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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    Knowing the last trade price may not be so useful if that price is actually out of date.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 August 16, 2018

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    The power of habit

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to make a reminder works for you

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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