The simplest way to describe a joint stock company is that it is a business organization that is owned jointly by all its shareholders. All the shareholders own a certain amount of stock in the company, which is represented by their shares.
Professor Haney defines it as “a voluntary association of persons for profit, having the capital divided into some transferable shares, and the ownership of such shares is the condition of membership of the company.” Studying the features of a joint stock company will clarify its structure.
Features of a Joint Stock Company
1. Artificial Legal Person
A company is a legal entity that has been created by the statues of law. Like a natural person, it can do certain things, like own property in its name, enter into a contract, borrow and lend money, sue or be sued, etc. It has also been granted certain rights by the law which it enjoys through its board of directors.
However, not all laws/rights/duties apply to a company. It exists only in the law and not in any physical form. So we call it an artificial legal person.
2. Separate Legal Entity
Unlike a proprietorship or partnership, the legal identity of a company and its members are separate. As soon as the joint stock company is incorporated it has its own distinct legal identity. So a member of the company is not liable for the company. And similarly, the company will not depend on any of its members for any business activities.
For a company to be recognized as a separate legal entity and for it to come into existence, it has to be incorporated. Not registering a joint stock company is not an option. Without incorporation, a company simply does not exist.
4. Perpetual Succession
The joint stock company is born out of the law, so the only way for the company to end is by the functioning of law. So the life of a company is in no way related to the life of its members. Members or shareholders of a company keep changing, but this does not affect the company’s life.
5. Limited Liability
This is one of the major points of difference between a company and a sole proprietorship and partnership. The liability of the shareholders of a company is limited. The personal assets of a member cannot be liquidated to repay the debts of a company.
A shareholders liability is limited to the amount of unpaid share capital. If his shares are fully paid then he has no liability. The amount of debt has no bearing on this. Only the companies assets can be sold off to repay its own debt. The members cannot be made to pay up.
6. Common Seal
A company is an artificial person. So its day-to-day functions are conducted by the board of directors. So when a company enters any contract or signs an agreement, the approval is indicated via a common seal. A common seal is engraved seal with the company’s name on it.
So no document is legally binding on the company until and unless it has a common seal along with the signatures of the directors.
7. Transferability of Shares
In a joint stock company, the ownership is divided into transferable units known as shares. In case of a public company the shares can be transferred freely, there are almost no restrictions. And in a public company, there are some restrictions, but the transfer cannot be prohibited.
Advantages of a Joint Stock Company
- One of the biggest drawing factors of a joint stock company is the limited liability of its members. their liability is only limited up to the unpaid amount on their shares. Since their personal wealth is safe, they are encouraged to invest in joint stock companies
- The shares of a company are transferable. Also, in the case of a listed public company they can also be sold in the market and be converted to cash. This ease of ownership is an added benefit.
- Perpetual succession is another advantage of a joint stock company. The death/retirement/insanity/etc does affect the life of a company. The only liquidation under the Companies Act will shut down a company.
- A company hires a board of directors to run all the activities. Very proficient, talented people are elected to the board and this results in effective and efficient management. Also, a company usually has large resources and this allows them to hire the best talent and professionals.
- Disadvantages of a Joint Stock Company
- One disadvantage of a joint stock company is the complex and lengthy procedure for its formation. This can take up to several weeks and is a costly affair as well.
- According to the Companies Act, 2013 all public companies have to provide their financial records and other related documents to the registrar. These documents are then public documents, which any member of the public can access. This leads to a complete lack of secrecy for the company.
- And even during its day to day functioning a company has to follow a numerous number of laws, regulations, notifications, etc. It not only takes up time but also reduces the freedom of a company
- A company has many stakeholders like the shareholders, the promoters, the board of directors, the employees. the debenture holders etc. All these stakeholders look out for their benefit and it often leads to a conflict of interest.