All publicly-traded companies have a set number of shares that are outstanding on the stock market. A stock split is a decision by the company's board of directors to increase the number of shares that are outstanding by issuing more shares to current shareholders. For example, in a 2-for-1 stock split, every shareholder with one stock is given an additional share. So, if a company had 10 million shares outstanding before the split, it will have 20 million shares outstanding after a 2-for-1 split.

A stock's price is also affected by a stock split. After a split, the stock price will be reduced since the number of shares outstanding has increased. In the example of a 2-for-1 split, the share price will be halved. Thus, although the number of outstanding shares and the stock price change, the market capitalization remains constant.

A stock split is usually done by companies that have seen their share price increase to levels that are either too high or are beyond the price levels of similar companies in their sector. The primary motive is to make shares seem more affordable to small investors even though the underlying value of the company has not changed.

A stock split can also result in a stock price increase following the decrease immediately after the split. Since many small investors think the stock is now more affordable and buy the stock, they end up boosting demand and drive up prices. Another reason for the price increase is that a stock split provides a signal to the market that the company's share price has been increasing and people assume this growth will continue in the future, and again, lift demand and prices.

Another version of a stock split is the reverse split. This procedure is typically used by companies with low share prices that would like to increase these prices to either gain more respectability in the market or to prevent the company from being delisted (many stock exchanges will delist stocks if they fall below a certain price per share). For example, in a reverse 1-for-5 split, 10 million outstanding shares at 50 cents each would now become two million shares outstanding at $2.50 per share. In both cases, the company is worth $5 million.

The bottom line is a stock split is used primarily by companies that have seen their share prices increase substantially and although the number of outstanding shares increases and price per share decreases, the market capitalization (and the value of the company) does not change. As a result, stock splits help make shares more affordable to small investors and provides greater marketability and liquidity in the market.

For more information on stock splits, see our article on Understanding Stock Splits.

  1. How do mutual funds split?

    Mutual funds split in the same way that individual stocks split, but less often. Like a stock split, mutual fund splits do ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. How does a company decide when it is going to split its stock?

    There are no set guidelines or requirements that determine when a company will split its stock. Often, companies that see ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. How do I place an order to buy or sell shares?

    It is easy to get started buying and selling stocks, especially with the advancements in online trading since the turn of ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Is there a difference between financial spread betting and arbitrage?

    Financial spread betting is a type of speculation that involves a highly leveraged derivative product, whereas arbitrage ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. What does a high turnover ratio signify for an investment fund?

    If an investment fund has a high turnover ratio, it indicates it replaces most or all of its holdings over a one-year period. ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. How does a forward contract differ from a call option?

    Forward contracts and call options are different financial instruments that allow two parties to purchase or sell assets ... Read Full Answer >>
Related Articles
  1. Stock Analysis

    The Biggest Risks of Investing in Berkshire Hathaway Stock

    Learn about the risks of investing in Berkshire Hathaway. Understand how issues of succession, credit downgrade risk and increased regulation could hurt it.
  2. Investing Basics

    5 Common Mistakes New Investors Make

    When it’s time to start investing, watch out for these five common beginner’s mistakes.
  3. Investing Basics

    5 Investing Statements That Make You Sound Stupid

    If you want to talk investments without being mocked, avoid these five statements.
  4. Investing

    How to Effectively Monitor Your Stock Holdings

    Investors should concentrate on the business, not the stock price.
  5. Economics

    Tech Startups Can Save Detroit, Here is Why

    Rising from the ashes in the once proud auto-manufacturing City of Detroit is a rapidly emerging tech startup scene that could prove to be its salvation.
  6. Investing Basics

    Calculating Capital Gains Yield

    Capital gains yield refers to a security’s appreciation or depreciation during the time it’s held.
  7. Investing Basics

    A Primer On Investing In The Tech Industry

    The tech sector can provide fantastic returns for investors with a little know-how in the field.
  8. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    7 Best ETF Trading Strategies for Beginners

    Exchange-traded funds are ideal instruments for beginning traders and investors. Learn the seven best strategies for trading ETFs.
  9. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    3 Fixed Income ETFs in the Biotech Sector

    Learn about the top biotechnology ETFs, such as the SPDR S&P Biotech ETF, the First Trust NYSE Arca Biotech ETF and the iShares Nasdaq Biotech ETF.
  10. Stock Analysis

    4 Reasons Intercept Pharmaceuticals Should Be on Your Radar

    Learn about Intercept Pharmaceuticals and what type of biopharmaceuticals it seeks to create. Understand four reasons why the company is a good investment.
  1. Bid Wanted

    An announcement by an investor who holds a security that he or ...
  2. Hindsight Bias

    A psychological phenomenon in which past events seem to be more ...
  3. Paper Trade

    Using simulated trading to practice buying and selling securities ...
  4. Financial Exposure

    The amount that one stands to lose in an investment. For example, ...
  5. Bid And Asked

    A two-way price quotation that indicates the best price at which ...
  6. Compound Net Annual Rate - CNAR

    The return on an investment after taking tax implications into ...

You May Also Like

Hot Definitions
  1. Gross Profit

    A company's total revenue (equivalent to total sales) minus the cost of goods sold. Gross profit is the profit a company ...
  2. Revenue

    The amount of money that a company actually receives during a specific period, including discounts and deductions for returned ...
  3. Normal Profit

    An economic condition occurring when the difference between a firm’s total revenue and total cost is equal to zero.
  4. Operating Cost

    Expenses associated with the maintenance and administration of a business on a day-to-day basis.
  5. Cost Of Funds

    The interest rate paid by financial institutions for the funds that they deploy in their business. The cost of funds is one ...
  6. Cost Accounting

    A type of accounting process that aims to capture a company's costs of production by assessing the input costs of each step ...
Trading Center
You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!