Cumulative Preferred Stock: Definition, How It Works, and Example

What Is Cumulative Preferred Stock?

Cumulative preferred stock is a type of preferred stock with a provision that stipulates that if any dividend payments have been missed in the past, the dividends owed must be paid out to cumulative preferred shareholders first. This is before other classes of preferred stock shareholders and common shareholders can receive dividend payments. Cumulative preferred stock is also called cumulative preferred shares.


Cumulative Preferred Stock

Key Takeaways

  • Cumulative preferred stock is a type of preference share that has a provision that mandates a company must pay all dividends, including those that were missed previously, to cumulative preferred shareholders.
  • This class of shareholders is to be paid ahead of other classes of preferred stock shareholders and ahead of common stock shareholders.
  • Cumulative preferred stock contrasts with non-cumulative preferred stock, in which no omitted or unpaid dividends are issued; if there are no dividends in a particular quarter or year, the shareholders simply miss out.

Understanding Cumulative Preferred Stock

Cumulative preferred stock is one type of preferred stock; a preferred stock typically has a fixed dividend yield based on the par value of the stock. This dividend is paid out at set intervals, usually quarterly, to preferred holders. Preferred stocks are valued similarly to bonds. Bond proceeds are considered to be a liability, while preferred stock proceeds are counted as an asset. Also, bondholders have a priority claim on company assets.

Cumulative preferred stock is a type of preferred stock; others include non-cumulative preferred stock, participating preferred stock, and convertible preferred stock.

Missed Payments and Cumulative Preferred Stock

When a company runs into financial problems and cannot meet all of its obligations, it may suspend its dividend payments and focus on paying business-specific expenses and debt payments. When the company gets through the trouble and starts paying out dividends again, standard preferred stock shareholders possess no rights to receive any missed dividends. These standard preferred shares are sometimes referred to as non-cumulative preferred stock.

In contrast, holders of the cumulative preferred stock shares will receive all dividend payments in arrears before preferred stockholders receive a payment. Essentially, the common stockholders have to wait until all cumulative preferred dividends are paid up before they get any dividend payments again. For this reason, cumulative preferred shares often have a lower payment rate than the slightly riskier non-cumulative preferred shares.

Example of How Cumulative Preferred Stock Works

For example, a company issues cumulative preferred stock with a par value of $10,000 and an annual payment rate of 6%. The economy slows down; the company can only afford to pay half the dividend and owes the cumulative preferred shareholder $300 per share. The next year, the economy is even worse and the company can pay no dividend at all; it then owes the shareholder $900 per share.

In year three, the economy booms, allowing the company to resume dividends. The cumulative preferred stock shareholders must be paid the $900 in arrears in addition to the current dividend of $600. Once all cumulative shareholders receive the $1,500 due per share, the company may consider paying dividends to other classes of shareholders.

Risk Factor of Cumulative Preferred Stock

As the cumulative feature reduces the dividend risk to investors, cumulative preferred stock can usually be offered with a lower payment rate than required for a noncumulative preferred stock. Due to this lower cost of capital, most companies' preferred stock offerings are issued with the cumulative feature. Generally, only blue-chip companies with strong dividend histories can issue non-cumulative preferred stock without increasing the cost of capital.

Take the Next Step to Invest
The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Investopedia receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where listings appear. Investopedia does not include all offers available in the marketplace.