Each publicly traded company that is listed on a stock exchange has a “ticker symbol” to identify it. These stock-symbol abbreviations consist mainly of letters, though in some cases may include a number or a hyphen. When a stock price quote is wanted on an exchange other than the NYSE or Nasdaq the stock's letters may be followed a hyphen and a letter to identify the exchange. Mutual fund stock symbols can be alphanumeric.
Before the advent of high-tech computers and the Internet, real-time stock prices were printed on a “ticker tape” on a ticker-tape machine. Originally, a company might have a different ticker symbol depending on the stock exchange on which it was traded. Standard & Poor’s is credited for eventually creating a national standard. Some examples of ticker symbols and the companies they represent are MSFT for Microsoft, WMT for Walmart, F for the Ford Motor Company and KO for Coca-Cola. Some ticker symbols are clever and help identify the company or product they are known for, such as MMM for the 3M Company, and BUD, which was used for Anheuser-Busch, the makers of Budweiser, until the company was acquired in 2008.
Identifying the Stock Exchange
It was once easy to tell if a stock was listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) or the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations exchange (Nasdaq). Stock symbols on the NYSE consisted of one, two or three letters, while Nasdaq stocks had four or five letters. This standard, however, has recently changed, and this test can no longer be used. You will find four-letter stock symbols on the NYSE today.
Stock Symbols With Numbers
Mutual fund stock-ticker symbols can include numbers as part of identifying the fund. Mutual funds represent a portfolio of various stocks. Investors pool their money, and an investment company manages the stocks in the fund’s portfolio.
Stock Symbols With Hyphens
While the NYSE and NASDAQ are the most well-known stock exchanges, there are other exchanges in the U.S. that conduct trades. When using an online stock-quoting service, you can get a price quote from a particular exchange by following the stock symbol with a hyphen and a letter which identifies one of the five exchanges. The exchange codes are: B (Boston), P (Pacific), X (Philadelphia), M (Midwest or Chicago) and C (Cincinnati) (Reference #1 NYSE).
You may also see a hyphen used in stock symbols indicating “preferred stock”. Preferred stockholders have a higher claim on the earnings and assets of a corporation than do holders of “common stock.” Unfortunately, preferred-stock ticker symbols are not universal, and brokerages use different designations for preferred stock. The NYSE once used a hyphen in designating preferred stocks, but that practice has been abandoned.
Dan Keen is the publisher and editor of a county newspaper in New Jersey. For over 30 years he has written books and magazine articles for such publishers as McGraw-Hill. Keen holds a degree in electronics, was chief engineer for two radio stations and taught computer science at Stockton State College.