The Stock Market: Get involved in the highs and lows

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The Independent Online
The Independent's shares page lists the prices of 1,250 shares and a wealth of other information. From Tuesday to Saturday, the page begins with a market report. By reading this column each day, you will become familiar with the thrills and spills of the world of shares. On Mondays the column is called "week ahead" and takes a look at companies that will be reporting their results in the days ahead.

The data that fills three-quarters of the page can look bewildering to newcomers to the world of share ownership but once you are familiar with the layout, it is simple.

The shares are listed in sectors. An alphabetical listing would be unwieldy and it would also make the comparison of shares of companies in the same line of business inconvenient. Finding the price of a share is straightforward. ICI is in the Chemicals sector, BSkyB in Media and Marks & Spencer under Retailers, General.

Before taking a detailed look at the page, it is important to realise which prices are quoted. Market-makers, who are members of the Stock Exchange, are obliged to buy and sell shares for which they are registered at all times. They always quote two prices. Sid is the one at which they are prepared to buy, while offer is the price at which they are prepared to sell. The prices quoted in The Independent are the middle price, which is the average of the two, at the close of business on the previous working day. The prices are therefore historic and not those at which you can buy or sell.

The prices of actively traded shares are always fluctuating. Readers who would like the latest price may take advantage of The Independent Teleshare service.

On Mondays the high/low prices on the shares page are replaced by each company's market value. This is the share price at the close of business on Friday multiplied by the number of shares issued.

High/Low: This gives the highest and lowest price for the security over the previous 52 weeks.

Stock: For shares, the name of the company is abbreviated. For example, Gt Univ for Great Universal and Utd Biscuits for United Biscuits.

Price: For shares, the price is in pence, unless otherwise stated. The key for the letters which may appear after the price are given under Share Price Data.

Suspended (s) is self-explanatory, ex rights (r) means that new investors are not entitled to participate in the forthcoming rights issue and ex div (x) indicates that new investors will not receive the dividend which will shortly be paid.

Chg: The increase or decrease in price against the figure quoted in the paper on the previous business day.

Yld: The gross annual dividend divided by the current share price. The yield is a general indicator of how the market views a particular share. Theoretically a low yield generally reflects a secure business with the potential for growth. In other words, dividends are expected to rise.

A high gross yield generally indicates that the market considers the company a riskier investment.

P/E: The price/earnings ratio is also known as the confidence ratio. It is calculated by dividing the current share price by the earnings per share. A high P/E could indicate that the share price is bounding ahead because investors are expecting its future earnings to increase. Only time will tell whether they are right.

On the other hand, a company which is not doing well may have a high P/E. This reflects the view that it may be the subject of a takeover bid. Even the whiff of a bid can increase a company's share price.

The ratio is not supplied for certain companies because management objectives and taxation make them meaningless or irrelevant.

Index Code: The code used with a touch-tone telephone for obtaining the latest price using The Independent Teleshare service.

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