When investing in the stock market, it's a good idea to become familiar with the terms used by traders and electronic systems that deliver price quotes. When doing your research and following the market, you should know instantly what certain acronyms and terms signify, as it can have a direct effect on your trading.
Stock Tables and Quotes
Stock prices are carried in printed tables that are available in newspapers and journals or via the Internet with a trading platform such as Ameritrade or E*Trade. The quotes in printed form in a newspaper offer information on the previous day's trading. Streaming quotes online represent the prices as they change at the present time, either with a short delay or in real time. You will come across the term "last" while studying the quotes.
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The Meaning of Last
In the print media, last means the final quoted trading price for a particular stock, or stock-market index, during the most recent day of trading. In a stock table, the last quote comes just before the change quote, which is the final column of information printed for each particular stock. If the stock does not trade after stock exchange hours, then last refers to the price of the stock before the exchange opens the next day.
The NASDAQ is an electronic stock trading reporting system, much like a physical stock exchange but operated with a system of linked computer systems. The "last sale report" is carried out by members of the exchange who actually handle transactions on this exchange. Every time a transaction occurs, the last sale report must be posted to the system within 90 seconds. The report reveals the number of shares and the price at which they traded.
Online stock-trading platforms feature the term "last trade" or "last" prominently, either by placing the price quote at the top of the page, making the digits larger, or highlighting them with a different color. Last here means the last trade reported to the platform, or the most recent price available. It is crucial to understand the difference between time-delayed and real-time quotes when reading these systems. The last trade may actually have occurred 15 or 20 minutes ago, and in such a quote the price information is well out of date during normal trading hours. Of more interest to an active trader is the bid/ask quote, which gives information on the price at which the stock currently is being bought and sold.