A bond is a written promise to pay back a specific amount of money at a certain date or dates in the future. In the interim, bondholders receive interest payments at fixed rates on specified dates. Holders can sell bonds to someone else before they are due.
Corporations benefit by issuing bonds because the interest rates they must pay investors are generally lower than rates for most other types of borrowing and because interest paid on bonds is considered to be a tax-deductible business expense. However, corporations must make interest payments even when they are not showing profits. If investors doubt a company’s ability to meet its interest obligations, they either will refuse to buy its bonds or will demand a higher rate of interest to compensate them for their increased risk. For this reason, smaller corporations can seldom raise much capital by issuing bonds.
A company may choose to issue new “preferred” stock to raise capital. Buyers of these shares have special status in the event the underlying company encounters financial trouble. If profits are limited, preferred stock owners will be paid their dividends after bondholders receive their guaranteed interest payments but before any common stock dividends are paid.
If a company is in good financial health, it can raise capital by issuing common stock. Typically, investment banks help companies issue stock, agreeing to buy any new shares issued at a set price if the public refuses to buy the stock at a certain minimum price. Although common shareholders have the exclusive right to elect a corporation’s board of directors, they rank behind holders of bonds and preferred stock when it comes to sharing profits.
Investors are attracted to stocks in two ways. Some companies pay large dividends, offering investors a steady income. But others pay little or no dividends, hoping instead to attract shareholders by improving corporate profitability — and hence, the value of the shares themselves. In general, the value of shares increases as investors come to expect corporate earnings to rise.
Companies whose stock prices rise substantially often “split” the shares, paying each holder, say, one additional share for each share held. This does not raise any capital for the corporation, but it makes it easier for stockholders to sell shares on the open market. In a two-for-one split, for instance, the stock’s price is initially cut in half, attracting investors.
Companies can also raise short-term capital — usually to finance inventories — by getting loans from banks or other lenders.
As noted, companies also can finance their operations by retaining their earnings. Strategies concerning retained earnings vary. Some corporations, especially electric, gas, and other utilities, pay out most of their profits as dividends to their stockholders. Others distribute, say, 50 percent of earnings to shareholders in dividends, keeping the rest to pay for operations and expansion. Still, other corporations, often the smaller ones, prefer to reinvest most or all of their net income in research and expansion, hoping to reward investors by rapidly increasing the value of their shares.