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Using Real-Time vs Delayed Stock Quotes

January 12, 2021 · 5 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

Using Real-Time vs Delayed Stock Quotes

Most people have probably seen real-time streaming stock quotes or delayed stock quotes on TV, even if they didn’t quite realize what they were looking at. Streaming stock quotes are a fixture on most financial news networks, such as CNBC or Bloomberg.

The stock quotes are typically displayed as a constant scroll of numbers and symbols along the bottom, and sometimes up the side of the screen. And while at first glance it can seem like a confusing jumble of information, the information contained in those streaming stock quotes are actually fairly easy to understand, at least on a basic level.

The letters and numbers reflect different types of investments or commodities, and their stock price—the price at which they’re currently trading, sometimes up to the second. For example, the symbol “AAPL” is Apple, and “XOM” is the symbol for ExxonMobil. Those symbols, when displayed on a ticker tape, will likely be followed by or attached to their current trading price.

The quotes reflect demand for a security on stock markets around the world. But being aware of the timing associated with that information—real-time stock quotes versus delayed stock quotes, for instance—can make a huge difference for investors who are trying to determine their next moves.

Real-Time vs Delayed Stock Quotes

Stock quotes are symbols that denote a specific company or firm, and the price that a stock is valued at. Those prices are determined by trading activity—supply and demand, in other words. Those prices are also fluctuating during the trading day.

But when comparing stock prices from two different sources, there are times when an observant investor might notice a discrepancy. One source might display one value or stock price, while another shows a different, albeit similar, value. That may occur due to the difference in reporting of the stock quotes. The values and prices relayed via real time stock quotes are, typically, accurate up to the second. Delayed stock quotes are not.

Real-time stock quotes

Real-time streaming stock quotes change second to second, and can showcase the volatility of stock prices. When stock exchanges are open (and they don’t close too often), trading is constant, and the dynamics of supply and demand for specific stocks change their prices rapidly.

So, watching real-time streaming stock quotes means seeing those price fluctuations occur in real time—like the name implies.

Using real-time stock quotes can be useful for active traders or investors, or high-frequency traders—professionals who are making numerous stock trades every day or week and may be managing other people’s portfolios, too. For these traders, knowing stock prices down to the minute helps inform their decision to buy or sell. That real-time price, ultimately, determines their stock trading profit (or loss).

There’s also after-hours trading to keep in mind, too. Stock markets have trading hours—The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and NASDAQ are open between 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m, for example. At other times, investors may still be able to swap securities, but prices are much more volatile after-hours—and because it’s difficult to get real time quotes after-hours, values can change dramatically before stock markets reopen.

Investors can also execute a market-on-open trade, during which a transaction completes as soon as the markets do open the following trading session.

Real-time quotes are provided by many sources, including financial news networks and websites. Many online trading brokerages also offer their clients access to them as well. But gathering and reporting information in real time is not easy or cheap. Because of that, there are some services which charge fees for real time quotes, or only provide them to clients or members.

Real time stock quotes provide traders and active investors with more accurate information. But for the average investor who isn’t making changes to their portfolio, real time quotes may be more precise than they need. For those investors, delayed stock quotes may suffice.

Delayed stock quotes

Like real-time quotes, delayed stock quotes are available from most brokerages and financial news organizations. But whereas real-time stock quotes provide up-to-the-second pricing information, delayed stock quotes do not. Delayed stock quotes display a lagging price, updated only occasionally. That may be every 15 minutes, every hour, or every day—it depends on the provider, and the security in question.

There is no universal rule, but depending on where you’re looking at quotes, a disclaimer or something similar will let a reader know if the information is delayed or not. If it is delayed, it will usually also list how long the delay is.

Most people should be able to tell if a quote is delayed, too, if the price remains static for minutes at a time. Real-time quotes, on the other hand, fluctuate second-by-second, depending on the information source.

While prices do fluctuate, they generally don’t fluctuate all that much over a relatively short interval (15 minutes, for example). And since the average investor may not be all that interested in minute-by-minute price fluctuations, using a delayed stock quote could provide all the information they need.

Think about it this way: If an investor were looking to make changes to their portfolio—something they may do two or three times per year—a real time stock quote isn’t going to give them any more information than a delayed stock quote to help them make an informed decision. Delayed stock quotes also don’t relay the second-by-second volatility of the market, which can be hard for some investors to digest.

Real-time vs delayed stock quotes: How they affect your investment strategy

One big question investors may have: How do these two different types of stock quotes actually affect someone’s investment strategy? That depends largely on how active an individual investor is, and how often they’re swapping positions in their portfolio.

Real-time stock quotes are mainly used by day traders, or active investors who are executing trades on a daily or hourly basis. In those cases, the relatively small fluctuations in price, which occur in real time, can determine whether a trade is profitable or not.

For example, if a trader was trying to time a trade to execute at a specific price, a delayed quote might be useless. The time lag could cause them to miss their window, and bobble the trade.

But for long- or medium-term investors who may only occasionally buy or sell securities, delayed quotes will do the trick. If you’re not checking on your portfolio every day, there isn’t much of an advantage to looking at real time quotes over delayed ones.

The Takeaway

Real-time stock prices are updated to the second; delayed stock prices might be updated every 15 minutes, every hour, or every day, depending on the provider and the security.

For investors who aren’t looking to profit off of small price fluctuations, it won’t make much of a difference if the quotes they’re using are delayed or not. That said, it’s never a bad idea to use real-time trading data, if an investor has access to it—and an investor should always be able to tell if a delay is baked into the data they’re using. Ultimately, it should all go toward the goal of making a more informed investment decision.

Investors can put their knowledge of real-time stock market information to use today. Using SoFi Invest®, members can harness the power of real time trading. Whether an investor is checking their holdings every day, or trying to make the best decision to align with long-term financial plans, SoFi Invest provides fast and accurate data that can be used to empower investors of all levels.

Find out how SoFi Invest can help with your investing needs.

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