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Stock Answers:
Finding Historical Stock Prices

by Nell Ingalls, January 1999; revised November 2002 Image of a stock certificate

With the New Year holiday past, many people start to focus on a forthcoming national observance: tax return day, April 15. Along with requests for tax forms come requests for stock prices. Any time of year, people settling estates often need stock prices for dates in the past. Here's a quick rundown of places to look.

Things to Know
Web Sites
Daily Stock Price Record
In the Ballpark
Unlisted Stocks
If You Can't Find It
Fractions or Decimals?
Your Strategy
For Further Information

Things to Know
Before you start, it helps to know the ticker symbol and the exchange on which the stock is traded. Business directories commonly give this information. When using Web sources, you may or may not need to know on which exchange a stock was traded; in printed sources, you usually do.

Also determine whether you are looking for a preferred stock. Preferred issues have different ticker symbols or newspaper abbreviations. Their prices are reported in printed sources sometimes alongside those of the common stock and sometimes in separate tables.

Web Sites
Free Web sites are the quickest place to search for historical stock prices. If you don't know the ticker symbol, most sites let you search by company name. Coverage differs in depth and format, so if one doesn't have the date or data you need, try another.

BigCharts SM gives closing prices for all stocks on the New York, American, NASDAQ, and over-the-counter exchanges, some Canadian exchanges, and all NASDAQ quoted mutual funds. Its product features says it has "exact and split-adjusted stock price information and split adjustment factors as far back as January 1985," but we found data for some companies back to January 1970.

From the home page or Quotes page of Silicon Investor, enter a ticker symbol or company name. That leads to the page from which to search for historical prices. The earliest date for which we found data was January 2, 1990.

Yahoo! Finance offers Historical Quotes in daily, weekly, or monthly increments. We found daily quotes for IBM going back to 1962 but, according to the site, prices for most issues are from 1970 or later. Yahoo! Finance also includes dividends, classes of stock and preferred issues, stocks traded OTC or on foreign exchanges, stocks reported in the Pink Sheets, mutual funds, and corporate bonds. See Quotes Help for details.

Some companies may post historical stock prices on their own Web sites, as AT&T has done back to September 4, 1901. Or they may give information via a toll-free phone number.

When using a Web-based source, determine whether the price you find has been adjusted for subsequent stock splits. Printed sources obviously don't reflect splits until they happen.

Daily Stock Price Record
If you can't find a price on a Web site, a printed source may have what you need. Many librarians remember shelf after shelf of the Daily Stock Price Record, formerly called the ISL Daily Stock Price Index. It reprints the high, low, and closing prices of stocks traded on the major exchanges, and the NASDAQ series also contains bid and asked prices for mutual funds.

Each volume contains prices for a calendar quarter, which is especially convenient when the date in question fell on a weekend or other non-trading day. The Daily Stock Price Record for the New York Stock Exchange goes back to 1961; the American, to 1962; Over-the-Counter (later NASDAQ), to 1972. The DSPRs are comprehensive, convenient, and reliable sources.

General newspapers publish daily stock price listings from the national and regional exchanges. Coverage varies, and none are as comprehensive as the Daily Stock Price Records or as convenient to use, in paper or microform, but they are widely available in libraries. The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Investor's Business Daily, and Barron's have fairly large listings of stock prices, but if you don't have access to these, try whichever major newspaper your library owns. Remember to look in the issue published on the day after the date for which you want the price.

Some stocks that traded only on regional exchanges may have reported their prices only in newspapers published in the city where the exchange was located. If you've exhausted other sources, a librarian at the city's public library may be willing to search microfilm for you.

In the Ballpark
If a ballpark figure will serve the purpose, try an investment advisory source. They often give a range of stock prices, such as a year's high and low. The familiar Mergent (formerly Moody's) Manuals and Standard & Poor's Security Owner's Stock Guide are examples.

Tradeline is a commercial database with historical prices for stocks traded on 22 North American and 192 international exchanges. North American stocks are available for a running 15 years and other international issues from 1986 to present. Librarians at SLS Reference Service use Tradeline for issues difficult to find in other sources.

Unlisted Stocks
Some companies choose not to meet the listing requirements of an exchange for a variety of reasons. This makes the price of their stock more difficult to find.

Why would a public company keep its stock unlisted?

  • It prefers not to report financial details to the Securities and Exchange Commission which they would have to make public to trade on a major exchange
  • It prefers not to pay the listing fees
  • It has too few outstanding shares or its shares are too thinly (infrequently) traded
  • It formerly was listed on an exchange but became delisted when it no longer fulfilled the exchange's requirements
Many unlisted issues are so-called penny stocks or microcaps, whose prices range from a few cents to a few dollars per share, but not all; some established companies, such as Benjamin Moore & Co., the paint manufacturer, are unlisted.

Some services that report prices of thinly traded stocks are available only to investment professionals, such as the Pink Sheets® or the OTC Bulletin Board. These services are printed daily or updated constantly online. Others, which report prices at longer intervals, are sold to the public and may be owned by some libraries.

Pink Sheets LLC (formerly National Quotation Bureau LLC), offers the NQB Stock Summary, a monthly edition with two semi-annual cumulations. Bank and Quotation Record and the NQB Stock Summary (also called the National Monthly Stock Summary) give end-of-month prices for infrequently traded stocks. Chicago Public Library's Business Department subscribes to the latter and has older holdings of the former. Call +1 (312) 747 4400, and use a phone with automatic redial—the number usually is busy.

