Stock Ticker Guide

Ticker Tape Old and New

Ticker tape is a long stream of thin tape produced by a ticker tape machine that provides up-to-the-minute financial information about stock activity and transactions. Anyone who has watched a movie about Wall Street can well envision floors covered with reams of ticker tape and messenger boys running between the trading floor and brokers' offices, ticker tape in hand.

Today's ticker tape is largely electronic and appears as a running or streaming electronic banner at the bottom of computer and TV screens - for example, on financial news websites or on networks such as CNBC. Ticker tapes provide real-time reports about stock trades, prices, and volumes as they occur. Hence the stock trader expressions "watch the tape," "don't fight the tape," and "tape watcher" are still widely used today.

The term "stock ticker" originated when printing on early stock price machines sounded like ticking. Likewise, price movements were called "ticks," a term still used today that means an upward or downward movement in a stock.

Stock Ticker Symbols

Each reported transaction on a stock ticker includes a stock market ticker symbol. A ticker symbol is a series of letters used to identify a stock, and each individual stock carries a distinct symbol. The ticker symbol also identifies upon which exchange the stock trades. For example, ticker symbols comprised of one or two letters trade on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE); ticker symbols comprised of three letters trade on the American Stock Exchange; four-letter symbols trade on the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotation system (NASDAQ). Mutual fund tickers are identified with an "X."

The ticker symbol is often is a logical abbreviation for the company, such as Q for Qwest and MSFT for Microsoft, or a creative abbreviation such as WAG for Walgreen's and KO for Coca-Cola.

Ticker Symbol History

Stock ticker symbols originated to conserve space and to save money on telegraphs, the original means by which stock market trade information was conveyed in the 1800s. Companies saved money by sending as few letters as possible. When the ticker machine emerged and stock information was printed upon narrow strips of ticker tape, ticker symbols continued as a means of conserving space. Therefore ticker symbols with the fewest number of letters represent the oldest companies that initially traded on the NYSE back in the 1800s.

Today, certain companies are easily identified with their familiar ticker symbols. In fact, in some cases the company abbreviation is even more popular than its original name. For example, few people in the general public know that IBM is actually the abbreviated ticker symbol for 'International Business Machines.'

More Ticker Tape Information

Besides the stock ticker symbol, every reported transaction on a stock ticker includes the 'last trade share volume, ' which is the number of shares that were bought and sold at the most recent trade for that stock (appearing as a string of numbers following the ticker symbol), and the 'last trade share price,' which appears after the @ symbol on the ticker tape. This quote is followed by a plus or minus sign, indicating the amount of money a stock has increased or decreased since the close of the previous trade.