By the end of this section, you will be able to:
- Understand the basic features of corporate stock.
- Be familiar with the basic terminology of corporate stock.
- Discuss preferred shares and the rights of preferred shareholders.
- Compare common stock with preferred stock.
- Describe treasury stock, and explain its function.
- Analyze whether debt or equity is a better financing option.
Stocks, or shares, represent an ownership interest in a corporation. Traditionally, stock was the original capital paid into a business by its founders. This stock was then divided into shares, or fractional ownership of the stock. In modern usage, the two terms are used interchangeably, as we will do here. Shares in closely held corporations are often identical: each share of stock in BCT Bookstore, Inc. carries with it the same right to vote, to receive dividends, and to receive a distribution of the net assets of the company upon liquidation. Many large corporations do not present so simple a picture. Large corporations may have many different types of stock: different classes of common stock, preferred stock, stock with par value and no-par stock, voting and nonvoting stock, outstanding stock, and treasury stock. To find out which types of stock a company has issued, look at the shareholders’ (or stockholders’) equity section of the company’s balance sheet.
Authorized, Issued, and Outstanding Stock
Stocks have different designations depending on who holds them. The articles of incorporation spell out how many shares of stock the corporation may issue: these are its authorized shares. The corporation is not obliged to issue all authorized shares, but it may not issue more than the total without amending the articles of incorporation. The total of stock sold to investors is the issued stock of the corporation; the issued stock in the hands of all shareholders is called outstanding stock.
Par Value and No-Par Stock
Par value is the face value of stock. Par value, though, is not the market value; it is a value placed on the stock by the corporation but has little to do with the buying and selling value of that stock on the open market.
When a value is specified on a stock certificate, it is said to be par value. Par value is established in the articles of incorporation and is the floor price of the stock; the corporation may not accept less than par value for the stock.
Companies in most states can also issue no-par shares. No-par stock may be sold for whatever price is set by the board of directors or by the market—unless the shareholders themselves are empowered to establish the price. But many states permit (and some states require) no-par stock to have a stated value. Corporations issue no-par stock to reduce their exposure to liability: if the par value is greater than the market value, the corporation may be liable for that difference.
Once the universal practice, issuance of par value common stock is now limited. However, preferred stock usually has a par value, which is useful in determining dividend and liquidation rights.
The term stated capital describes the sum of the par value of the issued par value stock and the consideration received (or stated value) for the no-par stock. The excess of net assets of a corporation over stated capital is its surplus. Surplus is divided into earned surplus (essentially the company’s retained earnings) and capital surplus (all surpluses other than earned surplus). We will return to these concepts in our discussion of dividends.
The term preferred has no set legal meaning, but shareholders of preferred stock often have different rights than shareholders of common stock. Holders of preferred stock must look to the articles of incorporation to find out what their rights are. Preferred stock has elements of both stock (equity) and bonds (debt). Thus corporations issue preferred stock to attract more conservative investors: common stock is riskier than preferred stock, so corporations can attract more investors if they have both preferred and common stock.
Preference to Dividends
A dividend is a payment made to stockholders from corporate profits. Assume that one class of preferred stock is entitled to a 7 percent dividend. The percentage applies to the par value; if par value is $100, each share of preferred is entitled to a dividend of $7 per year. Assuming the articles of incorporation say so, this 7 percent preferred stock has preference over other classes of shares for dividend payments.
An additional right of preferred shareholders is the right to share in the distribution of assets in the event of liquidation, after having received assets under a liquidation preference—that is, a preference, according to a predetermined formula, to receive the assets of the company on liquidation ahead of other classes of shareholders.
With one exception, the articles of incorporation may grant the right to convert any class of stock into any other at the holder’s option according to a fixed ratio. Alternatively, the corporation may force a conversion of a shareholder’s convertible stock. Thus if permitted, a preferred shareholder may convert his or her preferred shares into common stock, or vice versa. The exception bars conversion of stock into a class with an asset liquidation preference, although some states permit even that type of so-called upstream conversion to a senior security. Convertible preferred shares can be used as a poison pill (a corporate strategy to avoid a hostile takeover): when an outsider seeks to gain control, convertible shareholders may elect to convert their preferred shares into common stock, thus increasing the number of common shares and increasing the number of shares the outsider must purchase in order to gain control.
The articles of incorporation may provide for the redemption of shares, unless in doing so the corporation would become insolvent. Redemption may be either at an established price and time or by election of the corporation or the shareholder. Redeemed stock is called cancelled stock. Unless the articles of incorporation prohibit it, the shares are considered authorized but unissued and can be reissued as the need arises. If the articles of incorporation specifically make the cancellation permanent, then the total number of authorized shares is reduced, and new shares cannot be reissued without amending the articles of incorporation. In this case, the redeemed shares cannot be reissued and must be marked as cancelled stock.
Ordinarily, the articles of incorporation provide that holders of preferred shares do not have a voting right. Or they may provide for contingent voting rights, entitling preferred shareholders to vote on the happening of a particular event—for example, the nonpayment of a certain number of dividends. The articles may allow class voting for directors, to ensure that the class of preferred stockholders has some representation on the board.
