Global Depositary Receipt (GDR)

What Is a Global Depositary Receipt (GDR)?

A global depositary receipt (GDR) is a negotiable financial instrument issued by a depositary bank. It represents shares in a foreign company and trades on the local stock exchanges in investors' countries. GDRs make it possible for a company (the issuer) to access investors in capital markets beyond the borders of its own country.

GDRs are commonly used by issuers to raise capital from international investors through private placement or public stock offerings.

A global depositary receipt is very similar to an American depositary receipt (ADR) except that an ADR only lists shares of a foreign company in U.S. markets.

Key Takeaways

  • A global depositary receipt is a tradable financial security.
  • It is a certificate that represents shares in a foreign company and trades on two or more global stock exchanges.
  • GDRs typically trade on American stock exchanges as well as Eurozone or Asian exchanges.
  • GDRs and their dividends are priced in the local currency of the exchanges where the GDRs are traded.
  • GDRs represent an easy way for U.S. and international investors to own foreign stocks.

Understanding Global Depositary Receipts (GDRs)

A global depositary receipt is a type of bank certificate that represents shares of stock in an international company. The shares underlying the GDR remain on deposit with a depositary bank or custodial institution.

While shares of an international company trade as domestic shares in the country where the company is located, global investors located elsewhere can invest in those shares through GDRs.

Using GDRs, companies can raise capital from investors in countries around the world. For those investors, the GDRs will be denominated in their home country currencies. Since GDRs are negotiable certificates, they trade in multiple markets and can provide arbitrage opportunities to investors.

GDRs are generally referred to as European Depositary Receipts, or EDRs, when European investors wish to trade locally the shares of companies located outside of Europe.

GDR transactions tend to have lower costs than some other mechanisms that investors use to trade in foreign securities.

Example of a Global Depositary Receipt

A U.S.-based company that wants its stock to be listed on the London and Hong Kong Stock Exchanges can accomplish this via a GDR. The U.S.-based company enters into a depositary receipt agreement with the respective foreign depositary banks. In turn, these banks package and issue shares to their respective stock exchanges. These activities follow the regulatory compliance regulations for both of the countries.

A depositary is an independent, third-party entity such as a bank that may act as a safekeeping facility and fiduciary. For instance, a depositary bank can provide stock related services for a depositary receipt program.

Characteristics of Global Depositary Receipts

A GDR distributed by a depositary bank represents a particular number of underlying shares—anywhere from a fraction to multiple shares—in a specific international company. The particular share makeup for a GDR depends on how attractive an investment it will make to local investors.

For instance, in the U.S., a depositary bank would want to create GDRs with the number of shares, or fractions thereof, and associated U.S. dollar value that U.S. investors might be most comfortable with.

The depositary bank first buys the shares of the international company (or, receives them from an investor who already owns them). It then bundles a certain number of them. This bundle is represented by a GDR. The GDR is then issued by the depositary bank on a local stock exchange. The underlying shares remain on deposit with the depositary bank (or custodian bank in the international country).

The trading process involving GDRs is regulated by the exchange on which they trade. For example, in the U.S., global depositary receipts are quoted and trade in U.S. dollars. They also pay dividends with U.S. dollars. They're subject to the trading and settlement process and regulations of the exchange where their transactions take place.

Typically, GDRs are offered to institutional investors via a private offer, due to the fact that they can take advantage of exemptions from registration under the Securities Act of 1933. This makes GDRs an efficient and cost-effective way to access cross-border capital.

In fact, because of their flexibility and efficiencies, issuers from regions such as the Middle East and Africa, Asia Pacific, Latin America as well as Europe have increased their use of GDR programs to help them achieve the objectives they have for raising capital.

Trading Global Depositary Receipts

International companies issue GDRs to attract capital from foreign investors. GDRs trade on the investors' local exchanges while offering exposure to an international marketplace. A custodian/depositary bank has possession of the GDRs underlying shares while trades take place, ensuring a level of protection and facilitating participation for all involved.

Brokers who represent buyers manage the purchase and sale of GDRs. Generally, the brokers are from the home country and operate within the foreign market. The actual purchase of the assets is multi-staged, involving a broker in the investor's country, a broker located within the market of the international company, a depositary bank representing the buyer, and a custodian bank.

Brokers can also sell GDRs on an investor's behalf. An investor can sell them as-is on the proper exchanges, or the investor can convert them into regular stock for the company. Additionally, they can be canceled and returned to the issuing company.

Traders dealing in GDRs often compare the, for example, U.S. dollar price of the GDR with the U.S. dollar equivalent price of the shares trading on the international company's domestic exchange. They'll typically buy the less expensive security and sell the other. Eventually, this arbitrage trading activity causes the underlying shares and the GDRs to reach parity.

Due to the trading activity called arbitrage, a GDR's price closely tracks that of the international company's stock on its home exchange.

