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Watered Stock


Watered stock refers to shares of a company that were issued at a value far higher than the value of the company’s assets. In other words, it is stock that is not backed up by the equivalent value in assets or earnings. This practice was more common in the 19th and early 20th centuries, often leading to overcapitalization, and is largely illegal today.


The phonetics of the keyword “Watered Stock” is: /ˈwɔː.tərd stɒk/

Key Takeaways

  1. Watered stock refers to shares of a company that are issued at a value much greater than the value of the company’s tangible assets. This often occurs when the company’s asset value is inflated or when the shares are issued as dividends to existing shareholders.
  2. Watered stock can lead to a number of financial and operational issues. It often results in a reduction in the earnings per share, which can negatively impact a company’s stock price. It also decreases the book value per share, which can make a company less attractive to investors and lenders.
  3. While not outright illegal, issuing watered stock can be seen as unethical. It can mislead investors about the true value of a company, and can result in severe financial losses if the value of the company’s assets decreases.


The term “Watered Stock” is crucial in business and finance because it refers to shares of a company that are issued at a value greater than its actual assets or earnings warrant. This can be the result of overvalued assets or excessive share issuance. Understanding this concept is essential as it has significant implications for shareholders and potential investors. When stocks are “watered,” it often leads to a devaluation of the stock’s worth and can erode shareholder value over time. Investors who don’t recognize watered stocks can find themselves investing in overvalued companies, potentially resulting in substantial financial losses. Thus, being aware of the impacts and indications of watered stock can guard against poor investment choices.


Watered stock constitutes one of the significant aspects of business finance, typically linked to the practices of capital manipulation by corporations. The central purpose for the practice of issuing watered stock is mainly to inflate the perceived value of a company’s assets or earnings in order to attract investors or to convert assets into cash. It is used by the management of a company as a strategy to display an over-optimistic picture of its financial health and profitability. The overstatement of assets, underrepresentation of liabilities, or exaggeration of earnings per share number are generally accomplished through the issuance of watered stock.

On the other hand, the concept and application of watered stock can also be employed in the purchase of assets involving considerable risk. This might be done when a company overvalues its assets to generate more capital from investors, which in turn could lead to stock watering. Although the practice is generally looked down upon and considered unethical by regulators due to its potential to mislead investors and manipulate the market, it has been used by some companies historically as a means to solve short-term liquidity issues, fund growth, or conceal mismanagement.


1. Enron Scandal (2001): One of the most infamous examples of watered stock is related to the energy company Enron. Enron manipulated its financial statements to show a higher stock value than what was genuinely present. They overvalued their assets, concealed debts, and inflated revenues, resulting in artificially bloated stock value. When the fraud was exposed, the market recognized the overvaluation, the stock price collapsed, and the company filed for bankruptcy, leaving the shareholders with watered stocks.

2. The Dot-Com Bubble (2000): The Dot-Com Bubble was a period where internet-based companies, known as dot-coms, were seeing their stock prices inflate drastically due to the rapid growth of the Internet and speculative investments. Numerous companies during this time reported inflated or deceptive asset value and projected profitability, leading to watered stocks. When the bubble burst, investors realized many of these businesses were not as valuable as they initially thought, which resulted in massive sell-offs and businesses going bankrupt.

3. Lehman Brothers (2008): Before its collapse in 2008, Lehman Brothers held a significant amount of assets that were overvalued. The firm had large exposures to subprime mortgages and had valued these assets at higher than their real worth. When the housing bubble burst and the market value of these securities dropped, Lehman Brothers found itself possessing watered stock. The overvaluation of the company’s stock was revealed, leading to a catastrophic failure and its eventual bankruptcy.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is Watered Stock?

Watered stock refers to shares of a company that are issued at a value much higher than the actual assets of the company, or shares whose asset value is inflated or overstated. The term originated when the value of a cow was inflated by making it drink a large amount of water before it was weighed for selling.

Is it legal to issue Watered Stock?

The issuance of watered stock is considered fraudulent and is illegal in many jurisdictions. It misrepresents the true value of the company’s assets, misleading investors with inflated values.

Why is Watered Stock considered undesirable?

Watered stock is considered undesirable due its potential to harm investors. Since the value of these shares is inflated, investors may end up purchasing them at a higher price than their actual worth. If the true value becomes known, the market price of the stocks can drastically fall, causing significant loss to investors.

How can one identify Watered Stock?

Identifying watered stock can be challenging since it involves detecting financial fraud or deception. However, some signs may include disproportionately high stock value compared to physical assets, frequent and unexplained changes in inventory value, or sizable discrepancies between reported assets and those found in audits.

What are the consequences for a company issuing Watered Stock?

A company found to be issuing watered stock can face significant legal penalties ranging from heavy fines to jail time for the individuals involved. The company’s reputation may also be severely damaged, potentially leading to a loss of investors, customers, and overall market standing.

How can investors protect themselves from Watered Stock?

Investors can protect themselves by doing extensive research on a company before investing. They should look at financial statements, independent audits, and analyst reports. It’s also recommended to only invest in companies that show consistent earnings, have a strong presence in their markets, and have a sound business model.

Related Finance Terms

  • Corporate Valuation: It’s the process of determining the economic value of a company, often used by investors or business owners.
  • Capitalization: Also known as market capitalization, refers to the company’s total value as determined by the stock market.
  • Equity Financing: The method of raising funds by issuing shares in a company or taking on investment from external sources.
  • Security Fraud: It refers to deceptive practices in the stock or commodities markets, involving the manipulation of financial markets, stock prices, or deceptive financial reporting.
  • Par Value: The face value of a bond or share of stock, as set forth in the corporate charter or bond indenture.

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