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The Economist - Wall Street 101

Like the dollar bills on which its business is based, Wall Street has two faces. On one side, it is a place – a street in lower Manhattan. On the other, the term is shorthand for an industry – the US wholesale financial-services industry. Since Wall Street, the place, is the hub of this industry, much of the time the two meanings overlap. But lower Manhattan is by no means the totality of the US wholesale financial-services industry, and so sometimes the term embraces other locations and institutions.

The US financial-services industry has two distinct parts: Main Street financial services and Money-centre financial services. Main Street financial services are retail services, that is, they meet the needs of individuals and small businesses for cheque and savings accounts, loans and mortgages, investment and insurance.

Money centre activities comprise a range of wholesale financial activities, meaning that they serve the requirements of corporations, the government and other public bodies (such as states and municipalities), public agencies and the financial-services industry itself. Wall Street, the place, is the leading US money centre and the foremost US location for the conduct of wholesale financial services.

However, it is not the only money centre in North America: Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Toronto are also significant. But New York is without doubt the leading US money centre for international financial activities, an arena in which its peer group consists of the world’s other leading international financial centres: London, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore, Frankfurt and Zurich.

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