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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    Knowing the last trade price may not be so useful if that price is actually out of date.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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    Last Updated on September 10, 2019

    How to Master the Art of Prioritization

    How to Master the Art of Prioritization

    Do you know that prioritization is an art? It is an art that will lead you to success in whatever area that matters to you.

    By prioritization, I’m not talking so much about assigning tasks, but deciding which will take chronological priority in your day—figuring out which tasks you’ll do first, and which you’ll leave to last.

    Effective Prioritization

    There are two approaches to “prioritizing” the tasks in your to-do list that I see fairly often:

    Approach #1 Tackling the Biggest Tasks First and Getting Them out of the Way

    The idea is that by tackling them first, you deal with the pressure and anxiety that builds up and prevents you from getting anything done—whether we’re talking about big or small tasks. Leo Babauta is a proponent of this Big Rocks method.[1]

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    Approach #2 Tackling the Tasks You Can Get Done Quickly and Easily, with Minimal Effort

    Proponents of this method believe that by tackling the small fries first, you’ll have less noise distracting you from the periphery of your consciousness.

    If you believe in getting your email read and responded to, making phone calls and getting Google Reader zeroed before you dive into the high-yield work, you’re a proponent of this method. I suppose you could say Getting Things Done (GTD) encourages this sort of method, since the methodology advises followers to tackle tasks that can be completed within two minutes, right there and then.

    Figure out Your Approach for Prioritization

    My own approach is perhaps a mixture of the two.

    I’ll write out my daily task list and draw little priority stars next to the three items I need to get done that day. They don’t need to be big tasks, but nine times out of ten, they are.

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    Smaller tasks are rarely important enough to warrant a star in the first place; I can always get away without even checking my inbox until the next day if I’m swamped, and the people who need to get in touch with me super quickly know how.

    But I’m not recommending my system of prioritization to you. I’m also not saying that mine is better than Leo’s Big Rocks method, and I’m not saying it’s better than the “if it can be done quickly, do it first” method either.

    The thing with prioritization is that knowing when to do what relies very much on you and the way you work. Some people need to get some small work done to find a sense of accomplishment and clarity that allows them to focus on and tackle bigger items. Others need to deal with the big tasks or they’ll get caught up in the busywork of the day and never move on, especially when that Google Reader count just refuses to get zeroed (personally, I recommend the Mark All As Read button—I use it most days!).

    I’m in between, because my own patterns can be all over the place. Some days I will be ready to rip into massive projects at 7AM. Other times I’ll feel the need to zero every inbox I have and clean up the papers on my desk before I can focus on anything serious. I also know that my peak, efficient working time doesn’t come at 11AM or 3PM or some specific time like it does for many people, but I have several peaks divided by a few troughs. I can feel what’s coming on when and try to keep my schedule liquid enough that I can adapt.

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    That’s why I use a starred task list system rather than a scheduled task list. It allows me to trust myself (something that I suppose takes a certain amount of discipline) and achieve peak efficiency by blowing with the winds. If I fight the peaks and troughs, I’ll get less done; but if I do certain kinds of work in each period of the day as they come, I’ll get more done than most others in a similar line of work.

    You may not be able to trust yourself to that extent without falling into the busywork trap. You may not be able to tackle big tasks first thing in the morning without feeling like you’re pushing against an invisible brick wall that won’t budge. You might not be able to deal with small tasks before the big tasks without feeling pangs of guilt and urgency.

    My point is:

    The prioritization systems themselves don’t matter. They’re all pretty good for a group of people, not least of all to the people who espouse them because they use them and find them effective.

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    What matters is that you don’t fall for one set of dogma (and I’m not saying Leo Babauta or David Allen preach these things as dogma, but sometimes their proponents do) until you’ve tried the systems extensively, and found which method of chronological prioritization works for you.

    And if the system you already use works great, then there’s no need to bother trying others—in the world of personal productivity, it’s too easy to mess with something that works and find yourself unable to get back into your former groove.

    “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

    In truth, this principle applies to all sorts of personal productivity issues, though it’s important to know which issues it applies to.

    If you thought multitasking worked well for you each day and I’d have to contend that you are wrong—multitasking is a universal myth in my books! But if you find yourself prioritizing tasks that never get done, you might need to reconsider which of the above approaches you’re using and change to a system that is more personally effective.

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    Featured photo credit: Sabri Tuzcu via unsplash.com

    Reference

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