Once upon a time, preferred stocks were a popular investment with companies and investors. Combining elements of debt and equity, preferred stock was an ideal issue for businesses that lacked the physical assets to collateralize debt or could not attract common stock buyers.
In order to appeal to new investors, companies sweetened the pot by issuing a new security – preferred stock – that had less risk and a greater certainty of income than common stock. If a company falters and requires liquidation, the debt holders are paid in full first, followed by payment to the preferred stock holders in an amount equal to the liquidation value of the preferred stock (established at the time of the initial offering). Common stock shareholders then receive any cash remaining. Preferred shareholders receive full payment of their investment before common shareholders receive any payment. Similarly, preferred shareholders receive dividends before any common stock dividends are paid.