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Stock Split Essentials - What Every Stock Trader Needs to Know

Jun 3, 2008
Stock splits present one of the most misunderstood aspects of the stock market. Psychologically stock splits feel like you have gained value, but in reality you just own twice as much paper. Much the same as if you changed a ten-dollar bill for two five-dollar bills. Once a stock splits 2-for-1 you have twice as many pieces of paper (shares) as you did before. But your shares still represents the same percentage of the total outstanding shares of the company as it did before.

Why do companies split their stock? Investor psychology motivates the issuing company to do this. Stocks are generally sold in lots of 100. When a stock splits it's more likely to the needs of a small investor. For instance suppose a stock is selling for $60 a share. A lot of 100 shares would cost $600. If this stock splits 3-for 1, the price of a share goes from $60 to $20; and the cost to 100 shares goes from $600 to $200. Suppose a small investor has $400 he would like to invest. A hundred shares for $600.00 is out of his reach, but 200 shares for $400.00 meets his needs exactly.

Although there are many ratios a stock could split, the most common splits are 2-for-1, 3-for-2, and 3-for-1. Also possible is a reverse split where a company reduces the outstanding shares. A reverse split results in each holder being issued less shares than before. A reverse split gives you less paper but you still own the same percentage of the company. One reason a company might decide to do a reverse split is that price per share is so small it looks like a poor investment. If the price of a share becomes too low it might get de-listed by the stock exchange. Other reasons for a reverse split could be to push out minority stockholders, or as a way to go private.

What are the advantages of a Stock split? The biggest advantages of a stock split is greater liquidity. As mentioned before stocks are sold in lots of a hundred. So the lower the price of the stock, the more likely they will meet the criteria of a small investor's budget. The bid/ask spread is the difference between buying and selling prices. Typically the smaller the price of a stock the smaller the bid/ask spread. A high bid/ask spread can put off larger investors.

Psychologically, a split is perceived as bullishness. The spit is seen as a sign that the company is doing well. A stock split generally sets off a short-term rally, although the market usually normalizes shortly.

One of the disadvantages is that a split raises investor expectation about the company's performance. If these expectations are not met, there is a rebound effect and the investor's lose confidence which may result in falling share prices.

When all is said and done a stock split doesn't change the value or performance of a company. The investor may own twice as many shares, but the total value is unchanged. Probably the most important thing is that you now own more shares. This will, of course, benefit you if the price of the stock continues to rise.
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