A security is a type of transferrable interest representing financial value. Traditionally securities have been categorised between debt and equity securities, and between bearer and registered securities.
The uses that are made of securities have changed over time, both for the issuer and for the holder. Though the purpose of capital raising has sometimes been taken to be a defining characteristic of securities, its uses have expanded greatly in modern times.
They are often represented by a certificate. They include shares of corporate stock or mutual funds, bonds issued by corporations or governmental agencies, stock options or other options, other derivative securities, limited partnership units, and various other formal "investment instruments." Banknotes, checks, and some bills of exchange do not fall into this category. Transferable interest in commodities like oil, food grains or metals can also be referred to as securities. One can enter into contracts to buy or sell various quantities of commodities in various commodity exchanges. These become transferrable interest in the particular commodity.
In the United States, the offer and sale of securities is either registered pursuant to a registration statement that is filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or are offered and sold pursuant to an exemption therefrom. Dealing in securities is heavily regulated by both the federal authorities (chiefly SEC) and state authorities. In addition the industry is heavily self policed by Self Regulatory Organizations (SRO's), such as the NASD or the MSRB.
Due to the difficulty of creating a general definition that covers all securities, the SEC attempts to define "securities" exhaustively (and not very precisely) as: "any note, stock, treasury stock, security future, bond, debenture, certificate of interest or participation in any profit-sharing agreement or in any oil, gas, or other mineral royalty or lease, any collateral-trust certificate, preorganization certificate or subscription, transferable share, investment contract, voting-trust certificate, certificate of deposit for a security, any put, call, straddle, option, or privilege on any security, certificate of deposit, or group or index of securities (including any interest therein or based on the value thereof), or any put, call, straddle, option, or privilege entered into on a national securities exchange relating to foreign currency, or in general, any instrument commonly known as a "security"; or any certificate of interest or participation in, temporary or interim certificate for, receipt for, or warrant or right to subscribe to or purchase, any of the foregoing; but shall not include currency or any note, draft, bill of exchange, or banker's acceptance which has a maturity at the time of issuance of not exceeding nine months , exclusive of days of grace, or any renewal thereof the maturity of which is likewise limited." - Section 3a item 10 of the 1934 Act.
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