Exploring What Is Preferred Stock: A Guide to Its Unique Benefits and Risks

Ever wondered about the investment realm that lies between the high-risk, high-reward world of common stocks and the steady, yet lower-earning world of bonds? Welcome to the intriguing world of preferred stocks, or as some may ask, “what is preferred stock?” This type of investment can offer the best of both worlds, combining the stability of bonds with the potential returns of equities.

As an attorney with over a decade of experience, particularly in the fields of real estate, venture capital, M & A, and private equity transactions, I have a keen understanding of the intricacies of corporate law and the differences between preferred and common stock. These differences are crucial, as they relate directly to the rights and privileges of stockholders, which can vary significantly depending on the state and the corporation’s charter or bylaws.

Preferred stockholders often enjoy priority over common stockholders when it comes to dividends and liquidation, and may have different voting rights. However, it’s essential to recognize that the specific rights and obligations can vary greatly. This is especially true when looking at state-specific laws and corporate governance documents.

In Delaware, a key hub for corporate America, the rights and obligations of preferred and common stockholders are typically defined by the corporation’s charter or bylaws. A notable case, In re Trados Inc. Shareholder Litigation, highlighted that the rights of preferred stockholders are “purely contractual in nature.” This implies that directors do not owe fiduciary duties to preferred stockholders concerning these rights. However, directors are still bound to maximize the corporation’s value for the benefit of common stockholders, who are considered the “ultimate beneficiaries of the firm’s value.” Other Delaware cases like Garfield v. Boxed, Inc. and Greenmont Capital Partners I, LP v. Mary’s Gone Crackers, Inc., delve into various aspects such as voting rights and conversion rights for preferred stockholders.

Turning to California, we see a similar trend where the rights of preferred stockholders are defined by the corporation’s charter or bylaws. Cases like Kline Hawkes California SBIC, L.P. v. Superior Court and Kirschner Brothers Oil, Inc. v. Natomas Co., underscore that these rights are generally contractual and include specific privileges like the right to file for involuntary dissolution of a corporation and voting as a class on certain matters.

In New York, the situation is parallel, with the corporation’s charter or bylaws determining the rights of preferred and common stockholders. Millspaugh v. Cassedy and Matter of Kinney explore the nuances of voting rights and the entitlements of preferred stockholders in dividends and liquidation scenarios.

Furthermore, while analyses of the use of preferred stock in Delaware, such as the implications of super-voting preferred stock, might not directly address the key differences between preferred and common stock, they provide valuable insights into the regulation of different types of stock in a state that’s pivotal in corporate law.

Understanding these state-specific nuances is vital, as they can have significant implications for corporate governance and the rights of stockholders. This knowledge is particularly relevant to my practice, given my background in dealing with complex transactions and corporate matters.

Key Takeaways

  • Preferred stock is a hybrid investment security with fixed returns, offering higher yields and dividend payments than common stocks.
  • It has limited growth potential and lacks voting rights, but provides income stability to investors seeking consistent income.
  • Trading preferred stocks on the secondary market offers various advantages. One should conduct due diligence before investing in order to understand the associated risks.

Defining Preferred Stock: An Overview

Illustration of preferred stock concept

Preferred stock is a distinctive form of equity security that amalgamates characteristics of both stocks and bonds. It’s like a chameleon of the financial world, blending into both the equity and bond landscapes. Preferred stock offers higher dividend payments and a higher claim to assets in the event of liquidation, making it an appealing investment choice. However, it is not entirely beneficial. Preferred stocks are usually thought to be less risky than common stocks, yet more risky than bonds. They also come with their own unique features, such as a par value, contractual dividend, and in some cases, a maturity date.

However, the allure of preferred stocks does not end there. Preferred stocks offer several advantages, including:

  • Fixed dividends
  • Enhanced yields compared to common stocks
  • Precedence over common stockholders in dividend allocations and asset distribution during liquidation

Imagine a pecking order, with preferred stockholders having their meal before preferred shareholders and common shareholders.

Equity Security with Fixed Returns

Preferred stock can be likened to the tortoise in the well-known fable ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’. It provides steady returns, not through speed but by slowly and steadily providing fixed dividends akin to bond coupon payments. The yield for preferred stock is calculated by dividing the annual dividend payment by the par value, much like how the tortoise’s progress was calculated by the distance covered over time.

