Stock tables tell you more than just the current price of a given stock. They also provide context for that price, such as how much the price has gone up or down, where the current price fits into the stock's recent history and how much demand there is for the stock. Different tables vary in how much information they offer and the notations they use, but once you know what you're looking at, these numbers aren't hard to decipher.
Closing Price and Net Change
Every stock table tells you the most recent closing price -- the price of the stock when the last trading day ended. Right next to the closing price, you'll usually find the "net change." That's the difference between the closing price and the previous day's closing price. If a stock shows a net change of "0.05," that means its closing price is 5 cents higher than the previous day's close. A net change of "-1.14" indicates that the stock dropped $1.14 in price.
Highs and Lows
Most tables include a stock's 52-week highs and lows. These are the highest and lowest prices the stock traded at during the preceding 52-week period. The difference between the numbers gives you a sense of the stock's volatility -- how susceptible it has been to big price movements. Comparing the current price to the 52-week extremes also indicates whether the stock is riding high or has sunk fairly low in relation to its recent past. Some tables also include the daily extremes for a stock -- the highest and lowest prices during the past day's trading. Finally, some tables tell you the year-to-date change, often abbreviated "YTD Chg." This is how much the price has risen or fallen since Jan. 1, usually expressed as a percentage of the Jan. 1 price. This is a different time frame from the 52-week highs and lows.
Trading volume, often abbreviated "VOL," tells you how many shares of the company's stock traded during the previous day. These numbers may be expressed in terms of hundreds (you'd see something like "VOL 100s" in the table's column heading) or thousands ("VOL 1000s") of shares. A volume figure of "14765" under a "VOL 100s" heading would mean that 1,476,500 shares changed hands during the day.
Dividend Yields and P/E Ratios
Really detailed stock charts may also tell you the dividend yield and the price-to-earnings ratio, or "P/E." Dividend yield expresses the company's annual dividend as a percentage of the closing price. Say a company paid dividends of 52 cents a share in a given year, and the stock just closed at $45 a share. The dividend yield would be 0.52 divided by 45, or 1.156 percent. P/E ratio is an indicator of how much the company is making in profits relative to the stock price. You get it by dividing the current share price by the company's total earnings per share over the past four quarters. This is a backward-looking statistic; it doesn't necessarily tell you anything about a company's future earnings.
- The Wall Street Journal Guide to Understanding Money and Investing; Kenneth M. Morris and Virginia A. Morris; 2004
- New York Stock Exchange: How to Read Stock Tables
- Stock quotes image by Chad McDermott from Fotolia.com