of participation and the value of holdings differs significantly across strata of income. In the bottom quintile of income, 5.5% of households directly own stock and 10.7% hold stocks indirectly in the form of retirement accounts. The top decile of income has a direct participation rate of 47.5% and an indirect participation rate in the form of retirement accounts of 89.6%. The median value of directly owned stock in the bottom quintile of income is $4,000 and is $78,600 in the top decile of income as of 2007. The median value of indirectly held stock in the form of retirement accounts for the same two groups in the same year is $6,300 and $214,800 respectively. Since the Great Recession of 2008 households in the bottom half of the income distribution have lessened their participation rate both directly and indirectly from 53.2% in 2007 to 48.8% in 2013, while over the same time period households in the top decile of the income distribution slightly increased participation 91.7% to 92.1%. The mean value of direct and indirect holdings at the bottom half of the income distribution moved slightly downward from $53,800 in 2007 to $53,600 in 2013. In the top decile, mean value of all holdings fell from $982,000 to $969,300 in the same time. The mean value of all stock holdings across the entire income distribution is valued at $269,900 as of 2013.
Participation by income and wealth strata
The racial composition of stock market ownership shows households headed by whites are nearly four and six times as likely to directly own stocks than households headed by blacks and Hispanics respectively. As of 2011 the national rate of direct participation was 19.6%, for white households the participation rate was 24.5%, for black households it was 6.4% and for Hispanic households it was 4.3% Indirect participation in the form of 401k ownership shows a similar pattern with a national participation rate of 42.1%, a rate of 46.4% for white households, 31.7% for black households, and 25.8% for Hispanic households. Households headed by married couples participated at rates above the national averages with 25.6% participating directly and 53.4% participating indirectly through a retirement account. 14.7% of households headed by men participated in the market directly and 33.4% owned stock through a retirement account. 12.6% of female headed households directly owned stock and 28.7% owned stock indirectly.
Participation by head of household race and gender
In a 2002 paper Anntte Vissing-Jorgensen from the University of Chicago attempts to explain disproportionate rates of participation along wealth and income groups as a function of fixed costs associated with investing. Her research concludes that a fixed cost of $200 per year is sufficient to explain why nearly half of all U.S. households do not participate in the market. Participation rates have been shown to strongly correlate with education levels, promoting the hypothesis that information and transaction costs of market participation are better absorbed by more educated households. Behavioral economists Harrison Hong, Jeffrey Kubik and Jeremy Stein suggest that sociability and participation rates of communities have a statistically significant impact on an individual’s decision to participate in the market. Their research indicates that social individuals living in states with higher than average participation rates are 5% more likely to participate than individuals that do not share those characteristics. This phenomenon also explained in cost terms. Knowledge of market functioning diffuses through communities and consequently lowers transaction costs associated with investing.
Determinants and possible explanations of stock market participation