Are All Penny Stocks Created Equal?

Are All Penny Stocks Created Equal?

Article by Zach Soloman

Amazingly enough, a number of American financial sector stocks were thrown into penny stock realm in the past two weeks. In the past few months, even bigger banks declared bankruptcy.

The SEC defines penny stocks as “low-priced (below $ 5), speculative securities of very small companies. While penny stocks generally are quoted over-the-counter, such as on the OTCBB or in the Pink Sheets, they may also trade on securities exchanges, including foreign securities exchanges. In addition, penny stocks include the securities of certain private companies with no active trading market.”

By this definition, the financial sector stocks like Citibank and Bank of America, are penny stocks.

Last fall, the SEC took the unprecedented action of banning short sales and calling for a short cover on financial sector stocks that taken a beating by the shorts. It’s a lament that penny stock companies have been complaining of for years, but went unheeded.
And now these established, down-on-their-luck financial companies have convinced the American public that they are deserving of billions in taxpayer dollars because they are established companies and not traditional penny stocks as defined by the SEC.

So what have we really done for these behemoths? We’ve altered the definition of penny stocks to accommodate them. We’ve altered the level playing field by exempting them from short sellers. And now we’re giving them tax dollars like some government sponsored clinic while hard working entrepreneurs have to fight for their place in this shrinking economy.

Are these billion dollar bailout babies really that different from your traditionally defined penny stock?

Traditionally, risk characteristics attributed to penny stocks include:

1. Penny stock companies are usually start-ups that lack of information about the company, its history and its management. I would argue that financial sector companies suffer from the same lack of transparency. After all, how could anyone not see the leverage and the misguided asset classifications and still invest in these behemoths? The derivatives are way too complicated for the layman to analyze. So we rely on the banks to tell us the truth, while they have a conflict.

2. Large control blocks. Penny stock company founders traditionally have a large block of stock (albeit restricted) to ensure their interests are aligned with the rest of the shareholders while ensuring they cannot sell their shares for a quick profit at the detriment of other shareholders. In the financial sector, these large blocks are held by fund managers who similarly cannot sell their blocks quickly without lowering the market price and thereby impairing the return to themselves. What’s more, the CEO’s of the companies barely have any stock in their portfolios, eliminating the alignment with shareholder values. Instead, it’s become vogue to pay these CEO’s via stock options, giving them an incentive to show short term results and then cash out their options while the rest of the investing public holds shares that were sold by insiders.

This is done by using unwitting brokers, paid analysts and unquestioning media to tow the company line. And because the CEO’s and the companies have been held in high esteem, no one questions the use of these tools or their motives.

Penny stock companies often use similar tools. Only with a penny stock it’s called stock promotion. And penny stock companies have better motives: without stock promotion, the best company in the world won’t be worth anything because no one would have heard of it

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