Two potentially important issues arise with non-voting shares. The underwriters and prospective investors in SNAP are clearly not worried about them. Granted, they’re unlikely to emerge as actual issues in the near future, but here they are:
–value investors often buy shares in companies they believe are undervalued by virtue of having bad management. Their rationale is that management will change in one of several ways: existing managers will learn from past mistakes and improve; the board of directors will replace existing managers with better ones; shareholders will vote out current directors and replace them with better ones; the company will be taken over by a third party, which will toss out the incumbents and replace all of them with more competent individuals.
In the case of SNAP, management, the board and the voting shareholders are basically one and the same. The likelihood of them firing themselves is pretty small. And the chances of a hostile takeover are zero. So the value investor argument for eventually buying SNAP shares that there’s a level below which they can’t go without triggering change of control doesn’t apply here. So if things turn south with SNAP, the chances of rescue are small.
The results of this situation are plain to see in the Japanese stock market, where disenfranchised shareholders have had to watch their investment in family-owned company shares lie dormant for decades.
–change of control can happen voluntarily. But does an acquirer have to buy non-voting shares in order to take the reins? I don’t know. But I don’t think the answer is clearly “Yes.” Say Amazon decided to bid for the voting shares of SNAP at double the price of the publicly traded, non-voting ones. AMZN could presumably then replace management and the board of directors and guide the company in any direction it chose–without buying a single non-voting share. If this were to happen, my guess is that non-voting shares would plunge in value. Years of expensive legal wrangling would decide the issue one way or the other.
A third musing: Can SNAP declare dividends for voting shares but not for non-voting? The answer should be in the prospectus, which I haven’t read carefully enough to have found out. But then I’m not interested in taking part in the IPO.