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Talking Money: Preferred Stock

Preferreds

To foster financial literacy, the Talking Money feature covers common terms and concepts used in personal finance and investing. This edition, from Brian Kilb, looks at preferred stock.

You might consider preferred stocks as a higher-yielding asset class offering less risk than common stock shares.

Preferred stocks are hard to define as an asset class because they belong somewhere between stocks and bonds. Technically, they are equities, but they share many characteristics with debt instruments and so are often called hybrid securities.

Companies issue preferred stock with a fixed face value or par value (often either $25 or $1,000) and pay dividends based on a percentage of that par at a fixed rate. Just like bonds, the market value of preferred shares is sensitive to changes in interest rates. If interest rates rise, the share price or value of the preferred shares would need to fall to offer investors a better rate. If interest rates fall, investors want the preferred shares to rise in value.

Preferred shares differ from common stocks in that preferred shares will not appreciate (or depreciate) to the same degree as common shares relative to the company’s success or failure. For that reason, investors looking for growth – and willing to take the risk – may be better off staying with common shares.

For more Talking Money terms, please click here. Visit our Landaas University page for other resources.

Preferred stocks pay dividends that are intended to last the life of the stock.  That does not mean that they have to be paid, however, as dividend payment requires board approval. The dividends on preferred shares must be paid before the dividend on common shares – thus the preferred nature of this security.

Preferred shareholders also have a priority among creditors during liquidation of financially distressed corporations. Bond holders are first in line, followed by preferred stockholders and then common stockholders, again placing the preferred security somewhere between a stock and a bond.

Also, if you’re interested in acting like an owner when you own stocks, preferred shares most often do not have voting rights.

Many institutions own preferred stocks for the preferential tax treatment they provide. IRS rules allow U.S. corporations that pay corporate income taxes to exclude 70% of the dividend income they receive from their securities. This is known as the dividend received deduction, and it is the primary reason why investors in preferreds are primarily institutions.

Banks are the primary issuer of preferred stock. Preferred stocks appeal to banks as they qualify as necessary Tier 1 capital, an important component in measuring a bank’s overall financial strength.

For a discussion of stock investments from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, please click here.

As with any security, understanding the quality of the underlying institution is critical to owning a preferred stock. Proper research will determine whether the security is issued by a financially sound organization with potential to be a stable investment even in rocky economic circumstances.

Something else to make sure you properly understand when buying a preferred stock is whether the issue is callable. Callable refers to a company’s rights to buy back the shares at a predetermined price often advantageous to the issuer. Be careful you don’t get yourself into a situation where preferred stocks can be called at a disadvantage to you.

Check out preferred stocks as another potential asset class adding diversity, stability and higher dividends to your portfolio. Part bond-part stock, you may have a place for these hybrid securities in your holdings.

Brian Kilb is executive vice president and chief operating officer at Landaas & Company.

(initially posted Oct. 15, 2010, revised April 2, 2013, May 20, 2016)

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