For the past 100 or so years, high-profile companies coveted single-letter ticker symbols for the image of exclusivity and uniqueness that A to Z branding creates. According to Dow Jones News (www.dowjonesnews.com), single-letter stock tickers have been considered the vanity plates of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). However, this prestige has been associated with numerous companies'deaths over the last few years. In 2001, only two letters were unoccupied: I and M. Over the past 2 years, nine letters have come up for grabs, and currently 10 of the 26 letters are unoccupied. The following are some casualties:
Gillette (G): Procter and Gamble acquired the razor and Duracell manufacturer this past October.
Harcourt & General Inc (H): The Reed Elsevier Group of the Netherlands acquired Harcourt in 2001.
Jackpot Enterprises (J): This gaming equipment maker launched a bold strategy to transform itself into an Internet conglomerate, and failed.
Phillips Petroleum Co (P): The company merged with Conoco Inc in August 2002 and formed gas giant ConocoPhillips (COP).
AT&T (T): Various acquisitions and mergers killed this former telecommunications giant.
US Air (U): The airline filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy twice.
Westvaco Corp (W): Mead Corp and Westvaco Corp announced in August 2001 that they had agreed to a merger. The new company name is MeadWestvaco Corp.
Venator (Z): The retailer formerly known as Woolworth fell on hard times after changing its name.
Despite mergers, acquisitions, poor performance, and bankruptcy, which have caused many single-letter symbols to drop off the NYSE charts over the past 5 years, owning a single-letter stock symbol has turned out to be a better than average investment over the past 3 years for most companies, according to MSNBC.com. In fact, 11 of 18 single-letter stocks have outperformed the three major stock indexes.
Symbols with one or two letters trade exclusively on the NYSE. Three-letter symbols may trade on either the NYSE or the American Stock Exchange (AMEX). Symbols of four and five letters trade on the Nasdaq. Mutual fund ticker symbols must be five letters long and end in "X."
Standard & Poor's developed the letter- only ticker symbols to bring a national standard to investing. The most actively traded stocks were assigned single-letter symbols in order to speed up communication and to conserve wire space. For example, during the 1800s, the most traded companies typically were railroads, like the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe (A) and Brooklyn Rapid Transit (B). Before standardizing stock symbols, one company could have different ticker symbols on multiple stock markets.
Genevieve Valentine has a strong background in ethical
research and the investment industry. She works full-time
for the Valentine Capital Asset Management of San
Ramon, Calif, and is the chief editor of their "High Net-
Worth Newsletter,"published monthly. She welcomes
questions or comments at 925-275-0200 or visit
www.vcrpg.com. This article was produced with contributions
by Valentine Capital Asset Management's John
Valentine, Mike Rowland, and Greg Costa, and by John
Gardner, president of Equity Research & Portfolio
Evaluation, Inc; it is reprinted with their permission.