Equity

What it is:

Put simply, equity is ownership.

In the trading world, equity refers to stock. In the accounting and corporate lending world, equity (or more commonly, shareholders’ equity) refers to the amount of capital contributed by the owners or the difference between a company’s total assets and its total liabilities.

In the real estate world, equity refers to the difference between an asset’s market value and the debt owed on the asset.

How it works/Example:

The two most common types of equities traders encounter are common stock and preferred stock. Share certificates bearing the name of the shareholder, the number of shares, and the name of the company represent these equities, or shares. The number of shares a corporation is authorized to issue is outlined in its corporate charter. When a company decides to sell additional shares to new or existing shareholders, this is sometimes called raising equity.

Although shareholder rights vary by company, one of the most prominent characteristics of equity is that it entitles the owner to vote on certain matters and to do so in proportion to the number of shares he or she owns. The company’s articles of incorporation and bylaws determine the number of votes each share is entitled to.

As you can see in the sample balance sheet for XYZ Company, equity is generally broken out into the par value of the shares outstanding, any additional paid in capital, and any earnings retained by the company.

Why it Matters:

Equity holders enjoy voting rights and other privileges that only come with ownership, because equity represents a claim on a proportionate share of a company’s assets and earnings. These claims are generally subordinate to lenders’ claims, but only equity holders can truly participate in and benefit from growth in the value of the enterprise.

Some financial instruments have equity characteristics but are not actually equity. Convertible debt instruments, for example, represent loans that convert into shares when a company (the borrower) crosses certain thresholds, thereby turning a lender into an owner in certain events. Stock options also act like equity in that their value changes with the value of the underlying shares, but the option holders generally do not have voting rights and are not eligible to receive the dividends or other distributions made to bona fide equity holders.

It is important to understand that although balance sheet equity represents the company’s net worth, the company’s shares are ultimately worth only what buyers are willing to pay for them.

Best execution refers to the imperative that a broker, market maker, or other agent acting on behalf of an investor is obligated to execute the investor's order in a way that is most advantageous to the investor rather than the agent.