Preferred shares have the qualities of stocks and bonds, which makes their valuation a little different than that of common shares. The owners of preferred shares are part owners of the company in proportion to the held stocks, just like common shareholders.
TUTORIAL: Fundamental Analysis
Unique Features of Preferred Shares
Preferred shares differ from common shares in that they have a preferential claim on the assets of the company. That means in the event of a bankruptcy, the preferred shareholders get paid before common shareholders.
In addition, preferred shareholders receive a fixed payment that's similar to a bond issued by the company. The payment is in the form of a quarterly, monthly or yearly dividend, depending on the company's policy, and it's the basis of the valuation method for a preferred share.
Generally, the dividend is fixed as a percentage of the share price or a dollar amount. This is usually a steady, predictable stream of income. (For a deeper look into preferred stocks, read A Primer on Preferred Stocks.)
Valuation Of A Preferred Stock
If preferred stocks have a fixed dividend, then we can calculate the value by discounting each of these payments to the present day. This fixed dividend is not guaranteed in common shares. If you take these payments and calculate the sum of the present values into perpetuity, you will find the value of the stock.
For example, if ABC Company pays a 25-cent dividend every month and the required rate of return is 6% per year, then the expected value of the stock, using the dividend discount approach, would be $50. The discount rate was divided by 12 to get 0.005, but you could also use the yearly dividend of $3 (0.25 x 12) and divide it by the yearly discount rate of 0.06 to get $50. In other words, you need to discount each dividend payment that's issued in the future back to the present, then add each value together.
V = the value
D1 = the dividend next period
r = the required rate of return
Because every dividend is the same we can reduce this equation down to:
If the dividend has a history of predictable growth, or the company states a constant growth will occur, you need to account for this. The calculation is known as the Gordon Growth Model.
g = the growth of the payments.
By subtracting the growth number, the cash flows are discounted by a lower number, which results in a higher value.
Although preferred shares offer a dividend, which is usually guaranteed, the payment can be cut if there are not enough earnings to accommodate a distribution, and you need to account for this risk. The risk increases as the payout ratio (dividend payment compared to earnings) increase. Also, if the dividend has a chance of growing, then the value of the shares will be higher than the result of the calculation given above.
Preferred shares usually lack the voting rights of common shares. This might be a valuable feature to individuals who own large amounts of shares, but for the average investor, this voting right does not have much value. However, you should still consider it when evaluating the marketability of preferred shares.
Preferred shares have an implied value similar to a bond, which means it will move inversely with interest rates. When the market interest rate rises, then the value of preferred shares will fall. This is to account for other investment opportunities and is reflected in the discount rate used.
Something else to note is whether shares have a call provision, which essentially allows a company to take the shares off of the market at a predetermined price. If the preferred shares are callable, then purchasers should pay less than they would if there was no call provision. That's because it's a benefit to the issuing company because they can essentially issue new shares at a lower dividend payment. (Due to their lowered price, callable shares pose risk: read Bond Call Features: Don't Get Caught Off Guard.)
The Bottom Line
Preferred shares are a type of equity investment that provides a steady stream of income and potential appreciation. Both of these features need to be taken into account when attempting to determine value. Calculations using the dividend discount model are difficult because of the assumptions involved, such as the required rate of return, growth or length of higher returns.
The dividend payment is usually easy to find, but the difficult part comes when this payment is changing or potentially could change in the future. Also, finding a proper discount rate can be very difficult, and if this number is off, then it could drastically change the calculated value of the shares.