The Ins and Outs of a Reverse Stock Split

Reverse Stock Split, What are Reverse Stock SplitWhen a company decides to conduct a reverse stock split, also referred to as a stock consolidation, the number of shares available to investors is reduced.

In a normal (forward) stock split, a company increases its number of outstanding shares without changing their market value. For example, one share of stock valued at $200 may split into two shares, with the shares then valued at $100 each. So, with a shareholder who holds 10 shares for a total of value of $2,000, a traditional one-to-two (1:2) stock split would change his holding to 20 shares – still valued at $2,000. The difference is that the value of each stock would change from $200 to $100.

The opposite occurs with a reverse stock split; a company decreases its number of outstanding shares without changing their market value. Using the same example, a shareholder who owns 10 shares at $200 would hold only five shares after a 2:1 reverse stock split. However, the worth of each share would double in value to $400.

Why Conduct a Reverse Stock Split?

A reverse stock split often indicates that a company is in financial distress, its stock price is on a downward spiral and it wants to reverse that momentum by giving investors a higher share value. This makes individual stocks more valuable to sell. In many cases, the company’s sinking stock price puts it in danger of losing its place on a stock exchange, which would then limit the pool of possible buyers – particularly fund managers and stock brokers. In most cases, companies that conduct a reverse stock split are small, lightly traded companies as well as some exchange-traded funds.

Impact on Small, Retail Investors

Smaller investors are more likely to be negatively impacted by a reverse stock split because they are more likely to own fewer numbers or fractional shares. For example, if a company conducts a 20:1 reverse stock split, investors receive only one share for every 20 they hold. However, if a shareholder owns less than 20 shares, he will simply be paid cash for his shares and his position would dissolve. This also holds true if the investor owns an uneven multiple of the reverse split. In the scenario of a 20:1 stock split, if the investor held 110 shares, he would receive five new post-split shares and be paid in cash for the remaining 10 shares.

How Do Stocks Perform After a Reverse Split?

While the total value of a shareholder’s holding would not change after a reverse stock split, history has shown that share prices after a reverse split tend to stagnate or continue to drop. After all, the company was likely already in financial distress, and this action serves to increase the price of a failing stock. It does not usually entice new investors or motivate current ones to invest more money in the company.

Potential Advantages and Disadvantages of Reverse Splits

To remain listed on a major stock exchange such as the NYSE or Nasdaq, a company’s share price must trade at $5 or higher. The advantage of a reverse stock split is that it increases the value of shares, which may allow them to remain listed on a major exchange. This offers value to both the investor and the company, as exchanges attract far more investors whose interest can help drive up the stock price.

Another scenario in which a reverse stock split is advantageous is if a corporation is planning to spin off a portion of its business into a separate company. By conducting a reverse stock split before the spinoff, shares of the new company are assured of having a high enough stock price to be listed on a major stock exchange.

However, a reverse stock split is most often a signal that the company is failing, is worried about a pervasive decline in its stock price, and is seeking a way to artificially increase investor share prices.