forms of capital
Traditional financial theory separates a company’s long-term capital into two types:
–debt capital. This is money the firm has borrowed, either through bank loans or company-issued bonds. Creditors may have influence over company operations through restrictions spelled out in the loan documents, called covenants. They generally specify measures to accelerate loan repayment that the company must take if it fails to meet stipulated profit or cash flow measures. (An example: the firm may be forced to devote all cash flow to loan repayment if profits decline sharply. Money can’t be spent on things like capital improvements or dividends unless creditors give the ok.)
–equity capital. Equity means ownership. Common stock ownership is typically established by the means equity owners have to assert/protect their interests–usually the ability to vote on appointment of members of the firm’s board of directors. The board, in turn, hires and evaluates management.
Some companies may also issue preferred stock. Preferreds qualify for their name because they have some advantage, or preference, over common. The typical preferences are: higher/more secured dividend payment; and/or priority over common equity in liquidation proceedings. On the other hand, preferreds typically either have restricted/no voting rights. In the US, preferreds, despite the equity in their name, typically trade as if they were a form of corporate debt.
SNAP non-voting shares
Where do the SNAP shares fit in this scheme?
They’re clearly not debt …but are they equity?
They are certainly not traditional equity. They have no ability to exercise any influence on company operations, and certainly no way to replace an underperforming board of directors. On the other hand, they don’t appear to have any of the greater security of preferreds. In fact, they seem to be a hybrid that combines the riskier features of both.
The closest I can come, in my past experience, to US non-voting shares like SNAP’s (or Google’s for that matter) are Korean preferreds and Italian certificates of participation. In both cases, they traded well in up markets but underperformed very signficantly during market declines.