Advantages and Disadvantages of GDRs

Advantages

  • GDRs help international companies reach a broader, more diverse audience of potential investors.
  • They can potentially increase share liquidity.
  • Companies can conduct an efficient and cost-effective private offering.
  • Shares listed on major global exchanges can increase the status or legitimacy of an otherwise unknown foreign company.
  • For investors, GDRs provide the opportunity to diversify portfolios internationally.
  • GDRs are more convenient and less expensive than opening foreign brokerage accounts and purchasing stocks in foreign markets.
  • Investors don't have to pay cross-border custody or safekeeping charges.
  • GDRs trade, clear, and settle according to the investor's domestic process and procedures.
  • U.S. holders of GDRs realize any dividends and capital gains in U.S. dollars.

Disadvantages

  • GDRs may have significant administrative fees.
  • Dividend payments are net of currency conversion expenses and foreign taxes.
  • The depositary bank automatically withholds the amount necessary to cover expenses and foreign taxes.
  • U.S. investors may need to seek a credit from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or a refund from the foreign government's taxing authority to avoid double taxation on capital gains realized.
  • GDRs have the potential to have low liquidity, making them difficult to sell.
  • In addition to liquidity risk, they can have currency risk and political risk.
  • This means that the value of GDR could fluctuate according to actual events in the foreign county, such as recession, financial collapse, or political upheaval.
Pros
  • Easy to track and trade

  • Denominated in local currency

  • Regulated by local exchanges

  • Offers international portfolio diversification

Cons
  • More complex taxation

  • Limited selection of companies offering GDRs

  • Investors exposed indirectly to currency and geopolitical risk

  • Potential lack of liquidity

GDRs vs. ADRs

Global Depositary Receipts

Global depositary receipts allow a company to list its shares in more than one country outside of its home country. For example, a Chinese company could create a GDR program that issues its shares through a depositary bank intermediary into the London market and the United States market. Each issuance must comply with all relevant laws in both the home country and foreign markets individually.

American Depositary Receipts

On the other hand, an American depositary receipt, which also represents shares of an international company, lists only on U.S. stock exchanges. To offer ADRs, a U.S. bank will purchase shares on a foreign exchange. The depositary bank will hold the underlying shares and issue an ADR for domestic trading.

Sponsored ADRs

A bank issues a sponsored ADR on behalf of a foreign company. The bank and the business enter into a legal arrangement. Usually, the foreign company pays the costs of issuing an ADR and retains control over it, while the bank handles the transactions with investors.

Sponsored ADRs are categorized by the degree the foreign company complies with SEC regulations and American accounting procedures.

Unsponsored ADRs

A bank may also issue an unsponsored ADR. This certificate represents no direct involvement, participation, or even permission from the foreign company.

Theoretically, there could be several unsponsored ADRs for the same foreign company, issued by different U.S. banks. These different ADRs could also offer varying dividends. With sponsored programs, there is only one ADR, issued by the depositary bank working with the foreign company.

What Is the Meaning of Global Depositary Receipt?

A global depositary receipt is a negotiable certificate issued by a bank. The certificate represents shares in a foreign company traded on a local stock exchange. GDRs give companies access to greater capital and investors the opportunity to invest in the equity of foreign companies.

What Are Some Features of GDRs?

GDRs can be listed on multiple global stock exchanges, They also provide investors with the benefits and rights of the underlying shares, which could include voting rights and dividends. GDRs trade like shares and can be bought and sold throughout the day via a standard brokerage account.

What Is the Difference Between an ADR and a GDR?

An American depositary receipt represents shares in a foreign company and is listed only on American exchanges. A GDR represents shares in a foreign company and is listed on various foreign stock exchanges.

What Is an Example of a GDR?

One example of a GDR is the American oil and gas company, Phillips 66 (NYSE: PSX). In addition to trading domestically, it has depositary receipts listed on exchanges in Brazil (P1SX34), France (R66), Vienna (PSXC), and London (0KHZ.L), among others.

The Bottom Line

For U.S. investors, global depositary receipts offer a way to own equity in foreign companies while trading its representative shares on a local stock exchange. Certainly, GDRs have their risks, including home country economic and political risk, currency risk, and liquidity risk.

However, GDRs also offer noteworthy benefits that include the potential for a globally diversified portfolio, the ability to trade, clear, and settle transactions according to local regulations, no cross-border custody/safekeeping charges, and dividend payments in U.S. dollars.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. Citi. "Global Depositary Receipts (GDRs): A Primer."

  2. Internal Revenue Service. "Foreign Currency and Currency Exchange Rates."

  3. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. "Investor Bulletin: American Depositary Receipts," Page 2.

  4. Phillips 66. "Stock Information."

  5. Yahoo Finance. "Phillips 66 (P1SX34.SA)."

  6. Yahoo Finance. "Phillips 66 (R66.DE)."

  7. Yahoo Finance. "Phillips 66 (PSXC.VI)."

  8. Yahoo Finance. "Phillips 66 (0KHZ.L)."

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