Since the early 1990s, many of the largest exchanges have adopted electronic 'matching engines' to bring together buyers and sellers, replacing the open outcry system. Electronic trading now accounts for the majority of trading in many developed countries. Computer systems were upgraded in the stock exchanges to handle larger trading volumes in a more accurate and controlled manner. The SEC modified the margin requirements in an attempt to lower the volatility of common stocks, stock options and the futures market. The New York Stock Exchange and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange introduced the concept of a circuit breaker. The circuit breaker halts trading if the Dow declines a prescribed number of points for a prescribed amount of time. In February 2012, the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC) introduced single-stock circuit breakers.
The stock market is one of the most important ways for companies to raise money, along with debt markets which are generally more imposing but do not trade publicly. This allows businesses to be publicly traded, and raise additional financial capital for expansion by selling shares of ownership of the company in a public market. The liquidity that an exchange affords the investors enables their holders to quickly and easily sell securities. This is an attractive feature of investing in stocks, compared to other less liquid investments such as property and other immoveable assets.
Financial innovation has brought many new financial instruments whose pay-offs or values depend on the prices of stocks. Some examples are exchange-traded funds (ETFs), stock index and stock options, equity swaps, single-stock futures, and stock index futures. These last two may be traded on futures exchanges (which are distinct from stock exchanges—their history traces back to commodity futures exchanges), or traded over-the-counter. As all of these products are only derived from stocks, they are sometimes considered to be traded in a (hypothetical) derivatives market, rather than the (hypothetical) stock market.