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What Is a Stock Split?

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Older couple on laptop laughing and reading about why stocks split

A stock split is an action taken by a company that increases the total number of shares of stock that are outstanding. There are different types of stock splits and various answers to the question, "why do stocks split?" Here's some information on what this action means.

What Is a Stock Split?

A stock split occurs when a corporation decides to increase its total number of outstanding shares. The increase in shares is expressed by a ratio — such as 2-for-1, 3-for-1 or 3-for-2 — and the share price of the stocks is adjusted accordingly. For example, in a 2-for-1 stock split, the total number of outstanding shares would double and the share price would be cut in half.

Although a stock split that increases the total number of shares outstanding is more common, a reverse stock split can also occur. Reverse stock splits decrease the number of shares outstanding and increase the share price of the stock. For example, a 1-for-2 reverse stock split would cut the number of shares in half and double the share price.

Why Do Stocks Split?

Understanding how a stock split works is one thing, but why do stocks split? A company may initiate a stock split for a few reasons:

  • To reduce share price: If a stock has a high share price, a company may choose to issue a stock split to make the shares more affordable to individual investors.
  • To increase liquidity: A stock's liquidity refers to how easy it is to buy and sell shares in the market. A stock priced at $10 per share might be easier to trade than a stock priced at $1,000 per share.

It's important to remember that the action of a stock split itself does not change the intrinsic value of a company. Stock splits do reduce the share price of a stock, but they do not directly affect the market capitalization or any fundamental valuation metric.

Are There Benefits to a Stock Split?

Some companies split stocks when the stock prices are high in order to lower share prices and make the stock more accessible to investors. As an investor, you may be able to afford to buy more shares after a stock split. However, it's important to note that a stock split alone is not an indication that a stock is a better value because of previous growth or because of a lower price.

A stock split does not change a company's market capitalization, which is the primary means of measuring the total value of a company's stock. Also known as market cap, a company's stock market capitalization is calculated by multiplying the total number of outstanding shares by the price of the stock.

For example, if a company had 10 million shares outstanding at a price of $50 per share, it would have 20 million shares outstanding at $25 per share after a 2-for-1 split. The market capitalization, which is $500 million, does not change. Investors might keep their overall investment strategy in mind — reevaluating as they see fit — and continue to base buying and selling decisions on their unique goals while considering all of the information available.

The Bottom Line

Stock shareholders can grow their investment skills by understanding stock splits. However, investors should not assume that stock splits are always a signal to buy more shares of the respective stock. Stocks and similar investments can't guarantee future growth, and may not even hold their principal value. Investors might find it useful to consult with a financial professional about their investment goals following a stock split, or at any time in their financial journey.

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Securities offered by Registered Representatives through W&S Brokerage Services. Member FINRA/SIPC. All companies are members of Western & Southern Financial Group

Information provided is general and educational in nature. It is not intended to be, and should not be construed as, legal or tax advice. Western & Southern Financial Group and its member companies (“the Company”) does not provide legal or tax advice. Laws of a specific state or laws relevant to a particular situation may affect the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of this information. Federal and state laws and regulations are complex and are subject to change. The Company makes no warranties with regard to the information or results obtained by its use. The Company disclaims any liability arising out of your use of, or reliance on, the information. Consult an attorney or tax advisor regarding your specific legal or tax situation.