What Is the NASDAQ?

From Humble Origins to 3,500+ Companies Under Its Umbrella

NASDAQ Stock Market Building
••• Alan Schein Photography / Getty Images

If you buy or sell investments, you are likely aware that stocks move on exchanges that allow trading to take place. The New York Stock Exchange is the most well-known exchange, but the NASDAQ has emerged in the last quarter-century as one of the largest as well. 

Automated Trading Network

The NASDAQ is an electronic exchange where stocks are traded through an automated network of computers instead of a trading floor.

It stands for the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations System and is the world's second-largest stock exchange based on market capitalization. It trades listed stocks as well as over-the-counter (OTC) stocks. As a general rule of thumb, it is where most technology stocks are traded. A quick way to tell if a company is listed on the NASDAQ is to check out the ticker symbol. (e.g. Microsoft = MSFT, Dell Computers = DELL, Cisco = CSCO).

Major stocks that trade on the NASDAQ include Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, Gilead Sciences, Starbucks, Tesla, Intel, and Oracle.  

How The NASDAQ Was Created

In 1971, the National Association of Securities Details (NASD) set out to invent and create the world's first electronic stock market. When it opened its doors on February 8, 1971, the NASDAQ couldn't execute trades. Instead, it provided automated quotations. In the years following its founding, the NASDAQ regularly facilitated OTC trading, so much so that NASDAQ became synonymous with OTC and was often referred to as an OTC market in the media and trade publications.

Later, it added automated trading systems that could create trade and volume reports, and became the first exchange to offer online trading. Fast forward to the current day—the NASDAQ lists more than 3,500 companies and boasts the highest trade volume in the U.S. market. More than $10 trillion worth of companies trade on the NASDAQ. 


A history of the NASDAQ shows a track record of groundbreaking accomplishments. In addition to being the first exchange to offer electronic trading, it was the first exchange to launch a website, the first to store records in the cloud, and the first to sell its technology to other exchanges. 

In 2008, NASDAQ merged with OMX ABO, a Stockholm-based operator of Nordic and Baltic regional exchanges. The new company, NASDAQ OMX Group, also offers trading in exchange traded funds, debt, structured products, derivatives, and commodities.

NASDAQ Trading Hours

Just like the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), the NASDAQ is open for trading between 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. ET. However, NASDAQ offers traders "pre-market" and "post-market" hours. Pre-market hours are from 4 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. ET and post-market hours are from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. ET.

NASDAQ Listing Requirements

For stock or security to be listed on the NASDAQ electronic exchange, a company must meet certain requirements based on their finances, liquidity, and corporate governance, be registered with the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) and have at least three market makers. Once their application is submitted, it may take anywhere between 4 and 6 weeks for their listing to be approved.

NASDAQ U.S. Market Tiers

Based on the listing requirements, a company's stock will be listed in one of three market tiers. Companies listed in the Global Select Market must pass the most stringent requirements, while those listed in the Capital Market must pass the least stringent requirements. The tiers are:

  • Global Select Market: This composite is made up of the stocks of 1,200 U.S. and international companies and is weighted based on market capitalization. Companies listed here must pass NASDAQ's highest standards. Global Market listings are surveyed annually by NASDAQ's Listing Qualifications Department, which will move them to the Global Select Market, if eligible.
  • Global Market: NASDAQ's Global Market consists of 1,450 stocks of companies listed in the United States and internationally. It is considered to be a mid-cap market. 
  • Capital Market: Once called the SmallCap Market, before NASDAQ changed the name, this is a large list of companies with smaller market capitalizations. 

NASDAQ Performance

Because the NASDAQ is largely made up of tech stocks, its overall performance has been very strong in the last quarter-century. As of June 2018, the NASDAQ-100 index, which includes the top 100 stocks in the exchange, reported a 5-year return of 155% and 240% over 10 years. Meanwhile, its Biotechnology Index reported a 138% 5-year return and a 10-year return of 312%.