At its core, a stock exchange – from small, local exchanges to the largest stock exchange in the world – is a marketplace where shares of ownership in a company are bought and sold. It functions much like any other market, with buyers and sellers coming together, but here the commodities are shares in public companies.
This simple concept belies the complexity and scale of the planet’s biggest stock exchanges, which are more than just trading floors or digital platforms. They have the astonishing power to influence economies, politics and even societies.
The sheer size and scale of the biggest stock exchanges in the world is staggering. They host the trading of shares from thousands of companies, ranging from fledgling startups to some of the world’s largest corporations. Their combined market capitalisation runs into trillions of dollars, making them not just significant but essential players in the global financial system. Their size is indicative of their influence, and even the slightest movements in their metrics are seen as barometers for entire economies.
But how do you measure the world’s largest stock exchanges?
It can be done in a number of ways, by number of shares traded daily or annually, or the monthly trade volume in dollars. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to use market capitalisation – abbreviated to market cap – which is the combined value of all the companies listed on that stock exchange.
It’s important to note that values of companies go up and down almost daily, so the market caps quoted below are indicative rather than exact.
A Very Short History of Stock Exchanges
The concept of stock market-based economies has roots stretching back to ancient trade networks and became more broadly organised during the Middle Ages. Ancient societies including the Romans, the Phoenicians, and the Etruscans, engaged in various forms of trade and financial activities that laid the groundwork for modern financial systems.
By the Middle Ages, especially in Europe, trade organisations and merchant guilds had started to develop methods and structures that resembled modern stock trading, including the issuance of debt and the transfer of financial instruments. However, these were more primitive and less formalised compared to the structured stock exchanges that emerged later.
Most historians are in general agreement that the first modern stock exchange is the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, which was founded around 1602. The New York Stock Exchange opened in 1792 and the London Stock Exchange was formally established in 1801.
Today, there are dozens of stock exchanges all over the world and the amount of money and number of shares traded every day is mind-blowing, but where is the largest stock market in the world?
London Stock Exchange
Location: London, UK | Founded: 1801 | Market Cap: Approx. $3.1 trillion
One of the world’s oldest and largest stock exchanges, the LSE lists around 2,000 companies and includes the FTSE 100 – the 100 companies on the exchange with the highest market capitalisation, or value.
The LSE traces its origins back to the late seventeenth century. Initially, stock traders and brokers would gather at Jonathan’s Coffee House in Exchange Alley in the City of London, where they began dealing in stocks and shares. This informal arrangement evolved, and in 1801, the LSE was formally established, moving away from the Royal Exchange due to the increasing number of members and need for more organised trading. This was the beginning of regulated stock trading in London and today, it’s one of Europe’s most important financial institutions.
Bombay Stock Exchange
Location: Mumbai, India | Founded: 1875 | Market Cap: Approx. $3.8 trillion
Asia’s oldest stock exchange is also one of the world’s largest stock exchanges. It was founded by an Indian businessman called Premchand Roychand. Along with a group of businessmen, he created the Native Share & Stock Brokers Association in 1875 and today, over 5,000 companies are listed.
Premchand Roychand was a keen philanthropist and donated 200,000 rupees in 1878 to build one of the world’s tallest clock towers, the Rajabai Clock Tower, named after his mother, at the University of Mumbai.
Location: Paris, France | Founded: 1990 | Market Cap: Approx. $7.5 trillion
Many of Europe’s biggest stock exchanges came together in a pan-European bourse, or trading exchange, to form Euronext, or the European New Exchange Technology, with around 2,000 listed companies. It’s believed to be the world’s largest centre for debt and funds listing and was an amalgamation of several European bourses.
Euronext can trace its roots back to the world’s first bourses, in Amsterdam, Bruges and Antwerp from the thirteenth to the seventeenth century. Today, it has become a contender for the largest stock market in the world.
Shanghai Stock Exchange
Location: Shanghai, China | Founded: 2000 | Market Cap: Approx. $8 trillion
The Shanghai Stock Exchange is one of three independent exchanges in China – the others are the Beijing Stock Exchange and the Shenzhen Stock Exchange. As well as being the biggest stock exchange in Asia, Shanghai is one of the biggest stock exchanges in the world with a market cap of around eight trillion dollars.
The Shanghai Sharebrokers’ Association was founded in the 1880s, but was closed in the 1940s. It was re-established in 1990 and has become a key driver in China’s economic growth.
Location: Manhattan, USA | Founded: 1971 | Market Cap: Approx. $21 trillion
The second-largest stock market in the world is the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations Stock Market, or as it’s more commonly known, Nasdaq.
Founded in 1971 by the National Association of Securities Dealers, it was the first electronic stock exchange. Nasdaq has around 4,000 listed companies including global heavyweights Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet (Google’s parent company), Tesla, and Meta (Facebook’s parent company).
New York Stock Exchange
Location: Manhattan, USA | Founded: 1792 | Market Cap: Approx. $25 trillion
The New York Stock Exchange is the largest stock exchange in the world. It was founded in 1792, when twenty-four brokers signed the Buttonwood Agreement to regulate securities trading. It was so named because they would regularly meet under a buttonwood tree and the first shares traded were said to be those of the Bank of America, the First Bank of the United States, and the Bank of New York.
Today, there are around 2,400 companies listed on the NYSE. To signify the opening and closing of each trading day – 9.30am and 4pm – a bell is rung, and it’s often done by a VIP or celebrity. As well as high-profile executives whose businesses are traded in the NYSE, there have been some very eclectic bell ringers, including Nelson Mandela, swimmer Michael Phelps, singer Liza Minelli, rapper Snoop Dogg, and even Mickey Mouse and Darth Vader!
Taking Stock: The World’s Biggest Stock Exchanges
The world’s largest stock exchanges are barometers of economic health, catalysts for global investment, and platforms for corporate growth.
From historic roots to the technological sophistication of NASDAQ, these institutions have evolved to become key players in the global economy. They reflect the dynamic nature of financial markets, adapting to technological advancements, regulatory changes, and economic shifts.
Witnessing the rise of emerging markets and digital trading platforms, the landscape of global finance continues to transform. The story of the largest stock market in the world and the pretenders to its throne is one of innovation, resilience, and enduring influence, underscoring their pivotal role in shaping both national and international economic futures.