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How to Read Stock Quotes - Both Online and in the Newspaper

Aug 17, 2007
There are several different kinds of stock quotes. Technically, each stock has a set of quotes at any given time. These are the bid price and the ask price. More commonly, quotes are listed as the "last price," meaning the last price at which the stock was traded.

In the past, it was very difficult to find quotes. Many small investors had to hunt down a Wall Street Journal or New York Times business section in order to see how their investments were doing. Now, quotes are easy to find. This article is intended to help people find and read quotes, both in the newspaper and on the internet.

But First... Back to the Bid and Ask - Dual Stock Quotes

As previously mentioned, each stock has a pair of quotes, the bid and ask. This is because shares of stock aren't really traded between individuals, they go through intermediaries known as market makers or specialists.

These Wall Street professionals profit by small differences in the bid and ask, which is known as the "spread." For example, a stock with a "last" price of $26.55 might have a bid of $26.52 and an ask of $26.58 - the bid is the price the market maker is willing to pay for the stock, and the ask is how much they're willing to sell it for.

Where to Find Stock Quotes Online

Quotes are easy to find online. Yahoo! Finance, MSN Money, TheStreet.com, Smartmoney.com, and a slew of other sites provide nearly up-to-the-minute quotes.

It used to be that you had to wait until the following day's newspaper in order to get the quotes, but now sites like these make them available with only a 20 minute delay. In order to get real-time quotes, you'll have to subscribe to a special service.

Information Contained in Online Stock Quotes

Although the term "quotes" technically refers only to the trading price of a stock, people often use it to refer to a broader set of information.

Typically, this includes the stock's change for the day (difference between the current price and the previous day's closing price), the day's range (low and high prices of the day), the 52-week range (the low and high prices for the year), the volume (number of shares traded so far that day), the average volume (the number of shares traded on an average day), market capitalization (total value of all the shares combined), EPS (earnings-per-share), P/E ratio (current price of the stock divided by its EPS), and dividend yield (annual divided divided by current price of the stock).

How to Read Quotes in The Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal is probably the most classic source for quotes. A typical quote looks like this:

27.03 18.83 HrtldFnlUSA .36 1.5 19 z16164 24.75 -1.22

What does it all mean?

Well, looking at the top of the column, we can see that the numbers are, in order, the 52-week high, 52-week low, the stock's name, dividend, dividend yield (1.5 means 1.5 percent), P/E ratio, volume (the "z" means "actual volume" - for most stocks, you have the multiply the number by 100), the closing price, and the net change from the previous day's closing price.

In this case, "HrtldFnlUSA" is "Heartland Financial USA." While some papers and websites prefer to use a stock's ticker symbol, The Wall Street Journal uses the company's entire name, if it can fit.

Other good sources for quotes include the New York Times, Investor's Business Daily, and USA Today. For more in-depth information, consider the weekly newspaper, Baron's.
About the Author
William Smith the author provides additional financial information on many subjects as well as the secret to his success in the market along with 5 Free power stock picks emailed daily so grab your Free subscription on his website at Stock Quotes (All is Free)
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