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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Here’s a side effect of the going public boom: a heated race to reserve the hottest unique identifier, the ticker symbol.

Why it matters: The insignias companies are choosing to trade under is a reflection of our time — increasingly they want to go list with snappy symbols that catch the eye of a new generation of traders.

There’s a lot in a name. Studies show tickers that are actual words have advantages, including more popularity with retail investors, Bloomberg reported — noting the “MEME” symbol as a hot commodity.

  • More consumer-facing companies are opting for straightforward symbols, like the first four letters of their name or something directly aligned with their brand, one representative from an exchange tells Axios.
Expand chart
Data: FactSet; Note: Shows companies listed on NYSE, Nasdaq exchanges; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

That’s one possible reason behind the growing share of newly public companies listed with four-letter symbols.

  • Part of it could also be a function of what’s left to choose from. For instance, back in 2005, as many as nine of the hotly sought-after single-letter symbols were unoccupied. That’s dwindled down to four (I, N, Q, and more recently, P).
  • Cybersecurity firm SentinelOne started trading this summer under “S,” newly vacant after T-Mobile snapped up Sprint. (Sprint snagged it from Sears, five months after the retailer let the symbol go because it merged with K-Mart.)

Of note: As for the uptick in five-letter symbols (allowed only by the Nasdaq), blame the boom in SPACs, which often trade under them before finding a target.

Yes, but: New trading fads are forcing companies to switch up longtime ticker symbols to avoid confusion.

  • Furniture retailer Ethan Allen traded under “ETH” for 28 years. That ended last month after an army of crypto traders started to mistake it for the digital currency Ethereum, which is shortened to the same three letters.
  • Now you can find it as “ETD.” The company hopes that change “will better differentiate Ethan Allen news from Ethereum news in search results,” a spokesperson tells Axios.

The backstory: Companies can generally reserve ticker symbols through exchanges for up to 24 months before that pick is released. Exchanges can reject picks, for instance, if they’re obscene.

  • Acquired companies’ tickers are up for grabs immediately. Businesses delisted because they no longer meet requirements can keep their tickers reserved for as long as two years.

What to watch: For some companies considering a public listing, it may be too late to lock down the perfect symbol.

Go deeper: Wall Street prepares for an IPO flood

Go deeper

Sep 14, 2021 - World

Pope criticizes use of the cross as a political symbol

Pope Francis gives a speech in Bratislava, Slovakia. Photo: Gabriel Kuchta/Getty Images

Pope Francis warned against using the cross as a symbol for partisan means on Tuesday during his trip to Slovakia, saying it shouldn't be reduced to a political or status symbol, the New York Times reports.

Why it matters: Pope Francis has a habit of speaking more critically about a country after he has left it, the Times notes. The remarks, said in Slovakia, come days after his visit to Hungary, where several political parties have crosses on their party flags.

Stock buybacks boom as corporate cash piles grow

The Delta variant is keeping more companies cautious about how to invest the mountains of cash they have at their disposal. That hesitancy has led, in part, to corporate spending on stock buybacks outpacing capital expenditures this year. 

Why it matters: Companies hoarded cash and raised prices over the past year — leaving them with a lot of money and decisions about what to do with it.

2 hours ago - Health

Health policies at stake in Democrats' infrastructure bet

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Democrats are at a pivotal moment in their quest to expand health care coverage, slash the cost of prescription drugs and create a social structure that prioritizes people's health.

Driving the news: Democrats have a clear list of health care priorities they'll be fighting for this week. Among them is a measure to expand Medicare to cover dental, vision and hearing benefits.