The first stock exchange in Warsaw opened on 12 May 1817. Trading sessions were held between 12:00 and 13:00. In the 19th century, mostly bonds and bills were traded on the Warsaw exchange. Trading in stocks developed more broadly in the second half of the 19th century. Between the first and the second world war, exchanges in Poland operated under the President’s Ordinance on the organisation of exchanges. In addition to the Warsaw exchange, there were stock exchanges in Katowice, Kraków, Lvov, Łódź, Poznań, and Vilnius. However, the Warsaw stock exchange was of primary importance as it accounted for more than 90% of the total trading.
In 1938, there were 130 securities traded on the Warsaw exchange: government, bank, and municipal bonds, mortgage bonds, as well as shares. The Warsaw stock exchange closed with the outbreak of the second world war.
While attempts were made to reactivate exchanges in Poland after 1945, yet their operation was alien to the imposed system of centrally planned economy.
In September 1989, the new non-Communist government began a programme of systemic transition and recreation of a market economy. The structural transition was mainly driven by privatisation and growth of the capital market. Different to the experience of other countries where privatisation proceeded within the existing structure of financial institutions, privatisation in Poland had to be accompanied by the development of the necessary capital market infrastructure. A fifty-year interval in the operation of the Polish capital market created a legal and institutional vacuum. In practice, this implied lack of experience and professional expertise, but also offered great opportunities for growth. While several alternatives were considered, the decision was made to build directly upon the models of foreign capital markets, by transposing modern legal regulations and organisational solutions. The on-going standardisation and globalization of the world capital markets did not give much chance to original local models. The adopted option had the advantage of accelerating the process and implementing the target solutions.
Detailed procedures of modern exchange trading were prepared within months thanks to the substantive and financial contribution of France offered via SBF (Société de Bourses Françaises) and the central depository SICOVAM. Legal regulations had to be drafted from scratch as a key element of the emerging capital market. The first draft law regulating public trading in securities was prepared in July 1990.
The Parliament adopted the Act on Public Trading in Securities and Trust Funds on 22 March 1991. This laid down the legal basis for the main institutions of the capital market: brokerage houses, the stock exchange, trust funds, and the Securities Commission as a governmental agency controlling and promoting the securities market. The Act provided that the stock exchange should ensure:
- concentration of supply of and demand for securities admitted to exchange trading with a view to shaping a common price;
- security and efficiency of transactions and settlements;
- dissemination of uniform information enabling the assessment of the current value of securities admitted to exchange trading.
Less than a month after the Sejm adopted the Act on Public Trading in Securities and Trust Funds, on 12 April 1991, the Minister of Ownership Transition and the Minister of Finance representing the State Treasury signed the founding deed of the Warsaw Stock Exchange. Four days later, on 16 April, the first trading session in the stocks of five companies was held with the participation of seven brokerage houses: 112 buy and sell orders were placed and the total value of trading was PLN 1,990 (US$ 2 thousand).
Since 9 November 2010, GPW is a public company listed on the Warsaw Stock Exchange.
Today the Warsaw Stock Exchange is the biggest securities exchange in Central and Eastern Europe and organises trade on one of the most dynamically growing capital markets in Europe. GPW operates a regulated market of shares and derivative instruments and the alternative stock market NewConnect for growing companies. GPW also develops Catalyst, a market for issuers of corporate and municipal bonds, as well as energy markets.