What Is a Stock Split? How Does It Affect Investors?

By Michael Flannelly · May 18, 2024 · 9 minute read

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What Is a Stock Split? How Does It Affect Investors?

A skyrocketing share price is usually a good thing for a company; investors expect the company to continue growing in the future. However, a stock trading with a hefty price tag may frighten away smaller investors, who may perceive the stock as too rich for their blood. That means many investors might pass over the company’s stock for other stocks with a lower per share price tag.

To combat this, a company may conduct a stock split. This action brings down the price of the company’s stock so that shares look more attractive to more investors, even though the company’s value remains the same. The idea is that investors can invest, and the company gets more marketability and liquidity on the stock market.

Learn more about a stock split and how it works.

Key Points

•   A stock split is when a company increases the number of its outstanding shares on the stock market, lowering the price per share.

•   Stock splits can make shares more affordable to retail investors and increase liquidity in the market.

•   There are different types of stock splits, including forward stock splits and reverse stock splits.

•   Companies conduct stock splits to make their stock more accessible and increase marketability.

•   Stock splits can have pros such as increased accessibility and liquidity, but also cons such as potential expenses and dilution of ownership.

What Is a Stock Split?

A stock split is when a company increases the number of its outstanding shares on the stock market, which lowers the price of its shares, but its market capitalization (sometimes referred to as market cap) stays the same. This is also known as a forward stock split.

For example, if an investor owns 10 shares of a company with a stock price of $100 and the company announces a 5-to-1 stock split, the investor will then own 50 shares of the stock trading at $20 per share after the stock split. Despite the split, the shareholder still owns $1,000 worth of stock.

A stock split may also be referred to as a one-time stock dividend, since the company is giving out additional shares to stockholders.

What Is a Reverse Stock Split?

In a reverse stock split, a company swaps each outstanding share of the company’s stock for a fraction of a share. A company often conducts a reverse stock split when the share price is low and the company is looking to increase the share price.

For example, in late July 2021, General Electric (GE) completed a 1-for-8 reverse split of its shares to boost the stock’s share price. The reverse split increased its share price from less than $13 pre-split to more than $100 post-split; the company replaced every eight shares held by an investor with one share.

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Types of Stock Splits

A number of different ratios can be used to split a stock. When the bigger number comes first in the ratio (such as 2 for 1) it means that the number of outstanding shares will increase—this is a forward stock split. In other words, the stock split ratio can reveal the number of new shares that will be created.

Here are some common stock split types and what they mean.

5 for 1 (5:1)

With a 5 for 1 stock split, for every one share of stock that currently exists, four new shares will be created, for a total of five shares. The share price will adjust downward accordingly, but the company’s market capitalization will stay the same.

2 for 1 (2:1)

In a 2 for 1 stock split, one new share of stock is created for every share that already exists, for a total of two shares. Again, the price for each share will adjust accordingly. A 2 for 1 stock split is one of the most common stock splits.

3 for 1 (3:1)

With a 3 for 1 split, for every share of existing stock, two more shares of stock are created, for a total of 3 shares.

3 for 2 (3:2)

Another fairly common stock split is the 3 for 2 split. In this case, one new share of stock is created for two already-existing shares, for a total of three shares.

Why Do Companies Conduct Stock Splits?

Companies will often split their stock when the share price gets too high. By splitting the stock, a company lowers its share price and makes it more affordable to retail investors, even though the company’s value stays the same.

For example, retail investors may be more likely to buy a chunk of shares of a stock trading at $20 rather than shares trading at $100 or more. This move to reduce the individual share price helps increase the stock’s liquidity in the market.

Pros and Cons of Stock Splits

There are several potential benefits of stock splits, but there are some possible disadvantages of the practice as well.

Pros

Some advantages of a stock split include:

The stock may become more accessible to more investors.

If a stock’s price is very high, smaller investors may be less likely to buy it. Splitting the stock and making it more affordable can result in more investors purchasing the stock.

The stock may have greater liquidity.

Creating more outstanding shares of the stock can make it easier to buy and sell it. For many investors, greater liquidity means they can more readily access their money by selling the stock if they need the funds. Liquidity is typically an important consideration when building a portfolio.

