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Over-the-counter (OTC) or off-exchange trading is to trade financial instruments such as stocks, bonds, commodities or derivatives directly between two parties. It is contrasted with exchange trading, which occurs via facilities constructed for the purpose of trading (i.e., exchanges), such as futures exchanges or stock exchanges.

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OTC-traded stocks

In the U.S., over-the-counter trading in stock is carried out by market makers that make markets in OTCBB and Pink Sheets securities using inter-dealer quotation services such as Pink Quote (operated by Pink OTC Markets) and the OTC Bulletin Board (OTCBB). OTC stocks are not usually listed nor traded on any stock exchanges, though exchange listed stocks can be traded OTC on the third market. Although stocks quoted on the OTCBB must comply with U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) reporting requirements, other OTC stocks, such as those stocks categorized as Pink Sheets securities, have no reporting requirements, while those stocks categorized as OTCQX have met alternative disclosure guidelines through Pink OTC Markets.

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OTC market statistics

Data provided by Pink Sheets:

  • Securities quoted exclusively on Pink Sheets - 5,019
  • Securities dually quoted on Pink Sheets and OTCBB - 3,445
  • Securities quoted exclusively on OTCBB - 130

Total OTC securities - 5,149[citation needed]

OTC contracts

An over-the-counter contract is a bilateral contract in which two parties agree on how a particular trade or agreement is to be settled in the future. It is usually from an investment bank to its clients directly. Forwards and swaps are prime examples of such contracts. It is mostly done via the computer or the telephone. For derivatives, these agreements are usually governed by an International Swaps and Derivatives Association agreement.

This segment of the OTC market is occasionally referred to as the "Fourth Market."

The NYMEX has created a clearing mechanism for a slate of commonly traded OTC energy derivatives which allows counterparties of many bilateral OTC transactions to mutually agree to transfer the trade to ClearPort, the exchange's clearing house, thus eliminating credit and performance risk of the initial OTC transaction counterparts.

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