Understanding the Rights of Equity Shareholders: A Comprehensive Exploration

As a professional or as an investor it is important to have a concrete understanding of equity & equity shares and the rights of such shareholders. This article would serve as a primer in that path.

In accounting, the term “equity” refers to a section of a company’s balance sheet that represents the residual interest in the assets of the entity after deducting its liabilities. Equity is sometimes referred to as “owner’s equity,” “shareholder’s equity,” or “stockholder’s equity” in the context of corporations. It reflects the ownership interest of the company’s shareholders or owners and represents the net assets that belong to them.

Equity includes both equity shares (common shares) and preference shares (preferred stock). Equity is a broader category that encompasses various forms of ownership interests in a company, and both equity shares and preference shares are part of this overall equity structure.

Here’s how equity includes both types of shares:

1. Common Shares (Equity Shares): Common shares represent a class of ownership shares issued by a company. They are typically held by common shareholders, also known as equity shareholders or common stockholders. Common shares grant shareholders ownership rights in the company, including voting rights and the right to participate in the company’s profits and losses.

2. Preference Shares (Preferred Stock): Preference shares, also known as preferred stock, represent another class of shares issued by a company. Preference shareholders, like common shareholders, are considered equity shareholders. However, preference shares come with specific preferences and rights. These preferences may include a fixed dividend rate, priority in receiving dividends over common shareholders, and priority in the distribution of assets in the event of liquidation.

Lets dive deeper into equity shares:

Equity shareholders, also known as common shareholders, play a pivotal role in the corporate governance and decision-making processes of a company. We delve into the rights of equity shareholders, emphasizing their importance in the corporate framework and how they empower shareholders to participate in key company matters.

Equity shareholders are individuals or entities that hold shares in a company, entitling them to a portion of the company’s ownership. These shareholders have a vested interest in the company’s success and are afforded specific rights to protect their interests and influence corporate decisions. The rights of equity shareholders are essential components of corporate law and are instrumental in maintaining transparency, accountability, and fairness in corporate governance.

I. Voting Rights:

Voting rights are one of the most fundamental rights granted to equity shareholders. These rights empower shareholders to participate in critical company decisions, including the election of the board of directors and approval of significant corporate actions. The key aspects of voting rights include:

  • Election of Directors: Equity shareholders have the right to vote in the election of the board of directors, who oversee the company’s management and strategic direction. Shareholders elect directors who they believe will act in their best interests.
  • Major Corporate Decisions: Shareholders often vote on significant corporate actions, such as mergers, acquisitions, amendments to the company’s articles of incorporation, and other major transactions. This ensures that shareholders have a say in transformative events.
  • Proxy Voting: In cases where shareholders cannot attend meetings in person, they can appoint proxies to vote on their behalf. Proxy voting allows shareholders to exercise their voting rights even when they cannot be physically present.

II. Dividend Rights:

Equity shareholders are entitled to a portion of the company’s profits, distributed in the form of dividends. Dividend rights ensure that shareholders receive a return on their investment. Key points regarding dividend rights include:

  • Right to Receive Dividends: Equity shareholders have the right to receive dividends when the company generates profits. The amount of dividends is typically determined by the company’s board of directors and is distributed proportionally to the number of shares held.
  • Preference and Common Shares: Some companies issue different classes of shares, such as preferred and common shares. Preferred shareholders often have priority in receiving dividends, while common shareholders receive dividends after preferred shareholders have been paid.
  • Dividend Policies: Companies may establish dividend policies outlining when and how dividends will be paid. These policies provide transparency to shareholders about the company’s approach to dividend distribution.

III. Information Rights:

Transparency and access to information are crucial for equity shareholders to make informed decisions about their investments. Information rights include:

  • Financial Statements: Shareholders have the right to receive the company’s financial statements, including the balance sheet, income statement, and cash flow statement. These documents provide insights into the company’s financial health.
  • Annual Reports: Companies typically publish annual reports that contain a comprehensive overview of their operations, financial performance, and strategic direction. Shareholders can access these reports to assess the company’s progress.
  • Shareholder Meetings: Companies hold annual general meetings (AGMs) where shareholders can discuss company matters, receive updates from the management, and ask questions. These meetings are a forum for shareholders to exercise their information rights.