However, as the hare might overtake the tortoise at any moment, if the preferred shares’ trading price surpasses the par value, the effective dividend yield will decrease.

Hybrid Investment Characteristics

Visualize a hybrid of a leopard and a lion, termed a ‘leopon’. Preferred stock is the financial equivalent of this, exhibiting features akin to both stocks and bonds, including a par value, contractual dividend, and in some cases, a maturity date. Preferred stock typically pays a fixed dividend that is established upon its issuance. Preferred stock may have a call date. This allows the issuing company to redeem the stock at some point in the future, even before its maturity. It is similar to a leopon having a call of a lion or a leopard..

Contrarily, unlike a leopon, which is a defined species, preferred stock might not have a maturity date and could be issued indefinitely.

Comparing Preferred and Common Stocks

Illustration comparing preferred and common stocks

When contrasting preferred and common stocks, the dissimilarities are comparable to contrasting apples and oranges. Preferred stocks provide fixed dividends and higher yields in comparison to common stocks, which have no ensured returns but may generate income through price appreciation. It’s like comparing a fixed deposit with a lottery ticket, where one provides a guaranteed, albeit lower return, while the other offers a chance at a huge windfall with a higher risk.

Within a company’s capital structure, preferred stockholders hold precedence over common stockholders concerning dividend allocations and asset distribution during liquidation. Imagine a queue at a food stall, where preferred stockholders are given priority in line over common stockholders. To put it differently, preferred stockholders savor their meal while common stockholders have to await their turn.

Dividends and Yields

If we envision investments as a fruit market, preferred stocks would represent the succulent, high-yield fruit everyone desires to partake. Preferred stocks have higher yields in comparison to common stocks, mainly due to their preferred dividends. They offer fixed dividends, making them a sweet deal for investors looking for consistent income. The dividend rate for preferred stocks is determined by the terms of the stock’s issuance and can be as tempting as a ripe mango on a hot day.

However, market fluctuations can impact the fixed dividends of preferred stocks, rendering them slightly less predictable, akin to how weather conditions can influence fruit ripeness.

Capital Structure and Seniority

Much as a VIP at a gathering, preferred stockholders hold priority over common stockholders in terms of dividend payouts and asset distribution during liquidation. Preferred stockholders are accorded priority in terms of dividend payments over common stockholders, much like how a VIP gets first dibs on the buffet. However, they are positioned behind bondholders in terms of payout priority, much like how a VIP has to wait their turn behind the main act.

In case of a company’s insolvency, preferred stockholders are given priority over common stockholders, although they rank below bondholders, concerning receiving payment. This is especially true for those holding prior preferred stock, which has even greater precedence in the payment hierarchy.

Types of Preferred Stock

Illustration of different types of preferred stock

Just as there exist different dog breeds, each boasting unique attributes and traits, numerous types of preferred stock exist, each with distinct features and advantages. Some preferred stocks, like German Shepherds, are known for their loyalty and protectiveness, accumulating any unpaid dividends. Others, like the carefree Beagle, do not retain missed dividends and are known as non-cumulative preferred stocks.

Then, there are preferred stocks which resemble Border Collies, renowned for their intelligence and adaptability. These are convertible preferred stocks that enable investors to convert their shares into common stock at a pre-defined ratio and date, presenting the potential for capital growth.

Lastly, there are the Labrador Retrievers of preferred stocks, recognized for their durability and dependability. These are perpetual preferred stocks that provide a fixed dividend to the investor indefinitely, without a maturity date.

Cumulative vs. Non-Cumulative

If we liken preferred stocks to a game of Monopoly, cumulative preferred stock would represent the player who gathers $200 each time they pass Go and, if they skip a turn, they can collect it subsequently. Cumulative preferred stocks accrue unpaid dividends, whereas non-cumulative preferred stocks do not retain missed dividends.

For an investor, possessing cumulative preferred stocks is akin to owning a rental property that continues to pay you rent even if the tenant misses a few payments. This type of preferred stock ensures that your income stream remains steady and reliable.

Convertible Preferred Stock

Convertible preferred stocks are the shape-shifters within the investment realm. They provide you with the power to convert your shares into common stock at a predetermined ratio and date, offering potential for capital appreciation. This conversion is most advantageous when the underlying asset increases in value, allowing you to switch from the safety of preferred stock to the high-growth potential of common stock.

However, it’s necessary to balance the advantages of conversion against the potential forfeiture of fixed dividends and seniority in the capital structure.

Perpetual vs. Fixed End-Date

Perpetual preferred stocks can be compared to trees that continuously bear fruit year after year, offering a fixed dividend indefinitely, without a maturity date. On the other hand, fixed end-date preferred stocks are like annual crops that have a predefined life cycle, and a specific date at which they will mature.

While the consistent income from a perpetual preferred stock can be attractive, one must remember that the initial capital invested is not refunded. However, like a tree that you can sell when you no longer want it, you can choose to sell your shares in a perpetual preferred stock at any time.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Preferred Stock

Illustration of advantages and disadvantages of preferred stock

Just as every superhero exhibits their strengths and weaknesses, preferred stock also displays its pros and cons. On the one hand, preferred stock provides a stable income flow via fixed dividends and yields that exceed those of common stocks and bonds. This is akin to a superhero with the power of invincibility, allowing them to take on any challenge without fear.

On the other hand, preferred stock has constrained growth potential and usually doesn’t grant shareholders voting rights. This is like a superhero who is invincible but cannot fly. They can withstand any attack but are limited in their ability to soar to new heights. In the debate of preferred stock vs other investment options, it’s essential to consider these factors.

Income Stability and Higher Yields

Preferred stocks provide the following benefits:

  • Stability of income due to their higher claim on assets and earnings
  • Lower risk compared to common stocks
  • Consistent returns even in unstable market conditions
  • Typically yield more than common stocks and bonds

These benefits make preferred stocks an attractive option for investors seeking a steady income, compared to common stock dividends and fixed income securities.

The fixed dividend rate of a preferred stock influences its pricing, as it is used to calculate the stock’s cost, just like how the size of a ship determines its capacity.

Limited Growth Potential and Voting Rights

However, every silver lining has a cloud. Preferred stocks generally have limited growth potential compared to common stocks. It’s like having a car that’s extremely fuel-efficient but doesn’t go very fast. While you’ll save money on gas, you won’t be winning any races.

Moreover, preferred stockholders are typically not extended the privilege of voting rights. It’s like being a member of a club but not having a say in its decisions.

Trading and Pricing of Preferred Stock

Similar to any other investment, preferred stocks can be traded and valued in diverse ways. They can be bought and sold on the secondary market, just like common stocks. It’s like trading baseball cards, where you buy, sell, or trade cards based on their value and your collection goals.

Several factors influence the pricing of preferred stocks, such as dividend payments, par value, and conversion premiums, and it can be computed using models like the dividend discount model. It’s like how the price of a baseball card is determined by the player’s stats, rarity of the card, and condition.

Trading on Secondary Market

Preferred stocks can be traded on the secondary market, akin to the way used books or antique items are sold at a flea market. However, just like rare books or vintage items, preferred stocks typically have lower liquidity in the secondary market when compared to common stocks.

Trading preferred stocks on the secondary market can provide several advantages, such as:

  • Fixed dividends
  • Potential for price appreciation
  • Higher yields
  • Preferential access to assets

Despite the diminished liquidity, these advantages make trading preferred stocks a viable option.

Pricing Models and Factors

Pricing preferred stocks is comparable to setting the price for an artwork. It’s influenced by factors such as dividend payments, par value, and conversion premiums. The dividend discount model, a valuation method that calculates the price of preferred stock based on anticipated future cash flows from dividends, is often used to price preferred stocks.

However, akin to the value of art, the price of a preferred stock can vary based on market conditions and the company’s financial health.

Preferred Stock in Diversified Portfolios

Illustration of preferred stock in diversified portfolios

In the vibrant mix of a diversified portfolio, preferred stocks can introduce a unique tone. They can contribute towards a balance between risk and reward for investors, providing a steady income with some potential for price appreciation. It’s like adding a dash of spice to a dish to enhance its flavor.

Nevertheless, similar to a spice, preferred stocks should be used with discretion. While they offer higher yields and fixed dividends, they are also sensitive to interest rate changes and offer limited upside potential. Therefore, investors should consider their financial goals and risk tolerance before adding preferred stocks to their portfolio.

Balancing Risk and Reward

Preferred stocks provide a balance between the higher risk associated with common stocks and the lower risk of bonds, offering consistent income with some potential for price appreciation. It’s like a teeter-totter, where preferred stocks help balance the upward potential of common stocks with the steady security of bonds.

However, like any investment, fixed income investments come with risks, including changes in interest rates, credit quality, and the potential loss of capital.

Sectors and Industries

Sectors such as financial institutions, telecommunications, banking, insurance, utilities, and real estate investment trusts (REITs) commonly issue preferred stocks. Each sector uses preferred stocks for its own reasons, much like how different chefs use ingredients for their specific purposes.

For instance, insurance companies use preferred stocks to raise capital for various objectives, while utility companies gain several advantages such as reduced capital costs and slightly enhanced returns for investors.

How to Buy Preferred Stock

Purchasing preferred stocks can be as straightforward as online shopping, but instead of adding items to your cart, you’re adding potential income to your portfolio. This process entails utilizing trading platforms and undertaking comprehensive research. It’s a journey filled with numbers, charts, and news updates, but at the end of the road lies the potential for steady dividends and capital appreciation.

However, all preferred stocks are not created equal. They come in different forms and are issued by different sectors, each with its own level of risk and potential reward. Therefore, it’s important to conduct comprehensive research before purchasing preferred stocks. This involves understanding the company’s financials, industry trends, and the specific characteristics of the preferred stock you’re interested in.

Trading Platforms and Brokerage Accounts

Purchasing preferred stocks is akin to buying concert tickets. You can purchase them through online trading platforms or brokerage accounts, which are like the ticketing websites for the financial world. These platforms offer various features and tools to help you make informed investment decisions, much like how ticketing websites provide seating charts and venue information to help you choose the best seats.

Due Diligence and Research

Before committing to buying preferred stocks, it’s vital to do your homework. This involves researching the company’s financials, dividend history, and other relevant factors. It’s like researching a car before buying it – you wouldn’t just look at the price and color, would you? You’d also want to check the mileage, reliability, and perhaps read some reviews.

Similarly, before investing in preferred stocks, you should review the company’s credit ratings, financial health, and the terms and conditions of the preferred stock.


Like a multifaceted gem, preferred stocks offer a unique blend of features that make them a valuable addition to a diversified portfolio. Offering a hybrid of the steady income of bonds and the potential growth of common stocks, preferred stocks can provide a balance of risk and reward for investors. However, like any investment, they come with risks and limitations, and it’s vital to perform due diligence before investing. So, if you’re looking for a steady income stream with a dash of growth potential, preferred stocks could be the missing piece in your investment puzzle.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is preferred stock in simple terms?

Preferred stock is a type of stock that pays shareholders a specified dividend and has priority over common stock for receiving dividends. It combines aspects of both common stock and bonds in one security, including regular income and ownership in the company, and gives holders a priority claim to dividends or assets in the event of liquidation.

Is it better to buy preferred or common stock?

Overall, preferred stock is seen as the safer option with less chance of losses and a more secure income, but common stock provides greater long-term gains potential. Therefore, which one to choose depends on the investor’s individual needs and preferences.

Who is preferred stock best for?

Preferred stock is best for investors seeking steady dividend income and preferential liquidation status, as well as venture capitalists looking to protect their investments. It offers higher yields than common stock dividends and bonds, but without the uncapped upside potential of common stocks and the safety of bonds.

Should you hold preferred stock?

Preferred stocks offer a higher, more reliable yield than common stocks and bonds, but come with the risk of price sensitivity to changes in interest rates. For investors willing to take some risk for higher yields, preferred stocks are an attractive investment, while those with more conservative risk tolerance might consider investment-grade corporate bonds instead.

What are some types of preferred stocks?

Types of preferred stocks include cumulative, non-cumulative, convertible, and perpetual preferred stocks, offering investors different levels of flexibility and protection.

Legal Disclaimer

The information provided in this article is for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. The content presented is not intended to be a substitute for professional legal, tax, or financial advice, nor should it be relied upon as such. Readers are encouraged to consult with their own attorney, CPA, and tax advisors to obtain specific guidance and advice tailored to their individual circumstances. No responsibility is assumed for any inaccuracies or errors in the information contained herein, and John Montague and Montague Law expressly disclaim any liability for any actions taken or not taken based on the information provided in this article.

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