What are 'Closely Held Shares'

Closely held shares of stock are stocks held by a small number of investors in a closely held corporation, who possess most of the corporation's available shares. These shareholders — also called “majority” or “controlling” stockholders — are either affiliated with the company, its management, or family members; or they have another type of close relationship with, or interest in, the company.

Breaking Down 'Closely Held Shares'

Closely held shares act a bit differently from the shares of privately held companies, which do not trade shares at all; or from publicly traded companies, which trade every day. Although closely held corporations do trade their stock publicly at times, they do so irregularly and infrequently. So there are few opportunities for new investors because trading volume is light, and majority shareholders tend to hold onto their shares for the long term. In order for the firm to qualify as a closely held company, a minimum number of shares must be held by persons outside of the business, such as members of the public.

Other Considerations of Closely Held Shares

Function. In many ways, though, closely held shares behave the same as actively traded shares: They both represent ownership rights in the corporation; and they both come with the same right to vote, receive dividends, and collect a distribution of the company’s net assets if the company is liquidated. The biggest difference is not so much in the shares themselves, but in the ownership structure of the company that is issuing them.

Stability. Because closely held shares do not trade frequently in the open market, it is the value of the company itself, rather than market sentiment or irrational investor activity, that generally determines the share price. Also, all decisions made on the behalf of the business are solely for the interest of the business itself, with fewer external constituents to satisfy. So closely held companies tend to be more stable than other companies.

Working Capital. Although they might enjoy greater stability than widely traded corporations, closely held corporations also might find it more difficult to raise additional capital through the sale of associated stock.

Takeovers. Closely held corporations are more resistant to hostile takeovers and proxy wars than are publicly traded companies. Their close-knit nature, and the fact that controlling shareholders rarely release any of their shares, make it difficult for an outside entity to gain a foothold in attempting a takeover, thus adding another measure of stability.

Valuation: It is usually more difficult to value a closely held company. Because there is no public marketplace for selling its shares, it may be challenging to obtain the data necessary to make a valuation analysis. On the other hand, it is easy to assess the value of a publicly held company both because it is valued by the worth of its stockholders, and because the corporation’s filings are publicly accessible.

Availability. There are few opportunities for investors to purchase closely held shares. However, publicly traded shares are generally readily available; buying and selling them is as simple as placing an order with any broker or brokerage firm.

Tax Implications. When a company’s shares are closely held, the company could apply for S Corporation (S Subchapter) status with the Internal Revenue Service. If the company qualifies, it would report income but not pay taxes. Instead, the shareholders in the S Corporation would pay taxes on their proportional share of the profits. If the S Corporation sees losses, then the owners of the closely held shares would receive tax deductions.

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