In 1972, NASDAQ stood for National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations. NASDAQ was founded in 1971 by the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD), which divested itself of NASDAQ in a series of sales in 2000 and 2001. NASDAQ is owned and operated by the The NASDAQ OMX Group, the stocks of which were listed on its own stock exchange beginning July 2, 2002, under the ticker symbol NDAQ.
When the NASDAQ began trading on February 8, 1971, it was the world's first electronic stock market. At first, it was merely a quotation system and did not provide a way to perform electronic trades. The NASDAQ helped lower the spread (the difference between the bid price and the ask price of the stock) but was unpopular among brokerages which made much of their money on the spread.
NASDAQ eventually assumed the majority of major trades formerly executed by the over-the-counter (OTC) system of trading, although there are still numerous securities traded in this fashion. As late as 1987, the NASDAQ exchange was still commonly referred to as "OTC" in media and also in the monthly Stock Guides issued by Standard & Poor's Corporation.
Over the years, NASDAQ became more of a stock market by adding trade and volume reporting and automated trading systems. NASDAQ was also the first stock market in the United States to start trading online, highlighting NASDAQ-traded companies (usually in technology) and closing with the declaration that NASDAQ is "the stock market for the next hundred years." Its main index is the NASDAQ Composite, which has been published since its inception. However, its exchange-traded fund tracks the large-cap NASDAQ-100 index, which was introduced in 1985 alongside the NASDAQ 100 Financial Index.
Until 1987, most trading occurred via the telephone. During the October 1987 stock market crash, however, market makers often did not answer their phones. To remedy this, the Small Order Execution System (SOES) was established. SOES provides an electronic method for dealers to enter their trades. NASDAQ requires market makers to honor trades executed using SOES.
In 1992, NASDAQ joined with the London Stock Exchange to form the first intercontinental linkage of securities markets. The National Association of Securities Dealers spun off NASDAQ in 2000 to form a publicly traded company, the NASDAQ Stock Market, Inc.
In 2006, the status of NASDAQ was changed from a stock market to a licensed national securities exchange.
To qualify for listing on the exchange, a company must be registered with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), must have at least three market makers (financial firms that act as brokers or dealers for specific securities) and must meet minimum requirements for assets, capital, public shares, and shareholders.
In February 2011, in the wake of an announced merger of NYSE Euronext with Deutsche Börse, speculation developed that NASDAQ OMX and Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) could mount a counter-bid of their own for NYSE. NASDAQ OMX could be looking to acquire the American exchange's cash equities business, ICE the derivatives business. As of the time of the speculation, "NYSE Euronext’s market value was $9.75 billion. Nasdaq was valued at $5.78 billion, while ICE was valued at $9.45 billion." Late in the month, Nasdaq was reported to be considering asking either ICE or the Chicago Merc to join in what would probably have to be, if it proceeded, an $11–12 billion counterbid.
The European Association of Securities Dealers Automatic Quotation System (EASDAQ) was founded originally as a European equivalent to NASDAQ. It was purchased by NASDAQ in 2001 and became NASDAQ Europe. Operations were shut down, however, as a result of the burst of the dot-com bubble. In 2007, NASDAQ Europe was revived as Equiduct, and is currently operating under Börse Berlin.
On June 18, 2012, NASDAQ became a founding member of the United Nations Sustainable Stock Exchanges initiative on the eve of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20).
In 2013, NASDAQ OMX was approached by private equity firm Carlyle Group about taking the exchange operator private, but the talks fell apart over a disagreement on price.