USA TODAY's stock listings explained

Q: I'm a young investor curious about how to read the stock quotes that are printed in USA TODAY. Any tips?

A: Reading stock quotes in the newspaper is a ritual missed by many investors.

Sure, you can always look up stock quotes by punching ticker symbols into the Get a Quote box at USATODAY.com's Money section. For checking quotes quickly and tracking your portfolio, online services like the ones at money.usatoday.com are handy.

But, there's something satisfying, albeit retro, about flipping through the pages of stock quotes printed in the back of the Money section of USA TODAY. The exercise can be helpful, as you might notice stocks you'd not think of otherwise.

While the stock tables in a newspaper might look intimating, they are easy to read once you understand how things are organized. There are also mutual fund listings, but we'll focus on the stocks.

USA TODAY's stock listings show the most active stocks that traded the previous day. They are separated into two divisions. Stocks that trade on the New York Stock Exchange are listed under the heading NYSE. Stocks that trade on the Nasdaq stock market and American Stock Exchange are listed under the heading Nasdaq & AMEX.

Within each list, stocks are listed alphabetically using a company name abbreviation devised by the Associated Press. There are four columns of information about each stock. The first column, "High," lists the stock's highest price the past 52-weeks. The next column, "Low," lists the stock's lowest price the past 52 weeks. To the right of the name, "Last" is the stock's closing price, or the price at which it ended the previous day. Finally, "Change" shows that day's rise or fall from the previous day's close.

If the stock's information is printed in bold type, that means the stock rose or fell 5% or more.

Additional information for some stocks appears as footnotes after the company name. For instance, the letters "lf" appear next to the listing of any company that has missed a deadline for filing regulatory documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission. There's a key to all these symbols in the "Guide to our tables" box at the beginning of the listings, on the newspaper's main Markets data page.

I encourage you to check out that page and USA TODAY's innovative Market Trends stock tracking page that appears in the newspaper every Monday. You'll find a wealth of information about the markets, including which industries are doing the best or worst. That feature, called Sector Watch, is also available online Monday's at money.usatoday.com.

Matt Krantz is a financial markets reporter at USA TODAY and author of Investing Online for Dummies. He answers a different reader question every weekday in his Ask Matt column at money.usatoday.com. To submit a question, e-mail Matt at mkrantz@usatoday.com. Click here to see previous Ask Matt columns.

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