Common stock is a form of corporate equity ownership, a type of security. The terms voting share and ordinary share are also used frequently outside of the United States. They are known as equity shares or ordinary shares in the UK and other Commonwealth realms. This type of share gives the stockholder the right to share in the profits of the company, and to vote on matters of corporate policy and the composition of the members of the board of directors.
The owners of common stock do not directly own any assets of the company; instead each stockholder owns a fractional interest in the company, which in turn owns the assets. As owners of a company, common stockholders are eligible to receive dividends from its recent or past earnings, proceeds from a sale of the company, and distributions of residual (left-over) money if it is liquidated. In general, common stockholders have lowest priority to receive payouts from the company. They may not receive dividends until the company has met obligations on any preference shares it has issued, and they receive distributions in liquidation only after bondholders, creditors (including employees) and preference share owners have been paid. When liquidation happens through bankruptcy, the ordinary shareholders typically receive nothing.
Since common stock is more exposed to the risks of the business than bonds or preferred stock, it offers a greater potential for capital appreciation. Over the long term, common stocks tend to outperform more secure investments, despite their short-term volatility.
Common/Equity stock is classified to differentiate it from preferred stock. Each is considered a stock class, with different series of each issued from time to time such as Series B Preferred Stock. Nevertheless, using "Class B Common Stock" is a common label for a super-voting series of common stock.
Common stocks exist on both public and private markets, however the accessibility differs due to the fact that only publicly traded companies may list their common stock on a stock exchange. Some companies may for various reasons delist some or all of their shares from the public market and common stock may then be converted to limited common stock, other stock or be liquidated altogether.
Common stock listings may be used as a way for companies to increase their equity capital in exchange for dividend rights for shareowners. Listed common stock typically comes in the form of several stock classes in order for companies to remain in partial control of their stock voting rights. Non-voting stock may be issued as a separate class.