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DEFINITION of 'Institutional Ownership'

Institutional ownership is the amount of a company’s available stock owned by mutual or pension funds, insurance companies, investment firms, private foundations, endowments or other large entities that manage funds on the behalf of others.

BREAKING DOWN 'Institutional Ownership'

Stocks with a large amount of institutional ownership are often looked upon favorably. Large entities frequently employ a team of analysts to perform detailed and expensive financial research before the group purchases a large block of a company’s stock. This makes their decisions influential in the eyes of other potential investors. See "Keeping an Eye on the Activities of Insiders and Institutions."

How Institutional Ownership Can Influence the Value of Securities

Because of the investment made in research, institutions are not quick to sell their positions. When they do, however, it can be seen as a judgment on the stock's value and drive down its price.

Given the way institutions tend to approach stock ownership, by taking the time to accumulate the number of shares desired for its position, they might also react collectively to significant news. Not only will the trading activity be followed by retail investors, other institutional investors might retreat from a stock en masse if significant issues are discovered. Such a move could trigger a sell-off as the lack of instructional investor confidence weakens the security’s value.

Institutions may also work to drive the share price higher once they own the stock. TV appearances, articles in high-profile publications and presentations at investor conferences help to move the stock higher, increasing the value of the position. For more, see "The Pros and Cons of Institutional Ownership" and "A Brief Guide to Institutional Investing."

When institutions represent the majority of ownership in a given security, there can be a number of issues that arise. With the resources available to institutions, it could be possible for nearly all outstanding shares of a security to be acquired and controlled by these entities, including borrowed shares that short sellers were using to bet against the stock. Such a concentration of ownership may lead to peak ownership where there is little room for new retail investors or any significant trading activity.

Furthermore, peak ownership can mean there will be no further significant investments by institutions into the security, which may lead to diminished upside potential for the stock. There may be discussions of the security’s worth based on the operations of the associated company. With a significant portion of shares locked up in institutional ownership, there may be little opportunity for further investment.

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