Tracking your investments

You don’t have to wonder what’s happening with stocks you own or may buy. Data is plentiful and easy to find.

If you want current price and performance information about stocks in general or one stock in particular, you can find it updated in real time online, on news and research-company websites, and on the issuing company’s site.

Going to the source

One of the most up-to-date sources for timely trading information about a particular stock is the issuing company’s website. While you may have to drill down from the home page to find these details, a good bet is to look for the sections called investor services or financial information. You’ll often find charts and graphs illustrating price movements as well as numbers indicating recent highs and lows, closing prices, net change, and volume.

Some companies also provide a wealth of other information, including P/E and other valuation ratios, dividend yield, market capitalization, per-share data, and debt-to-equity ratios.

You can also sign up on a number of news and financial sites to track, through email updates, the trading activity of a portfolio of stocks, either those you already own or those you’re interested in following.

Total return

Finding total return, or the sum of the dividends you received plus the change in a stock’s value, helps you evaluate what that stock has contributed to your portfolio. Once you’ve determined that amount from your records, you can calculate percent return by dividing total return by the amount you invested. This allows you to compare returns on different securities. If you’ve owned the stock for more than a year, you can find annual percent return by dividing percent return by the appropriate number of years.

What’s in a name?

Every listed corporation has a symbol of one to five letters that’s used to identify it. No two symbols are alike. There is a system though: Companies listed on the NYSE generally have a one-, two - , or three-letter symbol. Those listed on Nasdaq have four or five letters.

Some symbols are easy to connect to their companies, like GE for General Electric or AAPL for Apple. Others may be harder to connect, perhaps because the most obvious abbreviation already denotes a different company. Other times, the symbol makes a comment about the company, like DNA for the biotechnology firm Genentech.

Terms to Know

Earnings per share (EPS) is the net income over the past four quarters divided by the number of outstanding shares. EPS provides a sense of how profitable the company is. You can calculate what percentage of net earnings the company is paying in dividends by dividing the annual dividend by the EPS.

Dividend and yield tell you the amount of the dividend paid in the most recent quarter and the annual dividend as a percentage of the current price. Typically the annual dividend is paid in four installments during the year. Percent yield lets you compare your earnings on a stock with earnings on other investments. When there’s no dividend, there’s no yield.

Volume refers to the number of shares traded during the previous trading day. The average volume for the past 30 days may also be provided. Volume indicates how actively the stock is being traded though not whether the price is moving up or down.

Price-to-earnings ratio (P/E) shows the relationship between a stocks’ prices and the company’s earnings for the last four quarters. It’s figured by dividing the current price per share by the earnings per share – a number that’s not provided as a separate piece of information. What’s more relevant than one company’s standalone P/E, however, is how it compares with the average P/E for all of the stocks in the major indexes where the company is a component.

Stock analysts may calculate a forward P/E using the two most recent quarters of past performance and the earnings they expect for the next two.

Market capitalization (Mkt cap) is the current market value of the company, calculated by multiplying the stock price times the number of outstanding shares. If the number of shares is provided, as they may be, you can double check the math.

Range

You can form an impression about how volatile a stock’s price has been by looking at the range between highest and lowest prices over the past 52 weeks. The greater that difference, on a percentage basis, the more volatile the price. A year-to-date (YTD) percentage change will tell you how much of the change has occurred since January 1.

If you compare the current price to the 52-week highs and lows, you can also determine whether the stock is tracking closer to its top or bottom. The prices of stocks that pay dividends tend to be less volatile than the prices of stocks with no dividends.

 

 

 

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