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Timely Tax Tip! Finding Historical Stock Prices

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As the mid-April tax return filing deadline looms, for many last-minute filers this week ushers in a frenzy of organizing forms, receipts, and statements.  Imagine your panic if your accountant asked for a piece of missing data, i.e. the 1997 price of the stock your Fidelity mutual fund had recently sold.

This was precisely the situation facing my daughter, Anne McDonough, who is an archivist-librarian with an entrepreneurial bent. Though based in Washington DC, she was savvy enough to tap the ASK NYPL e-reference service for some virtual assistance. This is what she learned.

For many companies, historical stock prices are available on finance.yahoo.com which is an excellent source to use when possible because the prices it lists are adjusted for subsequent splits and dividends.

But for the increasing number of companies that have changed hands or changed symbols over the years,  it will likely be necessary to go off-line and use the Standard and Poor's Daily Stock Price Record, the complete run of which is available at SIBL. It lists the high, low, and close stock prices daily of every company listed on the exchanges, i.e. the NYSE, ASE, and NASDAQ.

The caveat of looking up a stock price in the Daily Stock Price Records is that the price on the printed page reflects the price on that date and is not adjusted for splits or dividends.

A searcher without access to the S&P Stock Price Record  has the recourse of newspapers like the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.  In fact,  if your search is deeply retrospective, say a half century back for pre-1960 prices,  these periodicals are excellent sources although, again, the price on the page is not adjusted for splits or dividends. And here’s caveat # 2 — these listings are nowhere near comprehensive. Several years ago, both newspapers cut back significantly on the stock price tables which now feature only major companies. If you can deal with an approximate price, you can use the SRC 35 Year Stock Price Charts.  Again, the same warning about splits and dividends applies if you are  using older volumes.

Here are two examples using companies that are household names. For IBM you can go to finance.yahoo.com, click on historical prices, and have daily prices back to Jan, 1962 adjusted for all splits and dividends. That was easy!

Some companies are less straightforward. Take Macy's, which under its original name R.H. Macy went public  on 9/5/1922, and traded under the stock symbol MZ for many years. If you want to see the stock price history from 1962 through 1992 you will need to use the  Standard and Poor's Stock Price Records. Yahoo doesn’t provide prices for Macy’s going back to 1962. Why?

Because in 1992 Macy's and Federated Department Stores merged and the corporate name that survived was Federated Department Stores, stock symbol FDS. In 2007, the Company changed its name back to Macy's and now trades under the symbol M. Yahoo will give you prices back to 1992. But because there were two separate and distinct companies before that time, Yahoo will not go any further.

As it turns out, my daughter’s question was especially complex because the company whose stock price she was seeking, Del Monte, was not trading on any of the stock exchanges on the dates mentioned. This is where the superb searching skills of SIBL’s librarians as well as its trove of corporate history resources are showcased.Yahoo/Finance, confirmed by the print resources for the various stock exchanges, reports NYS quotes for the period 2/5/1999 through 3/8/2011.  Company history documented in a powerful tool, Mergent Online, explains why. It seems the company, originally known as Del Monte Foods, was purchased in 1979 by RJR Reynolds Tobacco Co which later merged with Nabisco Co. becoming RJR Nabisco Co. As part of this very large conglomerate Del Monte was split into various segments several of which were sold off to a variety of different companies including ConAgra and Polly Peck International. Ultimately the remaining portion was purchased and in 1997 recapitalized with an equity infusion from TPG Partners, L.P. ("TPG"), its affiliates and other investors led by Merrill Lynch.  In 1999 the recapitalized company was again public with a new stock symbol and a slightly different name Del Monte Corp. Fast forward to 2011, when Del Monte Foods merged with Blue Merger Sub, Inc, resulting in Del Monte Foods becoming wholly owned by Blue Acquisition Group, Inc. Whew! (Anne's accountant confirmed that he could deal with an approximate price.)

Another handy service that documents changes in company names through merger and acquisition activity is Capital Changes Reporter. If your library does not have access to either of these tools, remember that corporate histories/annual reports of any publicly held company are available freely and conveniently on the web at the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Edgar service which for our present purposes yielded this information about Del Monte.

NYPL is also there to help with everything tax-related, from forms to hands-on assistance with preparation and filing of returns in traditional mode and e-filing, too. 

P.S. If this peek at Del Monte’s turbulent corporate history intrigued you,  take a ring-side “you are there” seat for the entire leveraged-buyout drama by reading Barbarians at the Gate, the award-winning account of the demise of Nabisco. It's a true can’t-put-it-down financial thriller.

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e-resources for stock prices and changes

The Daily Price Record is now available online and is included in Standard & Poor's NetAdvantage database, available at SIBL. Capital Changes Reporter may be accessed at SIBL electronically through the CCH OmniTax Library. (The OmniTax Library is a fabulous resource for all types of tax information.)

You can get historical stock

You can get historical stock prices straight into Excel using the spreadsheet at http://investexcel.net/218/importing-historical-stock-prices-from-yahoo-into-excel/ It's more flexible than using a web browser, and you can build your own database of stock prices. Laura

You should also consider

You should also consider applying stock splits (history) when building your own stock database, sources like http://getsplithistory.com are good.

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