What Is Wall Street?

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Wall Street is literally a street located in New York City—at the southern end of Manhattan, to be precise. 

But figuratively, Wall Street is much more: a synonym for the financial industry and the firms within it. 

This connotation has its roots in the fact that so many brokerages and investment banks historically have established HQs in and around the street, all the better to be close to the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).

While being on Wall Street is no longer de rigueur for a financial-industry firm (many, in fact, are located all around the country) or even to trade stocks (which primarily happens online now), the term "Wall Street" still means business—the investment business—and the interests, motivations, and attitudes of its players.

***Understanding Wall Street

Although Wall Street and its surrounding southern Manhattan neighborhood—known to locals as "the Financial District"—remains an important location where a number of financial institutions are based, the globalization and digitization of finance and investment have led to many American broker-dealers, registered investment advisors, and investment companies being established around the country.

Still, "Wall Street" remains a collective name for the financial markets, the companies that trade publicly, and the investment community itself: stock exchanges, investment and commercial banks, brokerages and broker/dealers, financial services and underwriting firms.

 It's a globally recognized expression, symbolizing the U.S. investment industry and to some extent the U.S. financial system. 

Both the New York Stock Exchange (the largest equities-based exchange in the world) and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York—arguably the most important regional bank of the Federal Reserve System—are based in the Wall Street area.

Wall Street is often shortened to "the Street," which is how the term is frequently used by those in the financial world and in the media. 

For example, when reporting a company's earnings, an analyst might compare a company's revenues to what the Street was expecting. 

In this case, the analyst is comparing the company's earnings to what financial analysts and investment firms were expecting for that period.

***History of Wall Street

Wall Street got its name from the wooden wall Dutch colonists built in lower Manhattan in 1653 to defend themselves from the British and Native Americans. 

The wall was taken down in 1699, but the name stuck.

Given its proximity to New York's ports, the Wall Street area became a bustling center of trade in the 1700s. 

But its origins as a financial center until 1792, when 24 of the young U.S.' most prominent brokers and merchants signed the Buttonwood Agreement (they reportedly gathered on Wall Street, under a buttonwood tree, to do business). 

The agreement outlined the common commission-based form of trading securities—in effect, an effort to establish a members-only stock exchange. 

Some of the first securities traded were war bonds, as well as banking stocks for such institutions as the First Bank of the United States, Bank of New York, and Bank of North America.

Out of this acorn of an agreement, the oak that became the NYSE grew. 

In 1817, the Buttonwood brokers renamed themselves The New York Stock and Exchange Board. 

The organization rented out spaces for trading in several locations until 1865, when it settled on a location of its own, at the corner of Wall and Broad Streets.

*Fast Fact, The beating heart of Wall Street, the New York Stock Exchange, is technically not on Wall Street at all: 

Its main building—a 1903 Neo-Classical structure of white marble—has a street address of 18 Broad Street. 

An adjacent annex, constructed in 1922, is located at 11 Wall Street, though, and there's another subsidiary building at 20 Broad Street. 

Together, these three buildings fill the block bounded by Wall Street on the north, Broad Street on the East, Exchange Place on the south, and New Street on the west.

As the U.S. grew, several other major exchanges established headquarters in the Wall Street area, including the New York Mercantile Exchange, the New York Board of Trade, the New York Futures Exchange (NYFE), and the American Stock Exchange, now known as the NYSE MKT /NYSE Amex Options. 

To support the exchanges—to be where the action was—banks, brokerage firms, and financiers had offices clustered around Wall Street. 

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the House of Morgan, officially J.P. Morgan & Co.—the forerunner to JP Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley—was right opposite the NYSE, at 23 Wall Street.

After World War I, New York City surpassed London to become the world's largest and most significant financial center—and the financial center of NYC was Wall Street.

***Wall Street vs Main Street

Wall Street is often compared and contrasted to Main Street. 

The term Main Street is used as a metaphor for individual investors, small businesses, employees, and the overall economy. 

It's derived from the common name for the principal street of a town where most of the local businesses are located.

There is often a perceived conflict between the goals, desires, and motivations of Main Street and Wall Street. 

Wall Street tends to represent big businesses and financial institutions, while Main Street represents mom-and-pop shops and small companies.

***Wall Street FAQs?

What Does Wall Street Speculation Mean?

Speculation refers to the act of conducting a financial transaction—usually trading stocks, commodities, or assets that has a high risk/reward profile: that is, there is the possibility of substantial gains, but also substantial losses.

An investor who purchases a speculative investment is likely focused on the price fluctuations, rather than the fundamentals, of the asset; they believe the market has inaccurately priced it, and are trying to take advantage of that disparity before the market corrects its estimation. 

Speculative investments are often very short-term ones.

Wall Street speculators tend to be professional traders, as opposed to retail investors who buy and hold onto stocks or other assets for the long term.

*What Time Does Wall Street Open and Close?

The major U.S. stock markets, including the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and the Nasdaq, are normally open 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday. 

However, there are also extended-hour sessions earlier and later.

Pre-market trading typically occurs between 8:00 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., though it can begin as early as 4 a.m. ET.

After-hours trading starts at 4 p.m. and can run as late as 8 p.m. ET.

*Who Was the Wolf of Wall Street?

The Wolf of Wall Street was a nickname for Jordan Belfort, a former Wall Street trader and founder of Stratton Oakmont, an over-the-counter brokerage house. 

In the late 1980s and 1990s, Stratton Oakmont participated in a number of different frauds, including pump-and-dump schemes to artificially inflate the price of penny stocks. 

In 1996, it was shut down; Belfort pleaded guilty to fraud and spent nearly two years in prison. 

He is currently a motivational speaker.

*What Was Occupy Wall Street?

Occupy Wall Street was a 2011 protest movement against social and economic inequality that was centered in Zuccotti Park, located in Manhattan's Financial District. 

It began on Sept. 17, as hundreds of protesters camped out in the park. 

The police forcibly removed and arrested them two months later, on Nov. 15. 

During the days, there were marches and speeches, calling for more balanced income distribution, better-paying jobs, bank reform, and less corporate influence in politics. 

"We are the 99%," was the Occupy protestors' slogan.

*What Is Black Wall Street?

Black Wall Street was a nickname given to the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma, one of the largest and most prosperous African-American business communities in the United States in the early 20th century. 

In May-June, 1921, its 35 blocks were destroyed during the Tulsa Race Riot.

More generally, "Black Wall Street" can also refer to any area of African-American high economic or financial activity.