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What Are Common Shares (Explained: All You Need To Know)

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What Are Common Shares

Common shares represent units of a business owner’s ownership in a corporation.

In other words, common shares are issued to individuals and entities proving their ownership of a certain percentage in a corporation.

For example, an investor can buy 100 common shares of a publicly-traded company.

This means that the shareholder now owns a small fraction of the company.

A corporation will report its common shares on its balance sheet in the stockholder’s equity section, along with preferred shares and the retained earnings.

Common share owners typically have the right to receive dividends when it’s declared by the board, the right to vote, and the right to receive a liquidation payment when the company is wound-up.

Right to Dividends

The common shareholder’s right to receive dividends is after that of preferred shareholders and any other stockholder having a higher priority ranking on dividend payments.

If the company has preferred shares, it must pay the dividends on those shares before it can pay common shareholders.

Also, the common share cannot force the company to pay dividends.

If the company’s board of directors declares dividends to common shareholders, they can receive a dividend payout.

Right to Vote

Common shares give their holder the right to vote on important corporate decisions.

A shareholder may exercise the right to vote to elect the members of the board.

If one or more board members do not do a good job, the shareholders can appoint someone else as a board member to get the job done.

Right to Liquidation Payout

Common shares give their holder the right to receive a liquidation payout if the company is wound up.

This means that if the company sells off all its assets and closes shop, after all the business creditors have been paid, and after all shareholders owning shares ranking higher than common shares are paid, the common shareholders can receive what’s left.

For example, if a corporation sells all its assets for $100 million and pays off all its creditors for $60 million, the remaining $40 million can be distributed to the shareholders.

Common Share And Residual Claim

Common shares give their holders a “residual claim” on the company’s assets and future profits.

This means that a common shareholder has the right to potentially receive dividends when the board of directors declares them and can receive a liquidation payout if the company is sold and shut down.

For this reason, it is said that common shareholders are the owners of the company.

Just like a business owner that has a residual claim on the value of the business, common shareholders also have a residual claim on the business.

Larger companies in mature industries and reliable cash flow can choose to regularly pay dividends to their shareholders.

For example, dividend aristocrats are companies that have been paying dividends and have been able to raise its dividends payments for at least 25 years.

This means the company has enough cash flow to pay its creditors, lenders, bondholders, and other stakeholders before using the leftover profits to pay dividends on the common shares.

Common Shares Classification

Common shares represent equity securities in a corporation.

A corporation can have different classes of shares, such as preferred shares, allowing it to give the holder of the shares different rights.

Preferred shares typically give the holders the right to receive dividends, but they do not have the right to vote on important corporate matters.

On the other hand, common shares do not guarantee their holders the right to receive dividends but the holders can elect the members of the board.

As equity securities, common shares are reported by the company on its balance sheet along with any preferred shares issued.

You’ll see the common shares reported with the company’s retained earnings.

If the company has other classes of stock, you’ll typically have the rights described in the company’s articles of incorporation, bylaws, or charter.

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Common Shares Example

Let’s look at an example of common shares to better understand a company’s capital structure.

Let’s say a company has issued $10 million of bonds, has 1 million preferred shares, and 100 million common shares.

In this scenario, the company must pay the interest and principal payments to the bondholders as they come due in priority, and then it must pay all the dividends on the preferred shares.

If the company has money left over, it can choose to reinvest that money into the business (without paying dividends on the common shares) or use some of that money to pay some dividends on the common shares.

However, the company’s board is not obligated to pay dividends on the common shares.

Common Shares FAQ

What are common shares?

Common shares essentially represent a piece of ownership in a corporation.

When an investor buys common shares of a company, they are said to acquire a portion of the business.

For example, if a company has 100 million shares outstanding and an investor buys 1 million shares, it will own 1% of the corporation.

What is the difference between common shares and preferred shares?

Although both common and preferred shares are equity securities, they give their holders different rights.

Common shares provide an unlimited upside potential of capital gains, offer voting rights on important business matters, and are entitled to receive dividends only when the board declares it.

However, common shares have the lowest ranking in the company’s capital structure and common shareholders are not guaranteed to receive any dividends.

On the other hand, preferred shares have the right to receive fixed dividends and will have preference over common shares in the event of liquidation of the business.

On the flip side, preferred shares do not offer as much upside for capital gains and do not offer their holders the right to vote on policy matters.

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Are common shares risky?

Within a company’s capital structure, common shares expose their holders to more risk than bonds or preferred shares.

Since the common shareholders only have a residual claim on the company’s assets and future profits, they will only get something after all the creditors, bondholders, debenture holders, and preferred shareholders have been paid.

However, although the common shares can be riskier, they provide a higher potential for capital appreciation over time.

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How are common shares issued?

Common shares are issued by the company to shareholders in different ways.

When the shares are issued to private investors, we’ll refer to that as a private placement.

However, if the shares are issued to the public for the first time, we’ll refer to that as the Initial Public Offering (IPO).

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Takeaways 

So there you have it folks!

What is common shares?

Common shares represent part ownership in a corporation.

When an investor acquires common shares, he or she is considered to become a part owner of the corporation.

Common shares give their holders the right to vote, the right to receive dividends potentially, and liquidation money if the company is wound up.

The main reason why people buy common shares is to benefit from the capital appreciation of the shares over time.

If you’re looking to buy common shares, be sure to do your research on the company to ensure that you are taking the right level of risk.

Now that you know what common shares are and how they work, good luck with your research.

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Editorial Staff
Hello Nation! I'm a lawyer by trade and an entrepreneur by spirit. I specialize in law, business, marketing, and technology (and love it!). I'm an expert SEO and content marketer where I deeply enjoy writing content in highly competitive fields. On this blog, I share my experiences, knowledge, and provide you with golden nuggets of useful information. Enjoy!

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