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I was recently offered a job doing statistical analysis and scientific computing for a financial firm. During the interview process, sometimes I was asked questions like "where is the Dow at today?"

I was just wondering what other kinds of very basic, generic financial news is usually followed daily by finance practitioners. I know that most people are not going to look up the Dow online as a means to get super important business information or anything like that. But it does seem like there's a somewhat common set of things (Dow and S&P, interest rates around the world, treasury yields, etc.) that people keep up on and view as "basic literacy" in terms of finance news.

Can anyone give a good list of the basics like this, or perhaps what different "basics" lists look like to different sections of the finance industry? Are there good, easy-to-read sources that aggregate this information for you so that you don't have to go hunting around for it each day?

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    Interesting. I'd have responded that the Dow, with its limited selection of stocks is meaningless except for those who own the DIA ETF. And then I'd give an overview of the S&P. Today, Year start, last years return, etc. – JoeTaxpayer Mar 23 '12 at 2:46
  • I think they feel it is very meaningful as a herding and macroeconomic / sentiment factor. I don't think they feel the actual amount of returns or returns to that mix of stocks matters, just that it happens to be a socially prominent number that price-fixes people and is a conversation point that one ought to be aware of. I like your answer a lot but I don't believe they would have, and they would have had non-trivial reasons to criticize it. – ely May 28 '13 at 18:24
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I think it depends where you live in the world, but I guess the most common would be:

Major Equity Indices

  • DOW Jones
  • S&P 500
  • MSCI World Equity Index

I would say major currency exchange rate:

  • EURUSD
  • CHFUSD
  • GBPUSD
  • XAUUSD (Gold)

And have a look at the Libors for USD and EUR.

I guess the intent of the question is more to see how implicated you are in the daily market analysis, not really to see if you managed to learn everything by heart in the morning.

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In addition to the information in the other answer, I would suggest looking at an economic calendar. These provide the dates and values of many economic announcements, e.g. existing home sales, durable orders, consumer confidence, etc. Yahoo, Bloomberg, and the Wall Street Journal all provide such calendars. Yahoo provides links to the raw data where available; Bloomberg and the WSJ provide links to their article where appropriate.

You could also look at a global economic calendar; both xe.com and livecharts.co.uk provide these. If you're only interested in the US, the Yahoo, Bloomberg, and WSJ calendars may provide a higher signal-to-noise ratio, but foreign announcements also affect US markets, so it's important to get as much perspective as possible. I like the global economic calendars I linked to above because they rate announcements on "priority", which is a quick way to learn which announcements have the greatest effect.

Economic calendars are especially important in the context of an interview because you may be asked a follow-up question. For example, the US markets jumped in early trading today (5/28/2013) because the consumer confidence numbers exceeded forecasts (from the WSJ calendar, 76.2 vs 2.3).

As SRKX stated, it's important to know more than the numbers; being able to analyze the numbers in the context of the wider market and being aware of the fundamentals driving them is what's most important. An economic calendar is a good way to see this information quickly and succinctly.

(I'm paraphrasing part of my answer to another question, so you may or may not find some of that information helpful as well; I'm certainly not suggesting you look at the website of every central bank in the morning. That's what an economic calendar is for!)

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Google Finance and Yahoo! Finance would be a couple of sites you could use to look at rather broad market information. This would include the major US stock markets like the Dow, Nasdaq, S & P 500 though also bond yields, gold and oil can also be useful as depending on which area one works the specifics of what are important could vary. If you were working at a well-known bond firm, I'd suspect that various bond benchmarks are likely to be known and watched rather than stock indices.

Something else to consider here is what constitutes a "finance practitioner" as I'd imagine several accountants and actuaries may not watch the market yet there could be several software developers working at hedge funds that do so that it isn't just a case of what kind of work but also what does the company do.

  • Good point about people in different fields; based on all the answers here, it's pretty clear that we don't all check the same things, so it's good someone mentioned it. – John Bensin Jun 6 '13 at 16:42

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