Reference from Coast to Coast - Time Travel - Locating Sources of Historical Stock Quotes

Welcome to Reference From Coast to Coast: Sources and Strategies, a monthly column written by Jan Bissett and Margi Heinen.

Jan Bissett is a Reference Librarian in the Bloomfield Hills, Michigan office of Dickinson Wright PLLC. She is a past president of the Michigan Association of Law Libraries and has published articles on administrative and research related topics in the Michigan Association of Law Libraries Newsletter and Michigan Defense Quarterly. She and Margi Heinen team teach Legal Information Sources and Services for Wayne State University's Library and Information Science Program in Detroit, Michigan.   

Margi Heinen is the Librarian at Jaffe, Raitt, Heuer & Weiss in Detroit, Michigan. She teaches Legal Resources at the University of Michigan's School of Information and is team teaching with her co-columnist, Jan Bissett, at Wayne State University's School of Library and Information Science. She regularly does Internet training of legal staff at her firm and recently collaborated with Kathleen Gamache on an I.P.E. presentation, Internet Stategies for the Paralegal in Michigan. She is active in the Law Librarians of Metro Detroit and is a member of the American Association of Law Libraries.

Frequently we need to locate stock prices in the practice of law. Sometimes we need current, even immediate quotes as a deal is finalized or as a client wants the right moment to buy or sell. Finding current stock prices is not only easy, it can hardly be avoided on the web! Nearly every web page carries a banner from some entity that enables you to type in a ticker symbol and get today’s price - hoping that you will then use that entity as your trader or financial planner. 

Often, however, what we are seeking is not today’s price or even this week’s, but the action on a stock on a particular day years ago. Probate and tax researchers need this information to file documents and complete estates; litigators may need this information for securities disputes as well as business transactions which may require a picture of a stock's health during a specific time frame.

How do you find sources of historical stock prices? This question has been asked and answered numerous times on law-lib and other discussion lists. It has been addressed in a previous Reference from Coast to Coast column. But - the question returns again and again. 

We'd like to address it with a different slant – what if law-lib or your colleagues were not immediately available to you? Reference skills are not only for your patrons. You can use your skills to locate pathfinders, research guides and other materials compiled by librarians to set you on the path to sources of historical stock pricing information.

If you don't have a business research handbook, such as Business Information: How To Find It, How To Use It, 2d Ed [Oryx Press] readily available, you may turn to the web. Using Google™, you can locate research guides from academic and public libraries. "Historical stock" site:edu or "historical stock" library or "historical stock" reference as search terms yield guides that may be of use. You may have a different search strategy, such as including "quote" or "price", or a variation of either, in your search string or include other terms specific to your search. The site:edu or reference string will also bring up postings from the law-lib archives. Many of the guides retrieved by these searches are annotated listings of links to websites similar to law-lib postings. Others are guides to company and business information such as Stewart Library's research guideon company information, or more specific guides such as University of Alabama's Company Histories  or Rutgers Research Guides on Stock and Commodity Exchanges.  

 Many guides, however, specifically cover sources of stock prices, current and historical, such as St. Louis University Pius XII Memorial Library's Quick Reference: Stock & Mutual Fund Prices  or U.S.C. Marshall's Virtual Electronic Library's Stock Quotes on the Web. The best overall guide to locating sources of historical stock prices, print or electronic, is from the Suburban Library System. Nell Ingalls' Stock Answers: Finding Historical Stock Prices provides websites, a description of print publications and newspapers as well as research strategies. And let's not forget Zimmerman's Research Guide  – entries include "Stock Prices", "Bond Prices", "Mutual Funds", and "Options".

If you're not interested in guides to researching historical stock prices, but need a quick and dirty list of links, try CEOExpress. It's an excellent source to begin with whenever you're researching stocks or companies. This link-filled site leads you to Bigcharts, Yahoo Finance and other sites under "Quotes and Market News". Internet Prospector also provides links to Stock Quotes/Securities. Most of the sources listed above provide links to the following websites. We hope that by highlighting the pros and cons of a number of sites it will be easier in future to determine where you want to go to mine this historical data.

On the Web

A number of sites offer historical information free on the web:

BigCharts is a personal favorite. The tab for historical quotes appears near the top of the home page eliminating any confusion about where to go next. Although printed sources indicate data goes back to 1985, I have been able to get major stocks back to 1970 and you get closing price, open, high, low and volume for the particular day you request. You also have the option to create a chart of activity: daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly, or more narrowly: 1 minute, 5 minutes, 15 minutes, hourly. These tracking charts, unfortunately, are only in chart form and there does not appear to be an option to simply list times and numbers.

StockTools also provides historical information but the researcher needs to click first on "stocks" near the top of the page then scroll down past other options to "Historical Quotes." This site promises 10 years of historical U.S. and Canadian stock quotes. Each request gives one year’s worth of close, day high, day low, open and volume.

CNBC has a stock quote box on the right side of their page. Entering a symbol produces a screen with basic current data and an option for historical quotes for that stock. The usual information is provided: open, high, low, close and volume and I was able to follow a sample stock back to 1988. At this site you can also get the prices and volume for specific times throughout the day and this information can be printed in clear columns for easy reading.

Yahoo! Finance  also provides historical stock prices, but from the front page the path back in time is not clear. At "Investing: Research & Education" click "more" and then go to "Research Tools:" – "Historical Quotes." Yahoo provides daily, weekly, monthly figures as well as dividend information back to 1985.

NASDAQ  is a site loaded with information, but not quick and easy for historical stock prices. To get historical quotes you need to select "InfoQuotes", choose "stock chart" and a time frame. This will produce a graph of your stocks activity. By clicking on the graph you can get the information in table form. You can similarly track stock through the "Portfolio Tracker" option. Most helpful on this site is the ability to quickly check a list of stock symbol changes. There is also a very detailed "Help" section which covers almost from definitions to how to find quotes to how information is received to how to advertise on the site. The Nasdaq site provides a number of ways to discover company information, but should you fail to uncover the company you are seeking the Nasdaq Research Staff at (202) 728-8477 is helpful in determining stock symbols and when a company was trading on the exchange.

If you're looking for historical pricing on just a few companies, check those companies' websites. Many of the larger, well established corporations provide historical pricing information in their investor relations materials.

Fee-based sources such as Dow Jones Interactive or Tradeline via Dialog  also provide historical pricing information.

Lexis & Westlaw

Horror of horrors! Your internet connection is down. No law-lib or web based sources for you to use. If you're thinking of using either Lexis® or Westlaw® quote services, this lack of internet access is a good thing. Both the Quote library and database aren't available on either web product. You must use the proprietary software to access these services although descriptions of these products are available at their respective websites. Lexis® Source Locator Quote/Quote  notes coverage of pricing history from 1976 and stock splits/dividends from 1968. Westlaw's® Quote database scope  notes historical stock information available from October 1973 to the present.

And finally, let's not forget those print sources. Both Business Information: How To Find It, How To Use It, 2d Ed [Oryx Press]  and Nell Ingalls' Stock Answers: Finding Historical Stock Prices  provide titles that can be useful in your search.