The stock’s price may rise.

Companies that undergo a stock split often do so because their stock price is rising, signaling investor confidence in the company. So, the announcement of a stock split is an indication that the company is doing well. Investors may want to put money into the company, pushing the share price up even before the stock split.

Following the stock split, the stock’s share price may go up because the lower price makes it more affordable to smaller retail investors that may not be able to purchase shares at, say, a $1,000 price. There becomes an increased demand for the lower share price.

Cons

Stock splits can also have drawbacks, such as:

Expensive and complicated.

In order to conduct a stock split, a company must get legal oversight of the process and meet regulatory requirements, which can be costly. A stock split does not change the company’s market cap, so the company must determine whether a split is worth the expense involved.

May attract too many investors.

A company may prefer to keep ownership of its shares exclusive. However, with a stock split, many more investors may be able to afford to buy the stock, meaning the shares would lose their exclusive equity ownership.

Potential for the share price to drop in the future.

It’s possible that once a stock is split and its share price is reduced, the price might drop even lower in the future, which lowers the value of the stock. For instance, if a company’s performance suffers, the face value of the stock might drop more in response.

Examples of Stock Splits Throughout History

Here are some notable stock splits from the last couple of decades:

•   Apple (AAPL): The computer giant split its stock by a 4-to-1 ratio in August 2020. Prior to the split, the stock was trading at around $500. After the split, the stock traded at about $124.

•   Netflix (NFLX): The entertainment company announced a 7-to-1 stock split in July 2015. Before the split, the stock was trading at nearly $800 per share. After the split, the stock traded at about $114.

•   Nike (NKE): The sports apparel company split its stock by a 2-to-1 ratio in December 2015. Prior to the split, the stock was trading at around $128 per share. After the split the stock traded at about $64 per share.

•   Nvidia (NVDA): The technology company engaged in a 4-to-1 stock split in July 2021. Before the split, Apple’s stock was trading at around $750, and after the split, the shares were priced near $187.

•   Tesla (TSLA): The electric car manufacturer split its stock by a 5-to-1 ratio in August 2020. Before the split, the stock was trading at around $2,200. After the split, the stock traded at around $440. Tesla’s shares rallied during the next two years, so the company declared a 3-to-1 stock split in August 2022, bringing the stock price down to around $300 from nearly $900 per share.

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What Happens When a Stock You Own Splits?

If an investor owns stock in a company that announces a split, it will not materially affect the investment. As mentioned above, if an investor owns $1,000 worth of stock and a company splits its stock, an investor will still own $1,000 worth of stock after the split.

The additional shares at the lower share price will be automatically added to an investor’s account by the broker.

A stock split does not dilute the ownership of existing shareholders like a new stock issue may do. After a stock split, an investor still owns the same percentage of the company.

Recommended: Understanding Stock Dilution

The Takeaway

When a company announces a stock split, it can be tempting for investors to buy the stock because it will be more affordable on a per share basis. However, investors should be wary of making rash decisions simply because a stock may look more affordable and attractive. After all, the value of the company is still the same.

For most investors, it’s wise to make financial decisions that line up with their long-term investment and wealth-building goals, regardless of a stock’s price tag.

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FAQ

Are stock splits a good thing?

Generally, a stock split is considered to be a good thing. It typically happens when the price of a company’s stock is high. The high price and value of the stock tends to be a positive sign reflecting that the company is doing well. Splitting the stock may encourage more investment in it, which could then drive up the price of the stock and be beneficial.

Do stocks do better after a split?

It is possible that a stock might do better after a split, but this isn’t always the case. The stock may be bought by more investors, which could drive up its share price. But even after a stock split, the company’s market capitalization doesn’t change. And it’s possible that a stock could drop in price after a split.

Is a stock split bullish or bearish?

A forward stock split, in which more shares of stock are created, is generally considered bullish, since it typically indicates that the company is performing well. However, a reverse stock split, which reduces the total number of shares of a stock, is usually considered bearish, since it may indicate that a company has underperformed.


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