IV. Inspection Rights:

Equity shareholders have the right to inspect certain corporate records and documents to verify the company’s compliance with laws and regulations. Inspection rights encompass:

  • Access to Corporate Records: Shareholders can request access to corporate records, including minutes of board meetings, bylaws, and shareholder lists. This allows shareholders to monitor the company’s governance practices.
  • Legal Compliance: Shareholders can use inspection rights to ensure that the company adheres to applicable laws and regulations. This includes verifying compliance with tax laws, environmental regulations, and other legal requirements.

V. Preemptive Rights:

Preemptive rights, also known as subscription rights, grant equity shareholders the opportunity to purchase additional shares of the company before those shares are offered to external investors. Key aspects of preemptive rights include:

  • Protecting Ownership Percentage: Preemptive rights enable shareholders to maintain their ownership percentage in the company when new shares are issued. This prevents dilution of their ownership stake.
  • Fair Treatment: By offering existing shareholders the chance to acquire additional shares on the same terms as external investors, preemptive rights ensure fair treatment and protect the interests of current shareholders.

VI. Right to Sue:

Equity shareholders have the legal right to take action against the company or its management if they believe their rights have been violated or if the company engages in wrongful conduct. Shareholders can initiate legal proceedings to seek remedies for breaches of fiduciary duty or other wrongdoing.

VII. Liquidation Rights:

In the event of the company’s liquidation or dissolution, equity shareholders have a claim on the company’s assets, but their rights are subordinate to those of preferred shareholders and creditors. Liquidation rights dictate the order in which assets are distributed to various stakeholders.

Taxability of equity shares:

In India, the taxation of equity shares is governed by the Income Tax Act, and the key aspects are as follows:

1. Capital Gains Tax: Equity shares held for over one year are considered long-term, and any gains from their sale are subject to Long-Term Capital Gains Tax (LTCG). As of the 2021 budget, LTCG on equity shares exceeding ₹1 lakh is taxed at a rate of 10% without indexation benefits.

2. Dividend Distribution Tax (DDT): Until recently, companies paid a dividend distribution tax, and shareholders received tax-free dividends. However, in the 2020 budget, DDT was abolished, and dividends became taxable in the hands of shareholders. For individual taxpayers, dividend income from equity shares is now subject to tax at their applicable income tax slab rates.

3. Securities Transaction Tax (STT): When buying or selling equity shares on recognized stock exchanges in India, an STT is levied. This tax is calculated as a percentage of the transaction value and is paid by the seller for delivery-based transactions.

4. Tax on Intraday Trading: Intraday trading profits from equity shares are considered speculative income and are subject to regular income tax rates. These profits are not classified as capital gains.

5. Tax on Buybacks: When a company buys back its own shares, the buyback amount is subject to a buyback tax, which is paid by the company. Shareholders receiving the buyback proceeds may also have to pay capital gains tax if applicable.

It’s essential for investors in India to stay updated with the latest tax regulations, as they may change over time and impact the taxation of equity shares and investment strategy.

Conclusion: The rights of equity shareholders form the cornerstone of corporate governance and provide essential protections and opportunities to investors. These rights empower shareholders to actively participate in key company decisions, receive returns on their investments, access critical information, and hold the company accountable. Understanding these rights is vital for equity shareholders to navigate the corporate landscape effectively and make informed decisions about their investments. As businesses continue to evolve and adapt to changing economic conditions, the rights of equity shareholders will remain a crucial aspect of corporate law and governance.

Author Bio

Qualification: Student - CA/CS/CMA
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Location: Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
Member Since: 18 Sep 2023 | Total Posts: 4

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