A security is a tradable financial asset. The term commonly refers to any form of financial instrument, but its legal definition varies by jurisdiction. In some countries and languages people commonly use the term "security" to refer to any form of financial instrument, even though the underlying legal and regulatory regime may not have such a broad definition. In some jurisdictions the term specifically excludes financial instruments other than equities and fixed-income instruments. In some jurisdictions it includes some instruments that are close to equities and fixed income, e.g., equity warrants.
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Securities may be represented by a certificate or, more typically, they may be "non-certificated", that is in electronic (dematerialized) or "book entry only" form. Certificates may be bearer, meaning they entitle the holder to rights under the security merely by holding the security, or registered, meaning they entitle the holder to rights only if he or she appears on a security register maintained by the issuer or an intermediary. They include shares of corporate stock or mutual funds, bonds issued by corporations or governmental agencies, stock options or other options, limited partnership units, and various other formal investment instruments that are negotiable and fungible.
In the United Kingdom, the Financial Conduct Authority functions as the national competent authority for the regulation of financial markets; the definition in its Handbook of the term "security" applies only to equities, debentures, alternative debentures, government and public securities, warrants, certificates representing certain securities, units, stakeholder pension schemes, personal pension schemes, rights to or interests in investments, and anything that may be admitted to the Official List.
- debt securities (e.g., banknotes, bonds, and debentures)
- equity securities (e.g., common stocks)
- derivatives (e.g., forwards, futures, options, and swaps).
The company or other entity issuing the security is called the issuer. A country's regulatory structure determines what qualifies as a security. For example, private investment pools may have some features of securities, but they may not be registered or regulated as such if they meet various restrictions.
Securities are the traditional method that commercial enterprises use to raise new capital. They may offer an attractive alternative to bank loans - depending on their pricing and market demand for particular characteristics. A disadvantage of bank loans as a source of financing is that the bank may seek a measure of protection against default by the borrower via extensive financial covenants. Through securities, capital is provided by investors who purchase the securities upon their initial issuance. In a similar way, a government may issue securities when it chooses to increase government debt.