What are Shares Outstanding?

The number of shares outstanding is the number of shares that are issued, purchased, and held by investors and company executives.

It includes the shares available to all investors that are free to trade in the market. It also includes the restricted shares issued to the company’s management or other key stakeholders, but it doesn’t include the shares owned by the company itself.

You can find the number of shares outstanding in the company’s quarterly or annual SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) filings. Shares outstanding are listed in the company’s balance sheet, as well, typically in the shareholders’ equity section.

Understanding shares outstanding

In order to understand how to determine the number of shares outstanding, you should first learn a few related terms.

Authorized shares are the number of shares a company is authorized to issue. A company doesn’t have to issue all the shares it’s authorized to issue. The number of shares outstanding is less than or equal to the number of authorized shares.

Shares issued is the number of shares actually issued by the company. Companies can issue shares at the time of incorporation, IPO, or for raising capital.

A share buyback is when the company buys back all its own shares from the market and takes them out of circulation. These shares become part of the company’s treasury stock.

Treasury stock is the shares that are held by the company. It includes the authorized shares that were never issued and shares bought back from the market. Shares that form part of employee compensation or part of stock options are part of treasury stock. Shares in treasury stock are not entitled to dividends.

Restricted shares are non-transferable shares. These may be the shares issued to company executives or employees that are subject to a vesting period or other conditions.

Float is the number of shares that can be traded in the public market.

How to calculate shares outstanding

With the understanding of these terms, you can calculate the number of shares outstanding in several ways:

Shares outstanding = float + restricted shares

Shares outstanding = shares issued - shares bought back

Shares outstanding = authorized shares - treasury stock

Importance of shares outstanding

Shareholders own parts of a company through shares, which give them voting rights regarding company decisions. The percentage of the company owned by a shareholder determines the level of control a single shareholder has. The greater the percentage of shares owned, the greater control the shareholder has on company decisions.

If a shareholder owns 51% or more of the shares, they have what’s called controlling interest. The ownership percentage is not just dependent on the number of shares owned by a shareholder, but also on the shares outstanding.

When a company issues more shares from treasury stock, the ownership percentage of existing shareholders is reduced. This is called stock dilution. When a company buys back stock, the ownership percentage of shareholders increases.

There are many per-share metrics and ratios impacted by the number of shares outstanding. Some of these include:

The number of outstanding shares determines the dividend per share (DPS). If the number of shares outstanding increases, DPS decreases. It has a similar effect on earnings per share and cash flow per share.

Companies can issue new shares and buy back shares, which affects the value of the shares they hold. Investors should track the number of shares outstanding throughout the investment period to determine how these changes impact their investment earnings.