a Includes "special stock." b At end of 1970.
a Includes "special stock." b At end of 1970.
true if the preferred stock had a conversion privilege close to the market. The reverse is generally true at present. As a result there are a considerable number of convertible preferred stocks which are clearly more attractive than the related common shares. Owners of the common have nothing to lose and important advantages to gain by switching from their junior shares into the senior issue.
Example: A typical example was presented by Studebaker-Worthington Corp. at the close of 1970. The common sold at 57, while the $5 convertible preferred finished at 87/2. Each preferred share is exchangeable for 1/2 shares of common, then worth 85/2. This would indicate a small money difference against the buyer of the preferred. But dividends are being paid on the common at the annual rate of $1.20 (or $1.80 for the 1/2 shares), against the $5 obtainable on one share of preferred. Thus the original adverse difference in price would probably be made up in less than a year, after which the preferred would probably return an appreciably higher dividend yield than the common for some time to come. But most important, of course, would be the senior position that the common shareholder would gain from the switch. At the low prices of 1968 and again in 1970 the preferred sold 15 points higher than 1/2 shares of common. Its conversion privilege guarantees that it could never sell lower than the common package.2
Let us mince no words at the outset. We consider the recent development of stock-option warrants as a near fraud, an existing menace, and a potential disaster. They have created huge aggregate dollar "values" out of thin air. They have no excuse for existence except to the extent that they mislead speculators and investors. They should be prohibited by law, or at least strictly limited to a minor part of the total capitalization of a company.*
For an analogy in general history and in literature we refer the reader to the section of Faust (part 2), in which Goethe describes the invention of paper money. As an ominous precedent on Wall Street history, we may mention the warrants of American & Foreign Power Co., which in 1929 had a quoted market value of over a billion dollars, although they appeared only in a footnote to the company's balance sheet. By 1932 this billion dollars had shrunk to $8 million, and in 1952 the warrants were wiped out in the company's recapitalization—even though it had remained solvent.
Originally, stock-option warrants were attached now and then to bond issues, and were usually equivalent to a partial conversion privilege. They were unimportant in amount, and hence did no harm. Their use expanded in the late 1920s, along with many other financial abuses, but they dropped from sight for long years thereafter. They were bound to turn up again, like the bad pennies they are, and since 1967 they have become familiar "instruments of
* Warrants were an extremely widespread technique of corporate finance in the nineteenth century and were fairly common even in Graham's day. They have since diminished in importance and popularity-one of the few recent developments that would give Graham unreserved pleasure. As of year-end 2002, there were only seven remaining warrant issues on the New York Stock Exchange-only the ghostly vestige of a market. Because warrants are no longer commonly used by major companies, today's investors should read the rest of Graham's chapter only to see how his logic works.
finance." In fact a standard procedure has developed for raising the capital for new real-estate ventures, affiliates of large banks, by selling units of an equal number of common shares and warrants to buy additional common shares at the same price. Example: In 1971 CleveTrust Realty Investors sold 2,500,000 of these combinations of common stock (or "shares of beneficial interest") and warrants, for $20 per unit.
Let us consider for a moment what is really involved in this financial setup. Ordinarily, a common-stock issue has the first right to buy additional common shares when the company's directors find it desirable to raise capital in this manner. This so-called "preemptive right" is one of the elements of value entering into the ownership of common stock—along with the right to receive dividends, to participate in the company's growth, and to vote for directors. When separate warrants are issued for the right to subscribe additional capital, that action takes away part of the value inherent in an ordinary common share and transfers it to a separate certificate. An analogous thing could be done by issuing separate certificates for the right to receive dividends (for a limited or unlimited period), or the right to share in the proceeds of sale or liquidation of the enterprise, or the right to vote the shares. Why then are these subscription warrants created as part of the original capital structure? Simply because people are inexpert in financial matters. They don't realize that the common stock is worth less with warrants outstanding than otherwise. Hence the package of stock and warrants usually commands a better price in the market than would the stock alone. Note that in the usual company reports the per-share earnings are (or have been) computed without proper allowance for the effect of outstanding warrants. The result is, of course, to overstate the true relationship between the earnings and the market value of the company's capitalization.*
* Today, the last remnant of activity in warrants is in the cesspool of the NASDAQ "bulletin board," or over-the-counter market for tiny companies, where common stock is often bundled with warrants into a "unit" (the contemporary equivalent of what Graham calls a "package"). If a stockbroker ever offers to sell you "units" in any company, you can be 95% certain that warrants are involved, and at least 90% certain that the broker is either a thief or an idiot. Legitimate brokers and firms have no business in this area.
The simplest and probably the best method of allowing for the existence of warrants is to add the equivalent of their market value to the common-share capitalization, thus increasing the "true" market price per share. Where large amounts of warrants have been issued in connection with the sale of senior securities, it is customary to make the adjustment by assuming that the proceeds of the stock payment are used to retire the related bonds or preferred shares. This method does not allow adequately for the usual "premium value" of a warrant above exercisable value. In Table 16-4 we compare the effect of the two methods of calculation in the case of National General Corp. for the year 1970.
Does the company itself derive an advantage from the creation of these warrants, in the sense that they assure it in some way of receiving additional capital when it needs some? Not at all. Ordinarily there is no way in which the company can require the warrant-holders to exercise their rights, and thus provide new capital to the company, prior to the expiration date of the warrants. In the meantime, if the company wants to raise additional common-stock funds it must offer the shares to its shareholders in the usual way— which means somewhat under the ruling market price. The warrants are no help in such an operation; they merely complicate the situation by frequently requiring a downward revision in their own subscription price. Once more we assert that large issues of stock-option warrants serve no purpose, except to fabricate imaginary market values.
The paper money that Goethe was familiar with, when he wrote his Faust, were the notorious French assignats that had been greeted as a marvelous invention, and were destined ultimately to lose all of their value—as did the billion dollars worth of American & Foreign Power warrants.* Some of the poet's remarks apply
* The "notorious French assignats" were issued during the Revolution of 1789. They were originally debts of the Revolutionary government, purportedly secured by the value of the real estate that the radicals had seized from the Catholic church and the nobility. But the Revolutionaries were bad financial managers. In 1790, the interest rate on assignats was cut; soon they stopped paying interest entirely and were reclassified as paper money. But the government refused to redeem them for gold or silver and issued massive amounts of new assignats. They were officially declared worthless in 1797.
TABLE 16-4 Calculation of "True Market Price" and Adjusted Price/Earnings Ratio of a Common Stock with Large Amounts of Warrants Outstanding
(Example: National General Corp. in June 1971)
1. Calculation of "True Market Price."
Market value of 3 issues of warrants, June 30, 1971 $94,000,000
Value of warrants per share of common stock $18.80
Price of common stock alone 24.50
Corrected price of common, adjusted for warrants 43.30
2. Calculation of P/E Ratio to Allow for Warrant Dilution
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