A public limited company (PLC) is a legal corporation structure in the United Kingdom that is essentially similar to a publicly traded company in the United States. A PLC is allowed to issue many different kinds of stock shares such as ordinary shares, cumulative preference shares, preference shares, bearer shares and redeemable shares.
A PLC is a limited liability company formed in either the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland. Although a PLC may be constituted as a privately held company, it is most often a public company. Company shares are freely traded on exchanges. In accordance with U.K. company law, a PLC must have minimum share capital of £50,000 and the PLC designation after the company name.
PLCs, much like public companies in the United States, usually pay out dividends to shareholders periodically as long as the company is operating profitably. Stock shares also confer voting rights to the shareholder at a company's annual general meeting, although voting rights may vary according to the type of shares owned. Ordinarily, the amount of voting power that an investor has corresponds to the amount of stock shares owned.
PLCs may offer a variety of share types within the following basic categories of stock shares:
1. Ordinary Shares
This is the most commonly issued share type, essentially the same as common stock in U.S. equities. Ordinary shares carry voting rights, but not usually any special rights beyond that. Ordinary shares may be subdivided into different classes such as A or B and have different share prices.
2. Cumulative Preference Shares
This share type roughly corresponds to preferred stock shares of U.S. companies. Like U.S. preferred stock, they come with the stipulation that any scheduled dividends that cannot be paid when due are carried forward and must be paid before the company can pay out ordinary share dividends.
3. Preference Shares
This is a slightly less preferred share type. Preference shareholders have the right to be paid dividends prior to dividends being paid for other share types. Preference shares do not typically carry voting rights.
4. Bearer Shares
Bearer shares are most commonly in the form of warrants – a legal document certifying that the bearer is entitled to own the shares designated in the warrant. The warrants usually come with vouchers enabling the bearer to claim any due dividends. Warrants are completely transferable.
5. Redeemable Shares
As the name implies, redeemable shares are issued with the shareholder agreeing that the shares can be redeemed – bought back by the company – either after a certain time period or on a given date. Redeemable shares can vary according to which party, either the company or the shareholder, has the option to exercise the company buyback provision.
6. Non-Voting Shares
These shares are like ordinary shares except that they carry no voting rights. This type of share is usually issued to employees so that part of their compensation can be paid in the form of dividends. This arrangement usually provides tax benefits for the company and the employees.