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Stock Quotes: How to Read — and Use — Them

Stock Quotes: How to Read — and Use — Them

axp_-1643-083-532-_-american-express-co-yahoo-finance

    Reading a stock quote can seem like an exercise in black magic: even if you have a good idea of what the many numbers associated with trading a stock mean, making use of them can be harder. Even seasoned traders have to stop and think about what certain combinations of numbers can mean, especially if they’re trying to decide which way a stock is going to go in the future. My trading is limited to a handful of investments right now, but I’ve created a cheat sheet for understanding what the various parts of a stock quote mean — and how they fit together.

    The Layout

    Stock quotes follow a similar format whether you’re using Yahoo! Finance (where the above stock quote came from) or you’ve gone old-school and picked up the morning paper: certain pieces of information are always included. At the top of the quote is the name of the company being traded — in this case, American Express — as well as the stock’s ticker symbol. Here, the ticker symbol reads “NYSE: AXP,” indicating that the stock, AXP, is traded on the New York Stock Exchange. There are quite a few stock exchanges that a stock could be traded on: major cities like Tokyo and London have their own exchanges, as do certain countries, like Australia and Switzerland. Wikipedia has a list of the major stock exchanges, along with in-depth information about each one.

    The numbers making up a stock quote are divided into two columns: the left-hand column focuses more on the basic facts while the right hand side reflects a little more analysis.

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    Last Trade

    Whenever you want to know the current price of a stock, you want to know the last trade. This number reflects the last price that a single share of this particular stock sold at. It can change in an instant: it’s set by buyers and sellers trading the stock for whatever they think it’s worth right now.

    Trade Time

    Knowing the last trade price may not be so useful if that price is actually out of date. The trade time tells you whether you should really rely on that last trade price — it’s the time that last trade took place — or if you should go out and get an update. It’s common for a trade time to lag a few minutes behind your actual time, especially online.

    Change

    Change just indicates the difference between what the last trade price is and what the price before that was. I don’t find this a particularly useful indicator of a stock’s performance, as it only tells you what a stock did in the last two minutes and ignores the entire history of the company beyond that.

    Prev. Close

    Another limited indicator of a stock’s performance, the previous close is the price that the last share of stock sold yesterday (or the last day of trading) sold at. It’s only one sale in a 24-hour period, limiting how big of a picture it can provide you.

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    Open

    The open is the price of the first share of stock sold today.

    Bid & Ask

    It’s common to see both the bid and ask sections of a stock quote blank, or listed as ‘N/A’. A bid is the highest price that a principle brokerage firm has announced it’s willing to pay for a share of a specific stock at a specific time. The ask is the opposite: it’s the lowest price that a firm has said it’s willing to sell a particular stock at.

    1y Target Est

    The one-year target estimate is an analyst’s projection of what the price for a single share of this stock one year from today. But because of all the variables in the market, these projections can vary extremely between analysts. I wouldn’t bet the house on a one-year target estimate.

    Day’s Range

    Starting the right-hand side of the stock quote is the day’s range. Rather than relying on a single share to give you an idea of what a stock is doing now, the day’s range gives you the range that a stock’s price has varied by over the course of the day.

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    52wk Range

    The 52 week range is practically the same as the day’s range: it’s just the range of prices a stock has sold for over the course of the last year. In a volatile market like we’re in now, the day’s range can actually offer better information than the 52 week range because drops and rallies can make it harder to tell what a realistic range for a given stock looks like.

    Volume

    A stock’s volume reflects the total number of shares of that stock that have been traded throughout a single day. If a stock is particularly active, it’s worth checking into why: bad news could have lead investors to unload a particular stock, while good news could send every investor looking for a few shares.

    Avg Vol (3m)

    The average volume over the past three months of a stock is often fairly similar to the stock’s volume over the past day. Knowing the average volume can help you decide when the daily volume is active enough to warrant notice.

    Market Cap

    Market capitalization estimates the total dollar value of the company who’s stock is being traded. It’s determined by multiplying the total number of shares by the last trade.

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    P/E

    Edited: The price to earnings ratio reflects the relationship between the price per share and the income earned per share by the company in which the shares are held. A higher P/E points to a more expensive stock, relatively speaking, because an investor pays more per unit of income.

    EPS

    Earnings per share is the amount of money that you would have earned if you purchased a share of this stock last quarter and sold it today. Right now, many stocks’ EPS are looking grim: it’s a useful indicator of how a stock will do if you plan to sell it in the short term, but if you’re planning to hold it long-term, the EPS is less of a concern.

    Div & Yield

    If you’re looking to turn a profit on stocks, the dividend and yield are probably the first places you look. The dividend is the payment the company pays to shareholders based on its profits. The yield is the dividend expressed as a percentage of the price per share. And while a high dividend is good, an extremely high yield definitely isn’t: extremely high yields can point to a company in some financial trouble.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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