The Walker's Manuals are an investment advisory source for unlisted stocks. They include the end-of-year price per share along with directory and other basic investment information. Walker's Manual of Unlisted Stocks includes limited partnerships reported in the Pink Sheets or on the OTC Bulletin Board. Walker's Manual of Penny Stocks covers stocks whose shares are sold for $5 or less. We found holdings of the Walker's Manuals in SWAN for many public libraries.

If You Can't Find It
If you don't find a company's stock trading where you expect it to, it may have changed its exchange or its name. The outdated 1986 edition of Warfield's Investor's Guide to Stock Quotations sometimes comes in handy for identifying the exchanges on which stocks previously were traded. So does Jarrell's Common Stock Newspaper Abbreviations and Trading Symbols. Editions of the Mergent (formerly Moody's) Manuals from the year in question will give the exchange and ticker symbol for each stock issue.

If these quick lookups don't identify the exchange and ticker symbol, you may have to delve into the company's capital history using such sources as the Directory of Obsolete Securities, Capital Adjustments, Capital Changes, and the International Directory of Company Histories. These sources are also the ones to consult for name changes, stock splits, mergers, and other capital events, such as the 1984 breakup of AT&T into the Baby Bells. For more information about them, see Stock Naked: Uncovering a Company History.

Fractions or Decimals?
Once you find a stock price, it may appear in fractional or decimal formats, or both. The markets have officially changed to decimal format, but older sources may report prices in fractions.

"Fractional" refers to prices reported in eighths (or, occasionally, sixteenths, thirty-seconds, or sixty-fourths), one eighth equalling 12 1/2 cents. "Decimal" means prices reported in dollars and cents. For example, a stock that sold for $12.75 per share (decimal) would be reported in fractional form as 12 3/4; $48.63 reported decimally equals 48 and 5/8 reported fractionally. Warfield's Investor's Guide to Stock Quotations includes an appendix of dollar or decimal and fractional equivalents for eighths, sixteenths, and thirty-seconds.

Your Strategy
Here's how to handle those requests for old stock prices.

  • Verify the company name, ticker symbol, and exchange on which the stock is traded. Know whether you are looking for common or preferred stock and for which date(s). Watch out for name changes, mergers, stock splits, or other corporate capital events.

  • Check one of the free Web sites with historical stock prices.

  • Check other sources available to you: Daily Stock Price Record, newspapers, Mergent Manuals, Bank and Quotation Record, Security Owner's Stock Guide, National Monthly Stock Summary, Walker's Manuals.

  • Librarians in libraries served by SLS Reference Service may send a reference request.

For Further Information

Business Information: How to Find It, How to Use It. 2nd ed. Michael R. Lavin. Oryx Press, 1992.
Chapter 10, "Basic Investment Information," has clear explanations of how stock markets work, "bid" and "asked" prices for some OTC stocks, mutual fund quotations, and specific sources. Third edition due in January 2003.

BigCharts SM

Silicon Investor

Yahoo! Finance

Historical Quotes

Tradeline Historical Securities Pricing Database
Available directly from the producer or through online vendors such as Dialog.

Daily Stock Price Record. Quarterly. Standard & Poor's Corporation.
American Stock Exchange.
ISSN 0737-4127.

New York Stock Exchange.
ISSN 0737-4119.

ISSN 1072-3846.

Walker's Manual
Walker's Manual of Unlisted Stocks.
Walker's Manual of Penny Stocks.

Bank and Quotation Record. 1928– . ISSN 0005-5026.

National Stock Summary (NQB Stock Summary). Pink Sheets LLC (formerly National Quotation Bureau, Inc.). ISSN 0275-8326.
"You'll find 39,000 equities listed in the National Stock Summary and 17,000 bonds listed in the National Bond Summary; current reference to 40,000 companies and 18,000 month-end-market prices; and historic reference to capital changes and other corporate actions."

About Pink Sheets

What Is the Pink Sheets?

After Delisting, Pink Sheets Beckon. Sandeep Junnakar. CNet News.com, March 18, 2001.
Companies on the way up, those on the way down, and other kinds of companies trade on the Pink Sheets.

"Standout Stocks on the Pink Sheets." Kimberly Lankford. Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine, May 1998, p. 56.
Brief explanation of the Pink Sheets.

The Investment FAQ
Readable explanations of how to interpret stock tables in newspapers, what are American Depositary Receipts (ADRs), why stock prices are reported in eighths, and many other investment topics.

Trivia - Stock Prices in Sixteenths

Stock Naked: Uncovering a Company History. Nell Ingalls. Points of Reference, February 1999, revised November 2002.
Track down a company that has changed its name or exchange, merged, moved, or gone out of business.

Jarrell, Howard R. Common Stock Newspaper Abbreviations and Trading Symbols. Scarecrow Press, 1989. Supplement One, 1991.

Warfield, Gerald. Investor's Guide to Stock Quotations and Other Financial Listings. Revised ed. Harper & Row, 1986.
Outdated, but keep it behind the desk for the appendix, which lists companies that no longer exist or have changed names, with ticker symbols and exchanges.

International Directory of Company Histories. St. James Press, 1988– .

Nell Ingalls is the Assistant Head of Reference Services at the Hinsdale (IL) Public Library.


Jolene Carlson

Reviewed: November 15, 2002 .

Copyright: 1997-2002
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