In the past 30 years, major changes have occurred not only in the kinds of securities issued, but also in the way securities are issued and in the national markets where they are issued. Traditional registered offerings have been partly displaced by shelf registered offerings and Rule 144A private offerings. And once exclusively domestic U.S offerings are increasingly being supplemented by foreign market offerings by U.S. companies, and by simultaneously domestic and foreign offerings. In 1997, for example, 11% of all proceeds raised by U.S. corporations were issued in one or more foreign markets. Of the $105 billion raised in these offerings, $31 billion was denominated in currencies other than the U.S. dollar.

While traditional securities still dominate the market, the authors' research indicates that the pace of innovation in the design of securities also increased markedly during the 1980s and has continued strong throughout the 1990s. In 1997, for example, innovative securities accounted for almost 30% of total domestic offerings. Three of the most common objectives of such securities have been (1) to manage the interest rate (and other financial price) risk faced by investors and issuers; (2) to reduce information costs faced by investors when buying securities from issuers with better information about their own prospects (a condition known as “information asymmetry”); and (3) to increase the tradability of financial assets.