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Holding Company

Written By
Paul Tracy
Updated November 4, 2020

What is a Holding Company?

A holding company owns controlling interest in another company or owns enough stock to control the company's management and operations. Different legal jurisdictions have different rules about what technically constitutes a holding company.
 

How does a Holding Company work?

Let's say Company ABC is raising capital and agrees to sell 55% of its shares to Company XYZ in return for $1 billion in cash and debt. Company XYZ and Company ABC remain separate entities and have separate management teams, but because Company XYZ owns 55% of Company ABC's shares, it can vote however it likes and essentially override the wishes of the rest of the shareholders. Accordingly, it has tremendous control over who is elected to the board and who the board employs to run the company, as well as whether and how the company raises more capital or changes operational direction.

Why do Holding Companies matter?

Holding companies often consist of a parent and several subsidiaries. In some cases, holding companies are attempting to monopolize a particular market. They do this via horizontal integration, whereby the holding company purchases a number of competitors, or via vertical integration, whereby the holding company purchases businesses in each stage of a product's lifecycle (that is, it buys suppliers, distributors, wholesalers and retailers of the product).

In most cases, each subsidiary of a holding company operates independently of the holding company's other businesses (although the managers of the subsidiaries work for the managers at the holding company).

One advantage of holding companies is that they are typically very diversified businesses (although some stick to one or two industries). This diversification and the efficiencies brought about by shared or reduced costs often make holding companies less risky businesses than those operating in a single market or niche.

However, holding companies face the real challenge of becoming so big that they are difficult to manage efficiently. They also often fail to realize the anticipated cost savings with each acquisition. This can lead to a lack of focus, which exacerbates the managerial problem and reduces shareholder returns. This in turn is why holding companies often "spin off" subsidiaries into stand-alone entities.

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