May Day in Finance: Revolutionizing the Stock Market
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May Day in Finance: Revolutionizing the Stock Market

4 Min.

May Day, which occurred on May 1, 1975, marked a significant turning point in the history of the stock market. On this date, brokerages were granted the ability to establish their own commission rates for stock trades, ending 180 years of fixed pricing. This article explores the impact of May Day on the stock market, the birth of discount brokers, and the evolution of commission structures.

Basics

Before the groundbreaking changes of May Day in 1975, brokers uniformly imposed fixed-rate commissions on all traders, regardless of the scale of their transactions. This meant that small investors were burdened with high commission costs, eating into their potential profits. Moreover, brokers risked expulsion if they offered lower rates to any investors.

The decision by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to deregulate trading fees was met with controversy. James Needham, then the Chair of the New York Stock Exchange, initially opposed altering the fee structure. He cited the securities industry's struggle to rebound from an earnings slump and expressed doubts that such a change would bankrupt brokers. The move stirred tensions, with some brokers even likening the SEC to the Soviet Economic Committee.

The Impact of May Day

May Day's implementation had far-reaching consequences, particularly in the emergence of discount stock brokers. As commission rates began to decline, brokers started offering new trading services that charged lower fees but lacked investment advice.

This shift paved the way for a new category of investors - the do-it-yourself (DIY) investors. These individuals conducted their own research and benefited from reduced trading fees. Leading this movement was Charles Schwab, who founded his eponymous company in 1971. By September 1975, the Charles Schwab Corp. was offering discounted stock trades. Numerous other discount brokers followed suit, laying the foundation for the online discount brokerages we know today.

Discount Brokers Today

Since May Day in 1975, discount brokers have thrived, especially with the advent of online trading. Nowadays, retail investors can open trading accounts with minimal initial deposits, often as low as one dollar, although the specific requirements vary among brokers. Stock trading is frequently offered for free, while small fees may apply to transactions involving other assets like mutual funds.

Expansion of Discount Broker Services

While discount brokers typically refrain from providing personal investment advice, many have expanded their offerings. They now offer online coaching and make financial advisors accessible through online chat and phone support for investor queries. Additionally, charting packages and fundamental research tools are commonly provided. However, it is incumbent upon the investor to sift through this information and make their own informed trading decisions.

Alternative Meanings of May Day

It's worth noting that "Mayday" serves as an international distress call for life-threatening emergencies, originating in 1921 at a London airport due to its similarity to the French phrase "m'aider," meaning "help me." Additionally, May 1 is observed as International Workers' Day in many countries, celebrating laborers (while the United States observes Labor Day on the first Monday of September).

Commission-Free Trading: What to Watch out For

In recent years, commission-free trading of stocks became prevalent, particularly in 2019, when online brokers engaged in a price war amid intense competition. At least 10 online brokers now offer commission-free stock trades. However, most of these brokers have certain limitations on their commission-free offers and may charge fees for trades involving assets such as mutual funds and options. Premium services are also available for a fee.

Investors should exercise caution and carefully review the terms when signing up for a new service, as seemingly free stock trades may come with hidden fees. For instance, an inactivity fee may be imposed if a client refrains from making any trades within a specified timeframe. Before selecting a broker, prospective investors are advised to seek out demo accounts to evaluate the functionality and any associated costs of trading.

Conclusion

May Day in 1975 was a momentous event that reshaped the stock market landscape. The deregulation of trading fees led to the rise of discount brokers, empowering DIY investors and revolutionizing the way people invest in stocks. Over the years, discount brokers have adapted to the digital age, offering a wide array of services and commission structures. As the financial industry continues to evolve, investors must remain vigilant in understanding the terms and fees associated with their chosen brokerage services. May Day's legacy endures as a symbol of innovation and change in the world of finance.

May Day
Do-it-Yourself (DIY) Investors
Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)
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