A stock split is a simple mechanism that a listed company can employ to increase the number of issued shares while keeping its market capitalization/valuation the same.
There are a couple of reasons a company may elect to perform a stock split, the chief among them is to increase the liquidity (or accessibility/tradability) of its stock.
The most popular stock split ratios are 2:1, 3:2 and 3:1. By way of example, if a hypothetical company were to perform a 3-for-1 stock split, its shareholders would be issued an additional two shares for every share they owned before the split. In conjunction with the split, the value of each share would be devalued to 1/3 of its pre-split value. Effectively, the total value of three shares after the stock split should be worth the same value as one share before the stock split.
A reverse stock split is when a company reduces the number of shares available, while keeping its market capitalization/valuation the same. A company cannot simply remove shares as easily as it can issue new shares. Therefore, with a reverse stock split, a company is forced to revoke all existing shares and issue new shares, proportional to the reduction that the company is pursuing.
A primary reason a company performs a reverse stock split is to avoid being delisted from its stock exchange, which may have set minimum share-price conditions on its listees.
Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) performed a 5:1 split of its stock in August 2020. At the time, TSLA shares were trading above US $1,300. Tesla CEO Elon Musk believed the EV company’s shares were too expensive for retail investors, so he reduced their price via a stock split.
Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has been a serial stock splitter. Since listing on the Nasdaq in 1986, the software company has performed nine stock splits, the last occurring in 2003. Consequently, 100 MSFT shares in 1986 would now total approximately 30,000 shares.
The beleaguered General Electric (NYSE:GE) performed a 1:8 reverse stock split in July 2021. Before the reverse stock split, GE shares were teetering around U.S. $12. The reverse stock split meant that GE shares began trading above US$100 per share, a threshold not crossed for a very long time.