Time Warner (NYSE: TWX ) shareholders armed their company with the power to pump up its ailing stock price on Friday, but their chosen route to buoyancy is less than ideal.
Investors are granting the media giant the right to declare a reverse stock split, giving Time Warner elbow room to increase its share price after it completes its separation with Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC ) this year.
Unlike the more conventional forward stock splits, which seem to trickle freely during bull markets, reverse stock splits work the other way around. Time Warner has the authorization to declare a 1-for-2 or 1-for-3 reverse split. For example, with its stock kicking off the new trading week at $9.61, a 1-for-2 split would find every two shares outstanding replaced by a single share at $19.22.
This maneuver is a zero sum game -- and a humbling one. However, with several other media titans like CBS (NYSE: CBS ) and News Corp. (NYSE: NWS ) watching their own share prices eroding into the single digits, more blue chips will be pondering reverse splits if stocks continue to deteriorate.
Last year found companies such as Sirius XM Radio (Nasdaq: SIRI ) and Six Flags (NYSE: SIX ) pondering reverse stock splits as a way to skirt possible delisting. Exchanges send out notices to stocks trading below $1.00 for 30 trading days, with 180 trading days to bounce back. Reverse splits are an obvious solution, though the exchanges have relaxed the enforcement given the market's swooning ways over the past year.
This doesn't mean that the companies don't want to be armed. Sirius can go as deep as a 1-for-50 reverse split this year. Watching a stock like 2007 reverse splitter Sun Microsystems (Nasdaq: JAVA ) give up all of the value of its 1-for-4 reverse is sobering, but we just don't know how much lower Sun would have gone without the accounting assist.
Time Warner? You're on the clock. Good luck.
Further Foolishness looks backward: