Preferred stock is a special class of stock that some companies issue in addition to common stock.
The name implies something special about preferred shares and they do have some special rights and features. However, for some of the reasons you buy stock, preferred shares don’t work.
Preferred stock is a hybrid security that is a fixed income investment rather than an investment for appreciation.
DividendsThe shares typically pay a fixed rate dividend, much like a corporate bond (they are rated by the major credit agencies).
Preferred stock has a preferential claim over common stock on dividend payments and assets of the corporation in the event of liquidation.
However, preferred stock holders have no vote in corporate matters and the price does not appreciate as common stock does.
Preferred stock is usually bought by institutions that can avoid much of the taxes on dividends thanks to a handy IRS rule.
BenefitsIndividuals can own and benefit from preferred stock, but you must be very careful because not all shares are equal.
Many preferred shares are callable, meaning if market interest rates drop, the company can call the shares. You will receive your money (preferred stock is bought at par) back, but will have to reinvest at lower prevailing rates.
In addition, preferred shares may carry different restrictions and qualifications that vary from company to company.
Before you buy preferred stock, have a competent tax advisor tell you if the shares’ dividends qualify for the 15 percent dividend tax treatment or will they be considered ordinary income. How the preferred shares are structured will make a difference.
ReasonsIt is hard to come up with a good reason for individuals to own preferred stock. Bonds work better, although they have some drawbacks also, as a fixed income investment because the income is guaranteed by the bond’s indenture.
The dividends for preferred stock must be authorized by the board of directors who can suspend them if cash is tight (preferred dividend are paid out of after tax funds, while interest on bonds is paid before taxes).