Common stock is different from preferred stock. Common stock represents an ownership interest in a corporation. Unless otherwise provided in the articles of incorporation, common stockholders have the following rights:
- Voting rights. This is a key difference: preferred shareholders usually do not have the right to vote. Common shareholders express their ownership interest in the corporation by voting. Votes are cast at meetings, typically the annual meetings, and the shareholders can vote for directors and on other important corporate decisions (e.g., there has been a recent push to allow shareholders to vote on executive compensation).
- The right to ratable participation in earnings (i.e., in proportion to the total shares) and/or the right to ratable participation in the distribution of net assets on liquidation. Bondholders and other creditors have seniority upon liquidation, but if they have been satisfied, or the corporation has no debt, the common shareholders may ratably recover from what is left over in liquidation.
- Some shares may give holders preemptive rights to purchase additional shares. This right is often invoked in two instances. First, if a corporation is going to issue more shares, a shareholder may invoke this right so that his or her total percentage ownership is not diluted. Second, the right to purchase additional shares can be invoked to prevent a hostile takeover (a poison pill, discussed in Section 22.3.3 “Preferred Stock”).
Corporations may issue different classes of shares (including both common and preferred stock). This permits a corporation to provide different rights to shareholders. For example, one class of common stock may give holders more votes than another class of common stock. Stock is a riskier investment for its purchasers compared with bonds and preferred stock. In exchange for this increased risk and junior treatment, common stockholders have the rights noted here.
Treasury shares are those that were originally issued and then reacquired by the company (such as in a buyback, discussed next) or, alternatively, never sold to the public in the first place and simply retained by the corporation. Thus treasury shares are shares held or owned by the corporation. They are considered to be issued shares but not outstanding shares.
Corporations often reacquire their shares, for a variety of reasons, in a process sometimes called a buyback. If the stock price has dropped so far that the shares are worth considerably less than book value, the corporation might wish to buy its shares to prevent another company from taking it over. The company might decide that investing in itself is a better strategic decision than making other potential expenditures or investments. And although it is essentially an accounting trick, buybacks improve a company’s per-share earnings because profits need to be divided into fewer outstanding shares.
Buybacks can also be used to go private. Private equity may play a role in going-private transactions, as discussed in Section 22.1.5 “Other Forms of Finance”. The corporation may not have sufficient equity to buy out all its public shareholders and thus will partner with private equity to finance the stock buyback to go private. For example, in early 2011, Playboy Enterprises, Inc., publisher of Playboy magazine, went private. Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy, teamed up with private equity firm Rizvi Traverse Management to buy back the public shares. Hefner said that the transaction “will give us the resources and flexibility to return Playboy to its unique position and to further expand our business around the world.”Dawn C. Chmielewski and Robert Channick, “Hugh Hefner Reaches Deal to Take Playboy Private,” Los Angeles Times, January 11, 2011. http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jan/11/business/la-fi-ct-playboy-hefner-20110111.
Corporations may go private to consolidate control, because of a belief that the shares are undervalued, to increase flexibility, or because of a tender offer or hostile takeover. Alternatively, an outside investor may think that a corporation is not being managed properly and may use a tender offer to buy all the public shares.
Stocks and Bonds and Bears, Oh My!
Suppose that BCT Bookstore, Inc. has become a large, well-established corporation after a round of private equity and bank loans (since repaid) but needs to raise capital. What is the best method? There is no one right answer. Much of the decision will depend on the financial and accounting standing of the corporation: if BCT already has a lot of debt, it might be better to issue stock rather than bring on more debt. Alternatively, BCT could wish to remain a privately held corporation, and thus a stock sale would not be considered, as it would dilute the ownership. The economy in general could impact the decision: a bear market could push BCT more toward using debt, while a bull market could push BCT more toward an initial public offering (discussed in Section 22.4.1 “Sale of stock”) or stock sale. Interest rates could be low, increasing the bang-for-the-buck factor of debt. Additionally, public stock sales can be risky for the corporation: the corporation could undervalue its stock in the initial sale, selling the stock for less than what the marketplace thinks it is worth, missing out on additional funds because of this undervaluation. Debt may also be beneficial because of the tax treatment of interest payments—the corporation can deduct the interest payments from corporate profits. Thus there are many factors a corporation must consider when deciding whether to finance through debt or equity.
Stock, or shares (equity), express an ownership interest in a corporation. Shares have different designations, depending on who holds the shares. The two main types of stock are preferred stock and common stock, each with rights that often differ from the rights of the other. Preferred stock has elements of both debt and equity. Holders of preferred shares have a dividend preference and have a right to share in the distribution of assets in liquidation. Holders of common stock have a different set of rights, namely, the right to vote on important corporate decisions such as the election of directors. A corporation may purchase some of its shares from its shareholders in a process called a buyback. Stock in the hands of the corporation is called treasury stock. There are a variety of factors that a corporation must consider in determining whether to raise capital through bonds or through stock issuance.
- What are some key rights of holders of preferred shares?
- What is the major difference between preferred stock and common stock?
- Why would a corporation buy back its own shares?
- What are some factors a corporation must consider in deciding whether to issue stock or bonds?