Numbers in stock trading symbols?
August 15, 2007 1:03 PM   Subscribe

Why can't you put numbers in a stock trading symbol? (Or can you?) For example, 3M is MMM, which works out, but it would have been easier for them to simply have 3M. (I tried to Google for the answer, but there are so many irrelevant hits.)
posted by ObeyScient to Work & Money (7 answers total)
The name of the company was Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company until 2002, so MMM was a perfectly good symbol.

Having numbers in stock ticker symbols would be really confusing. It's simpler to have all alphabetic symbols and then all numeric prices.
posted by grouse at 1:08 PM on August 15, 2007

3M's original name was Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing. the MMM refers to that. Not sure if it is the real reason, but my gut feeling is that using numbers in the abbreviations would be confusing next to the values of the stocks.
posted by aristan at 1:08 PM on August 15, 2007

and beaten to the punch.
posted by aristan at 1:09 PM on August 15, 2007

Wikipedia says they can include numbers, but this list doesn't seem to have any. A theory with no backing behind it whatsoever save my own logic: Numbers might be misinterpreted as being part of the preceding stock price or that of the company (ie, "WMT 33 3M 45" makes it tricker to tell at a glance that Wal-Mart is trading at $33 a share rather than $333.) This is especially true of pre-digital days when spaces might not be as evenly printed.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:12 PM on August 15, 2007

Some stock exchanges outside the US use numerical ticker symbols, especially Asian exchanges. For example, Toyota's ticker on the Tokyo Stock Exchange is 7203.
posted by mullacc at 1:37 PM on August 15, 2007

I also found these guidelines for ticker symbols

"To get a quote on preferred stocks you need to add the letter '1' immediately following the symbol (no space) and sometimes the letter for the preferred issue. For example 'Bank of America Preferred F' symbol is 'BAC1F'. Preferred are usually only traded in New York but sometimes you can append the city code and come up with a valid symbol, for example 'CHI1.B' is the preferred stock for Furrs Bishop on the Boston exchange only (CHI1 is the composite symbol)."

So if numbers were allowed in the symbol itself, there could be confusion.

Wikipedia also notes:
"In the United States, modern letter-only ticker symbols were developed by Standard & Poor's (S&P) to bring a national standard to investing. Previously, a single company could have many different ticker symbols as they varied between the dozens of individual stock markets. The term ticker refers to the noise made by the ticker tape machines once widely used by stock exchanges.

The S&P system was later standardized by the securities industry and modified as years passed. Stock symbols for preferred stock have not been standardized"
posted by inigo2 at 1:41 PM on August 15, 2007

It may also be worth noting that there are many standards for identifying securities, some of which are alphanumeric. See:
posted by nomad at 3:01 PM on August 15, 2007

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