What is Free Float?
Free float, also known as public float, refers to the shares of a company that can be publicly traded and are not restricted (i.e., held by insiders). In other words, the term is used to describe the number of shares that is available to the public for trading.
Formula for Free Float
- Outstanding shares refer to the number of shares held by all of the company’s shareholders
- Restricted shares refer to shares that are not transferable until certain conditions are met. Restricted shares are generally held by corporate affiliates such as executives and directors.
- Closely-held shares refer to shares that are assumed to be held on to for a very long-term basis. Examples include major long-term shareholders and insiders.
Example of Free Float
Company A is a publicly traded company with 1,000,000 shares authorized. Currently, as indicated on the company’s balance sheet, its total outstanding common shares is 500,000 (50,000 of which are held by the CEO and CFO of the company) while 80,000 shares are held in treasury. Determine the free float of Company A.
The information provided above is illustrated as follows:
- Shares authorized: 1,000,000
- Common shares outstanding: 500,000
- Treasury shares: 80,000
The free float of Company A is 450,000 shares (500,000 – 50,000).
Determining the Free Float Percentage
The free float percentage, also known as float percentage of total shares outstanding, simply shows the percentage of shares outstanding that trade freely.
In the preceding example, the free float percentage would be 90% (450,000 / 500,000).
How to Increase or Decrease the Free Float Volume
A company’s shares outstanding may decrease or increase due to management decisions. For example, a company can increase its free float by selling shares in a secondary offering or conducting a stock split.
Additionally, as restricted shares become unrestricted, the unrestricted shares increase the free float. Conversely, a company can decrease its free float by doing share buybacks or a reverse stock split.
Importance of Free Float for Investors
The free float of a stock is closely looked at by investors and is an important metric when picking stocks. Generally, stocks with a small free float are seldom invested in by institutional investors. It is due to such stocks being more volatile than a stock with a large float.
In addition, stocks with a small float generally show a wider bid-ask spread and limited liquidity due to the limited availability of shares in the market.
Real World Example: Tilray – A Highly Volatile Stock
Tilray (TLRY) is a cannabis company based in Nanaimo, Canada that held its initial public offering (IPO) in 2018, becoming the first cannabis company to do so on the NASDAQ. Since its IPO price of $17, the company currently trades at just below $100 as of January 2019.
In September 2018, the stock price of Tilray rallied dramatically. More specifically, on September 19, NASDAQ halted trading in the stock five times due to significant price swings. Tilray’s stock jumped 90% before falling into negative territory and eventually finishing the day up 38%.
The underlying driver of Tilray’s stock price volatility on September 19 was due to its small free float. Tilray’s public float volume was 17.83 million shares and a resulting free float percentage of 23% (which is small compared to its peers).
Due to the small number of shares available to the public, the bid-ask spread for Tilray was very high – as much as $2. With the small number of shares available and a high short interest in the stock, the stock witnessed an extremely volatile session.
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