We all used to recognize companies by their names but there are many other ways to identify a particular company. Every company needs a so-called “ticker symbol” in order to be tradable on a stock exchange. Apple Inc, an American IT giant is also known as “NASDAQ: AAPL” and Nestle SA, a Swiss conglomerate, is also known as “SWX: NESN”. First part of a ticker symbol often gets omitted so it's not uncommon to see words like “AAPL” and “NESN” used interchangeably with the actual names of various public companies, mutual funds, ETF's and other tradable assets.
In this article, we'll explain what those letters mean, why they exist, and how to read them.
What is a Ticker Symbol? Example and Explanation
Every listed security has its unique ticker symbol.
It might seem odd that the stock exchanges and financial apps might not even show you the real names of the companies behind their tickers, even when they show you the contents of your own portfolio. A list of your assets will often be presented as a list of their ticker symbols. The first part of a ticker symbol is used to identify an exchange it's traded on and the second part of a ticker identifies a particular asset listed on that exchange.
For instance, if you want to buy some shares of the Volkswagen Group, a German car manufacturer, you'd have to search for its ticker symbol. There are many, actually, but one of them is “ETR:VOW3".
“ETR” identifies the stock exchange it's listed on. In this case, it's “XETRA” - Deutsche Börse Xetra, and “VOW3” means a very specific kind of shares - Volkswagen AG Preference Shares (i.e. preferred shares). Volkswagen has another ticker for different classes of shares: FRA: VOW. They are traded on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange and those shares are common (not preferred).
You can see why having a ticker symbol is necessary: one company may list several kinds of assets and different assets might be valued differently.
Technically speaking, the fact that a particular market security is traded on a foreign stock exchange doesn't matter much because in today's digital and integrated world a trader or an investor can buy almost any kind of market security instantly from any place in the world. It's all true but there are many cases when location still plays a certain role.
When a company goes public, it has to choose a stock exchange that would list its shares and make them accessible to the public.
It's possible to have two or more IPOs but it's a long and expensive process so a single company rarely goes public on many stock exchanges. Different stock exchanges may have different regulations, depending on the laws of their countries. Also, they have different schedule (opening and closing times), different trading volume, and the same class of shares of the same company may even be traded in different currencies, depending on the exchange.
The reason such short identifiers are still used is mainly historical.
Stock exchanges weren't always digital, before that all prices were tracked and printed by machines that used ticker tape.
Telegraphic printing systems were invented in 1846 by Royal Earl House and they worked in a similar way as the modern computer printer. So, to speed up the printing process the names of the traded and tracked shares have to be as short as possible.
The word “ticker” comes from the sound those machines made while printing, each tick was one rotation of the wheel and to print just one letter an early version of this machine had to turn 15 times.
Those old ticker machines determined the speed with which stock prices would come out, and even today traded market securities often appear in a line where one following another on a computer screen, the same way as those machines would print them, but much faster.
Ticker machines were replaced by computer networks in the 1960s.
The modern letter-only ticker symbols system in the U.S was developed by Standard & Poor's (S&P).
E, LF, and Other Red Flags
Occasionally, you may see two unique endings of the ticker symbols:
- “E” on the Nasdaq Stock Market
- “LF” on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE)
If a company failed to provide a report to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on time, it doesn't always get immediately unlisted from the market, but its ticker will have a warning at the end to notify traders and investors of this fact.
For example, if Alphabet Inc Class A (Google), god forbid, fails to report to the SEC when required, its ticker ironically will be:
When its regular ticker is “NASDAQ: GOOGL”, without the “E” letter at the end.
When trading on Nasdaq, listed security can have other warning endings as described by thestreet.com:
- C: Company doesn't meet the stock exchange's listing requirements
- E: Missing one or more SEC filings
- L: Miscellaneous. This could have a wide variety of meanings that investors would need to be aware of
- Q: Company has declared bankruptcy
- V: Shares are preparing to go through a corporate action plan that could impact shareholders
- Z: Miscellaneous. Like the letter L, this could have a wide variety of meanings that are important to be aware of
Ticker Symbol Examples
Some stock exchanges like NYSE prefer to have shorter ticker symbols, and some could have longer ones.
Also, sometimes those symbols consist of numbers:
- BAC (Bank of America)
- 7203 (Toyota Motor)
- AMZN (Amazon.com)
- SBUX (Starbucks)
- TD (Toronto-Dominion Bank)
There have been at least 3,000 publicly traded companies only in the U.S. in 2017, according to the WSJ, and there are more than 500,000 listed companies around the world, each of them has its unique identifier.
The List Of Stock Exchanges
Here are some world-famous and big stock exchanges which abbreviations you may encounter:
- NYSE: New York Stock Exchange
- JPX: Japan Exchange Group
- SSE: Shanghai Stock Exchange
- SEHK & HKEX: Hong Kong Stock Exchange
- ENX: Euronext
- LSE: London Stock Exchange Group
- SZSE: Shenzhen Stock Exchange
- TSX & TMX: Toronto Stock Exchange
- BSE: Bombay Stock Exchange
- ASX: Australian Securities Exchange
- ETR: Deutsche Börse
- SIX: Swiss Exchange
- KRX: Korea Exchange
- Nasdaq Nordic Exchanges (Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, Iceland)
- TWSE: Taiwan Stock Exchange
- B3: Brazil Stock Exchange
- JSE: Johannesburg Stock Exchange
There are other smaller stock exchanges in the world but they are less common to run into.
Stock exchange symbols shouldn't be confused with indexes (DAX, DOW JONES, etc.) that are based on some stocks traded there.