What Are Stocks and Shares?

The capital stock (or just stock) of a business entity represents the original capital paid into or invested in the business by its founders. This stock serves as a security for the creditors of a business since it cannot be withdrawn to the detriment of the creditors.

It may be that the original capital paid into a business is very small, for example, perhaps only £50 for each of the shareholders who, together, form the company and would (typically) own 50 £1 shares each (see below for information about the value of shares). This is often the case for an IT contractor, for example, who sets up a small limited company in order to perform contract work for one or more customers.

Stock is distinct from the property and the assets of a business which may fluctuate in quantity and value.

The stock of a business is divided into shares, the total of which must be stated at the time of business formation. Given the total amount of money invested in the business, a share has a certain declared face value, commonly known as the par value of a share. The par value is the de minimis (minimum) amount of money that a business may issue and sell shares for in many jurisdictions and it is the value represented as capital in the accounting of the business. In other jurisdictions, however, shares may not have an associated par value at all. Such stock is often called non-par stock. Shares represent a fraction of ownership in a business. A business may declare different types (classes) of shares, each having distinctive ownership rules, privileges, or share values.

Ownership of shares is documented by issuance of a stock certificate. A stock certificate is a legal document that specifies the amount of shares owned by the shareholder, and other specifics of the shares, such as the par value, if any, or the class of the shares.

In business and finance, a share (also referred to as equity share) of stock means a share of ownership in a corporation (company). In the plural, stocks is often used as a synonym for shares especially in the United States, but it is less commonly used that way outside of North America.

In the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Australia, stock can also refer to completely different financial instruments such as government bonds or, less commonly, to all kinds of marketable securities.

History of Stocks and Shares

During Roman times, the empire contracted out many of its services to private groups called publicani. Shares in publicani were called "socii" (for large cooperatives) and "particulae", which were analogous to today's Over-The-Counter shares of small companies.

Though the records available for this time are incomplete, Edward Chancellor states in his book Devil Take the Hindmost that there is some evidence that a speculation in these shares became increasingly widespread and that perhaps the first ever speculative bubble in "stocks" occurred.

The first company to issue shares of stock after the Middle Ages was the Dutch East India Company in 1606. The innovation of joint ownership made a great deal of Europe's economic growth possible following the Middle Ages. The technique of pooling capital to finance the building of ships, for example, made the Netherlands a maritime superpower. Before adoption of the joint-stock corporation, an expensive venture such as the building of a merchant ship could be undertaken only by governments or by very wealthy individuals or families.

Economic historians find the Dutch stock market of the 17th century particularly interesting as there is clear documentation of the use of stock futures, stock options, short selling, the use of credit to purchase shares, a speculative bubble that crashed in 1695, and a change in fashion that unfolded and reverted in time with the market (in this case it was headdresses instead of hemlines).

Dr. Edward Stringham also noted that the uses of practices such as short selling continued to occur during this time despite the government passing laws against it. This is unusual because it shows individual parties fulfilling contracts that were not legally enforceable and where the parties involved could incur a loss. Stringham argues that this shows that contracts can be created and enforced without state sanction or, in this case, in spite of laws to the contrary.

Types of Stock

Stock typically takes the form of shares of either common stock or preferred stock. As a unit of ownership, common stock typically carries voting rights that can be exercised in corporate decisions. Preferred stock differs from common stock in that it typically does not carry voting rights but is legally entitled to receive a certain level of dividend payments before any dividends can be issued to other shareholders. Convertible preferred stock is preferred stock that includes an option for the holder to convert the preferred shares into a fixed number of common shares, usually anytime after a predetermined date. Shares of such stock are called "convertible preferred shares" (or "convertible preference shares" in the UK).

Although there is a great deal of commonality between the stocks of different companies, each new equity issue can have legal clauses attached to it that make it dynamically different from the more general cases. Some shares of common stock may be issued without the typical voting rights being included, for instance, or some shares may have special rights unique to them and issued only to certain parties. Note that not all equity shares are the same.

Stock Derivatives

A stock derivative is any financial instrument which has a value that is dependent on the price of the underlying stock. Futures and options are the main types of derivatives on stocks. The underlying security may be a stock index or an individual firm’s stock, for example, single-stock futures.

Stock futures are contracts where the buyer is long, i.e., takes on the obligation to buy on the contract maturity date, and the seller is short, i.e., takes on the obligation to sell. Stock index futures are generally not delivered in the usual manner, but by cash settlement.

A stock option is a class of option. Specifically, a call option is the right (not obligation) to buy stock in the future at a fixed price and a put option is the right (not obligation) to sell stock in the future at a fixed price. Thus, the value of a stock option changes in reaction to the underlying stock of which it is a derivative. The most popular method of valuing stock options is the Black Scholes model.

Shareholder

A shareholder (or stockholder) is an individual or company (including a corporation) that legally owns one or more shares of stock in a joint stock company. Both private and public traded companies have shareholders. Companies listed at the stock market are expected to strive to enhance shareholder value.

Shareholders are granted special privileges depending on the class of stock, including the right to vote on matters such as elections to the board of directors, the right to share in distributions of the company's income, the right to purchase new shares issued by the company, and the right to a company's assets during a liquidation of the company. However, shareholder's rights to a company's assets are subordinate to the rights of the company's creditors.

Issuing New Shares

It is common for companies to issue new shares at some stage in their existence. Examples of why this might happen are:

The company must give existing shareholders the option to buy any newly issued shares. This is called their "pre-emptive right".

If the shareholder declines to buy the newly issued shares then the shares are offered to outside buyers. If the shares are issued to outsiders on more favourable conditions than apply to existing shareholders, then the shares must first be offered back to the shareholders on those more favourable conditions.

There may also be provisions in the constitution, or in any agreement that may be in place, giving non-shareholders a pre-emptive right.

For more information on stocks and shares go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stock

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