Investors' Assessment of the Dilution and Solvency Effects of Preferred Stock Instruments
54 Pages Posted: 7 May 2020 Last revised: 24 Aug 2021
Date Written: August 17, 2021
Currently, GAAP requires dichotomous classification of financial claims as either liabilities or equity. Classifying financial claims is challenging when instruments have attributes of both liabilities and equity (i.e., hybrid instruments). In this study, we examine under what conditions that common equity investors assess one class of hybrid instruments – preferred stock – similar to liabilities or equity. Preferred stock is similar to liabilities because it is senior to common equity and thus reduces the claims of common shareholders on the net assets of the firm (a dilution perspective). Preferred stock also is similar to equity because it cannot cause bankruptcy (a solvency perspective). We use capital structure theory to identify entity-level economic characteristics that help distinguish both of these conditions in investors’ assessments of preferred stock. We perform two primary sets of analyses. First, we predict and find that investors assess preferred stock similar to (1) liabilities (equity) when expected financial distress costs are low (high) and (2) neither liabilities nor equity when expected financial distress costs are medium. Second, using a sample of firms that delist as an ex-post measure of financial distress, we predict and find that investors change their assessments of preferred stock over the five years prior to delisting, increasingly assessing preferred stock more like equity as financial distress costs increase. Standard setting implications are discussed.
Keywords: preferred stock, balance sheet classification, capital structure theory, dilution versus solvency; liabilities versus equity
JEL Classification: M41, G32, M48
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation