Subject: Exchanges - Ticker Tape Terminology

Last-Revised: 19 Sep 1999
Contributed-By: Keith Brewster, Norbert Schlenker, Richard Sauers (rsauers at enter.net), Art Kamlet (artkamlet at aol.com)

Every stock traded on the world's stock exchanges is identified by a short symbol. For example, the symbol for AT&T is just T. These symbols date from the days when stock trades were reported on a ticker tape. Ticker symbols are still used today as brief, unambiguous identifiers for stocks. Similar abbreviations are used for stock options and many other securities.

Ticker symbols get reused on different exchanges, so you'll sometimes see a qualification ahead of the ticker symbol. For example, the symbol "C:A" refers to a company traded on one of the Canadian exchanges (Toronto, to be exact) with the symbol A. The stock quote services on the web usually understand this notation. It's probably no surprise that the North American-centric services pretty much assume that anything unqualified is traded on a U.S. exchange; I've found that they do not accept something like "NYSE:T" even though they perhaps should.

A few stock ticker symbols include a suffix, which seems to differentiate among a company's various classes of common stock.

Somem of the quote services allow you to enter the ticker and suffix all run together, while others require you to enter a dot between the ticker and the suffix. For an example, try AKO, classes A and B.

Now that you understand a bit about the ticker symbol, there's some more explanation required to understand what appears on the "ticker tape" such as those shown on CNN or CNBC.

    Ticker tape says:	    Translation (but see below):
            NIKE68 1/2            100 shares sold at 68 1/2
         10sNIKE68 1/2           1000 shares sold at   "
     10.000sNIKE68 1/2          10000 shares sold at   "

The extra zeroes for the big trades are to make them stand out. All trades on CNN and CNBC are delayed by 15 minutes. CNBC once advertised a "ticker guide pamphlet, free for the asking", back when they merged with FNN. It also has explanations for the futures they show. NBC Cable offers a brief guide to the ticker contents: http://www.nbccableinfo.com/insidenbccable/networks/cnbc/prog/tickerguide.html

However, the first translation is not necessarily correct. CNBC has a dynamic maximum size for transactions that are displayed this way. Depending on how busy things are at any particular time, the maximum varies from 100 to 5000 shares. You can figure out the current maximum by watching carefully for about five minutes. If the smallest number of shares you see in the second format is "10s" for any traded security, then the first form can mean anything from 100 to 900 shares. If the smallest you see is "50s" (which is pretty common), the first form means anything between 100 and 4900 shares.

Note that at busy times, a broker's ticker drops the volume figure and then everything but the last dollar digit (e.g. on a busy day, a trade of 25,000 IBM at 68 3/4 shows only as "IBM 8 3/4" on a broker's ticker). That never happens on CNBC, so I don't know how they can keep up with all trades without "forgetting" a few.

NASDAQ uses a "fifth letter" identifier in its ticker symbols. Four letter symbols, and five letter symbols in instances of multiple issues listed by the same company, are listed in newspapers and carried on the ticker screen by CNBC and CNN. These symbols are required to retrieve quotes from quote servers.

Here's the complete list of the NASDAQ fifth-letter identifiers with brief descriptions:

SymbolMeaning
A Class A
B Class B
C exempt from NASDAQ listing qualifications for limited period
D new issue
E delinquent in required SEC filings
F foreign
G First convertible bond
H Second convertible bond (same company)
I Third convertible bond (same company)
J Voting
K Nonvoting
L misc situations, including second class units, third class warrants, or sixth class preferred stock
M Fourth class preferred (same company)
N Third class preferred (same company)
O Second class preferred (same company)
P First class preferred (same company)
Q in bankruptcy proceedings
R Rights
S Shares of beneficial interest
T with warrants or rights
U Units
V When issued and when distributed
W Warrants
X mutual fund
Y American Depositary Receipts
Z misc situations, including second class of warrants, fifth class preferred stock or any unit, receipt or certificate representing a limited partnership interest.

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