MainStreet Explains: The ABCs of Stock Tickers


To the uninitiated, Wall Street can be a strange place, brimming over with its own customs, lingo and codes.

One of its longest-running, if historically overlooked, traditions is the venerable stock symbol or stock ticker.

Stock tickers are a clever way for companies to market themselves to the financial masses. Consider Anheuser-Busch  (Stock Quote: BUD), the Budweiser brewer. Or how about Sun Microsystems (Stock Quote: JAVA)? JAVA is the name of its home-brewed programming language. Some companies prefer insider references that might appeal to elite customers. Steinway Musical Instrument’s (Stock Quote: LVB) stands for Led Zeppelin, Van Halen and Black Sabbath (um, then again, maybe it stands for Ludwig van Beethoven).

A Little Stock Ticker History
The history of stock tickers dates back to 1844, when the telegraph machine was introduced. That new technology allowed traders to transmit transactions in mere moments, instead of the several days it had previously taken. To make trades travel via telegraph even faster, Wall Street brokers began using shorthand symbols to save time. Soon stock tickers became pervasive, transmitting stock trades to not only investors, but to Wall Street investment houses, newspapers and to foreign bourses across the world.

Stock symbols are fairly easy to define. Each stock traded on global exchanges is identified by a short symbol. For example, the symbol for Ford Motor Company (Stock Quote: F) is just one letter. Similar abbreviations are used for stock options, mutual funds and many other securities.

Stock symbols are designated by one, two, or three or more letters by design. A stock symbol with three letters or less indicates the company trades on the New York or American stock exchanges. Tickers with four or five letters trade on the Nasdaq, Nasdaq Small Cap or OTC Bulletin Board markets. (A 2007 rule enables companies that move from Nasdaq to the New York Stock Exchange to keep their stock symbols, no matter how many letters they have.)

Understanding Stock Tables: An Example
When you check a stock symbol on the web, or in the decreasing number of newspapers that carry them, they’ll look something like this:

Friday, February 20, 2009 - XYZ Corporation

52 WEEKS/HI-LO - $47-$37
DIV - 2.30
VOL – 335
YLD - 5
P/E - 10
CLOSE - $39.50
CHANGE - +$1

What it All Means:

(52 WEEKS/HI-LO) 52-Week High and Low, the highest and lowest prices that a stock has traded at over the previous 52-weeks, or one year. (In this example the 52-week price range is $47 to $37.)

(SYM) Ticker Symbol. As cited above, the ticker symbol is the unique alphabetic “nickname” that identifies the company whose stock is traded on a given exchange. When searching for stock quotes stock quotes online, use the ticker symbol. Try it yourself in the upper right corner of MainStreet's homepage. (In this example the ticker is XYZ.)

(DIV) Dividend Per Share. DIV denotes the annual dividend payment per share. If the space beside the DIV is blank, the company isn’t handing out any dividends (usually listed as “0.00”). (In this example the dividend is 2.30.)

(VOL) Trading Volume. The trading volume indicates the total amount of shares traded that day. (In this example the trading volume is 33,500.)

(YLD) Dividend Yield. The percentage return of the stock’s dividend. The dividend yield is calculated as annual dividends per share, divided by price per share. (In this example the dividend yield is 5%.)

(P/E) Price/Earnings Ratio. The price-earnings ratio is formulated by dividing the stock price by earnings per share from the last four quarters. (In this example the P/E ratio is 10.)

(CLOSE) Daily Close. Often indicated as “price,” the close is the last trading price recorded for a given stock before the market closes. Note: There is no guarantee that the previous day’s close is the price you’ll get when you buy the stock before the next trading session. Stock prices are dynamic and change all the time, even after a trading session ends. The close is only a reference point for what Wall Street likes to refer to as an indicator of past performance. (In this example the stock closed at $39.50.)

(CHANGE) Net Change. This represents the stock’s price change from the previous trading session’s closing price. Most financial web sites use red ink to denote a falling price, and black ink to record a rise in the stock’s price. Hence the terms, “in the red” and “in the black.” (In this example the change in price is plus $1.)

Being a savvy investor means, among other things, knowing how the financial markets work. Consequently, being able to recognize and read a stock table makes you a much smarter investor.



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