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I often heard about "big players" manipulate the price of a stock. So if the "big player" is not an insider, can the company itself have any way to know who has positions in its stock?

Is there any documents or data that the brokers or SEC for the company to look up?

25

Is a public company able to check out who owns its shares ...

Public companies have to maintain a register of members (shareholders). Apart from regulatory requirements, they need to know who to pay dividends to, invite to shareholder meetings etc.

Exactly how they maintain this register depends on the company itself and/or on the regulatory jurisdiction in which they are based.

... in a very detailed format

They generally don't keep track of indirect ownership. See other answers.

The details of what shareholder information companies must maintain can vary according to the jurisdictions in which they are based and perhaps according to those in which they operate.

can the company itself have any way to know who has positions in its stock?

If you are asking, for example, about people who are actively trading derivatives. Generally no.

  • 2
    They might not pay dividends. But they also have to send shareholder reports, shareholder meeting notices, and proxy forms. – Barmar Jul 13 at 18:21
  • @Barmar, fair point, updated. – RedGrittyBrick Jul 13 at 22:13
  • Its worth noting that the register of shareholders is not the same thing as a detailed list of actual people. Many times the shareholders will be corporate entities or shell companies, so it might not be clear who is actually behind the name. – David Grinberg Jul 14 at 19:46
  • So if I buy a share from someone, how does the company know it? Does the seller have to report it or the buyer? – vsz Jul 15 at 5:05
  • 2
    @vsz: More to the point, how do you know? – RedGrittyBrick Jul 15 at 13:13
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The other answers do a good job of detailing why the ownership of all shares of a stock must be kept track of.

However, I'm going to give a counterpoint: that there is no simple way for a company to track down who all its shareholders are in terms of actual people. There are at least two reasons for this:

  • Shares are frequently held in a "street name". When you have a brokerage account with shares in it, the shares aren't actually held in your name unless you actually request the stock certificates. This is a convenience, as holding the actual certificates greatly increases transaction costs (you have to go through the transfer agent, there is extra time before you can buy and sell, etc.).

In order for a company to track down who owned the shares held in a street names they would need to contact and get the cooperation of every brokerage holding any of its stock to get that info, which likely would - in the lack of some illegal activity - violate some kind of privacy policy or even laws for the brokerage to even divulge.

  • Someone who owns a lot of stock - especially, but not necessarily for nefarious purposes such as trying to manipulate the price of the stock - likely isn't going to hold all of it in their own name. There are likely going to be lots of dummy corporations, entities and intermediaries. Trying to trace the actual ownership will be like those dramatic TV shows where they are trying to trace a call and the crosshairs keep jumping all over the map as you try to peel back each layer.

This isn't of course to say that you can't find out if a specific person or small set of persons own stock in a company, it just takes a lot of time and detective work.

Also relevant, someone trying to manipulate the price of the stock doesn't even need to buy or sell any shares of the stock itself. A big entity can transact in the options or futures market to obtain control of big chunks of stock without actually owning them. Some years back there was a big short squeeze on Volkswagen stock, when it was announced that someone had effectively gained control of enough shares to take over the company - but as I recall much of this was through private derivative agreements with banks.

5

A transfer agent is a trust company, bank or similar institution assigned by a corporation, for the purposes of maintaining an investor's financial records and tracking his or her account balance. The transfer agent records transactions, cancels and issues certificates, processes investor mailings and handles a host of other investor problems, including reissuing lost or stolen certificates.

Transfer agents works closely with registrars to ensure investors receive their due interest and dividend payments in a timely manner. Transfer agents likewise oversee the mailing of monthly investment statements to mutual fund shareholders.

  • Transfer agents are rrelevant. The share register of a public company is public information, no matter who runs the register, and 'public' includes the company itself. – user207421 Jul 14 at 12:49
  • @user207421 - Did you ever stop to consider who maintains the Shareholder Register? "Public companies typically use transfer agents to keep track of the individuals and entities that own their stocks and bonds. Most transfer agents are also banks or trust companies, but sometimes a company acts as its own transfer agent." (Wiki) – Bob Baerker Jul 15 at 12:40

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