What Is a Public Company?

A public company is a company that has issued securities through an initial public offering (IPO) and trades its stock on at least one stock exchange or over-the-counter market. Although a small percentage of shares are initially floated to the public, daily trading in the market determines the value of the entire company.

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Public Company

Public Company Formation

Public companies are publicly traded within the open market, and a variety of investors buy the shares. Most public companies were once private companies that, after meeting all regulatory requirements, opted to become public to raise capital. Examples of public companies include Chevron Corporation, F5 Networks, Inc., Google LLC, and Proctor & Gamble Company.

[Important: The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) states that any company in the United States with over 500 shareholders and more than $10 million in assets must register with the SEC and adhere to its reporting standards and regulations.]

Advantages and Disadvantages of Public Companies

Public companies have certain inherent advantages over private companies. Public companies sell future equity stakes and increase access to debt markets. Once a company goes public, additional offerings generate revenue through the creation and sale of new shares in the marketplace.

However, with these advantages comes increased regulatory scrutiny and less control for majority owners and company founders. Public companies must meet mandatory reporting standards regulated by government entities. Additionally, applicable shareholders are entitled to documents and notifications on business activities.

Public Company Operations and Shareholder Interests

Once a company is public, it must answer to its shareholders. For example, shareholders vote on certain corporate structure changes and amendments. Shareholders can vote with their dollars by bidding up the company to a premium valuation or selling it at a level below its intrinsic value.

Public Company Reporting and Disclosure Requirements

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) sets stringent reporting requirements for public companies. These requirements include the public disclosure of financial statements and annual 10-K reports outlining the state of the company. The reporting requirements ensure that public companies adhere to all rules established by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, reforms designed to prevent fraudulent reporting, and as enforced by the SEC. Each stock exchange also has specific financial and reporting guidelines that govern whether a stock is listed for trading.

From Public to Private

In situations where a public company no longer wishes to operate within that business model, it can return to a privately held state by buying back all outstanding shares from current shareholders. Once the purchase is complete, the company will be delisted from its associated stock exchanges and return to private operations.

Key Takeaways:

  • A public company issues shares through an IPO and trades on at least one stock exchange.
  • Most private companies go public to raise capital.
  • Many public companies go private to gain more control over the company and its decisions.

[Fast Fact: In April 2017, Panera Bread, the bakery-cafe chain, was acquired by the private investment firm JAB Holding Company for $7 billion. JAP Holding Company also owns Keurig, Krispy Kreme, and Peets Coffee and Tea.]