Preference shares are one of the special types of share capital having fixed rate of dividend and they carry a preferential rights over ordinary equity shares in sharing of profits and also claims over assets of the firm. It is ranked between equity and debt as far as priority of repayment of capital is concerned.
Preference shares are a long term source of finance for a company. They are neither completely similar to equity nor equivalent to debt. The law treats them as shares but they have elements of both equity shares and debt. For this reason, they are also called ‘hybrid financing instruments’. These are also known as preferred stock, preferred shares, or only preferreds in different part of the world.
Lets us understand the preference share in details with its specific features. Some of the features are of debt and others are of equity. It makes sense to discuss the features similar to debt and equity separately.
Features of Preference Shares Similar to Debt
Fixed Dividends: Like debt carries a fixed interest rate, preference shares have fixed dividends attached to them.
But obligation of paying dividend is not as rigid as debt. Non-payment of dividend would not amount to bankruptcy in case of preference share.
Preference over Equity: As the word preference suggests, these type of shares get preference over equity shares in sharing the income as well as claims on assets. Alternatively, preference share dividend has to be paid before any dividend payment to ordinary equity shares. Similarly, at the time of liquidation also, these shares would be paid before equity shares.
No Voting Rights: Preference share capital is not allotted any voting rights normally. They are similar to debenture holders and do not have any say in the management of the company
No Share in Earnings: Preference shareholders can only claim two things. One, agreed percentage of dividend and second the amount of capital invested. Equity shares are entitled to share the residual earnings and residual assets in case of liquidation which preference shares are not entitled to.
Fixed Maturity: Just like debt, preference shares also have fixed maturity date. On the date of maturity, the preference capital will have to be repaid to the preference shareholders. A special type of shares i.e. irredeemable preference shares are an exception to this. They do not have any fixed maturity.
Features of Preference Shares similar to Equity Shares
Dividend from PAT: Equity share dividend is paid out of the profits left after all expenses and even taxes and same is the case with preference shares. The preference dividend is paid out of the divisible profits of the company. Out of the divisible profits, the preference dividend would be paid first and the remaining profits can be utilized for paying any dividend to equity shareholders.
Management Discretion over Dividend Payment: The payment of preference dividend is not compulsory and is a decision of the management. Equity shareholders also do not have any right to ask for dividends, the dividends are paid at the discretion of the management of the company. Unlike debt, the nonpayment of dividend of preference shares does not amount to bankruptcy.
No Fixed Maturity: The maturity of a special variant of preference share is not fixed just like equity shares. This variant is popularly known as irredeemable preference shares.