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Sebi mulls uniform face value of shares

February 12, 2009 10:28 IST

The Securities and Exchange Board of India is considering its Primary Market Advisory Committee's recommendation to introduce a uniform face value system for all listed companies. At present, companies decide their individual face value between Rs 1 and Rs 100.

According to the recommendations, which were put on the regulator's website today, the multiple face value system creates confusion among investors. It has been noticed that investors tend to look at the market price of a particular stock without knowing its face value, and the confusion is compounded when companies declare dividend as a percentage of the face value.

It was argued that the practice of declaring a percentage dividend based on a low face value was misleading, especially when the company has raised money at a hefty premium or when its stock was trading at a high price in the secondary market.

On February 2, Sebi had announced that companies would now have to declare dividend on per share basis and not on the face value. However, the proposal to do away with the concept of face value took a backseat because of legal complications.

Abolition of the multiple face value concept would lead to the merger of the capital of a company with its share premium account and the declaration of dividend per share would then provide a much clearer picture of corporate performance.

For instance, Sebi would have to think of either imposing a uniform face value structure or abolish the concept as the old provisions relating to face value mentioned in Section 13(4) of the Companies Act, 1956 have still been retained in the Companies Bill 2008.

However, the debate on uniform face value of shares has been going on for over eight years now. The debate gained momentum in June 1999 when Sebi amended the guidelines relating to denomination of equity shares and allowed companies to choose the par value or face value of their stocks.

Until Sebi's amendment of the rules in June 1999, a 1983 guideline had required companies to issues shares with a face value of either Rs 10 or Rs 100. Even then, it had already been decided that the face value would be standardised at Rs 10 and many companies had begun the process of splitting their Rs 100 shares in the hope of improving liquidity and allowing easy comparison of prices across similar businesses.

Sebi had earlier allowed companies to reduce the face value to Re 1, or multiples of Re 1, so long as the shares were dematerialised.

The decision saw the shares of many information technology and entertainment companies zooming after they reduced the face value from Rs 10 each to Rs 5.

In October 1999, the Zee Telefilms scrip went up to Rs 2,330 a day before the share split was announced.

Palak Shah in Mumbai