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Understanding Stock Quotes

What Newspaper and Online Quotes Can Tell Us

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Stockmarket data in newspaper, close-up (blue toned)
Gregor Schuster/ Photographer's Choice/ Getty Images
Investing is much more than a numbers game, but you can’t get very far from numbers if want to understand what’s going on in the market or with your stock.

The stock market quote, which you can find in the daily newspaper or online, is the most basic collection of numbers that providers update on a regular basis.

You can follow the quote during the trading day and watch it change from minute to minute or second to second, depending on your level of interest.

Most investors are interested in “what did my stock do today” kind of information and they can get that information in the newspaper the next morning or online.

What do the Numbers Mean?

However, what do all those columns of numbers mean? You may understand some or most of them, however there may be others that stump you.

Here is a review of the common numbers and what they mean as you might find them in the newspaper and online. For the newspaper example, I am using the information as reported in the Wall Street Journal. Your local newspaper may not include all of this information; however, what they do include should follow these examples.

I will cover the New York Stock Exchange and the NASDAQ markets. Both markets report results the same way in the WSJ.

Newspaper Quotes

The WSJ format is easy to follow. Here are the columns and what they mean:
  • YTD % CHG – Year-to-Date Percentage Change. This number is the stock price percentage change for the calendar year. The percentage is adjusted for stock splits and dividends over 10 percent.
  • 52-week HI & LO – These two numbers record the highest and lowest price the stock traded at during the last 52-week period, but does not include the previous trading day. The numbers may be adjusted for stock payouts or large dividends.
  • Stock(SYM) – The stock name, often abbreviated, and the stock symbol are listed. The symbol is bold face in the WSJ, but many newspapers either don’t include the symbol or don’t boldface it.
  • DIV – Dividend/Distribution rates. Unless noted in a footnote this reflects the annual dividend based on the last regular disbursement.
  • Yield % - The yield percentage are the dividends or other disbursements paid to stockholders as a percentage of the stock’s price.
  • PE – The Price to Earnings Ratio or PE is the diluted per-share earnings divided by the closing price.
  • VOL 100s – Sales volume is expressed with two zeros missing. For example, if the number reported is 1959, that means sales volume for that stock was 195,900 for the day. An “f” indicates four zeros are missing. These results are unofficial.
  • CLOSE – CLOSE is the last price the stock traded at that day. It does not mean that is the price the stock will open at the next day.
  • NET CHANGE – The net change is calculated from the previous day’s close, so you are comparing what the stock closed at today to what it closed at yesterday.
  • Footnotes – You may notice a number of footnotes throughout the listings. These point out any number of extraordinary circumstances, such as new highs or lows, first day of trading, unusual dividend, and so forth.

Your local newspaper may not carry all of these headings, but you can find most of the information there. For up-to-date information, online is the way to go.

Quotes Online

The Internet offers a wealth of information that is quick and convenient. Stock quotes are easy to get from a number of sources.

In addition to the information above, you can get much more, which we’ll cover in another article. However, the major difference in looking at “live” information on the Internet during trading hours and reading about it the next day in the newspaper is that it changes constantly.

You can follow your stock through out the day, although you should be aware that the quotes you see on most free Internet sites are delayed. Data providers delay NASDAQ quotes 15 minutes and NYSE quotes 20 minutes.

They do this so they can sell truly live quotes at a premium. Some paid Web sites include live quotes as part of their package.

Just remember, it may be dangerous to trade on Internet quotes, especially in a fast moving market, because you will be behind the action and could enter a trade that was going the opposite way of the market.

Conclusion

Stock quotes, whether from a newspaper or online, offer a wealth of information if you understand what they mean.

Other Articles in This Series

Trading Basics

How Stock Prices Are Set

Buying High, Selling Low

Understanding Stock Quotes

Understanding Bid & Ask Prices

Understanding Stock Orders

Using Trailing Stops to Protect Stock Profits

Understanding Stop Loss Orders

Market Specialists Make NYSE Work

Market Makers Keep Nasdaq Humming

Don't be a Victim of Trading Scams

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