A “penny stock” is defined by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as a security issued by a very small company, micro-cap or less than $100 million in market capitalization, and trades at less than $5 per share. Penny stocks generally are quoted over-the-counter, such as on the OTC Bulletin Board or OTC Link LLC. However, not all penny stocks trade over-the-counter and many trade on securities exchanges, including foreign securities exchanges. In addition, the definition of penny stock can also include private companies with no active trading market.
Penny stocks are inherently risky due to several contributing factors. First, penny stocks may trade infrequently, meaning that it may become difficult to liquidate penny stock holdings once acquired. Second, it may be difficult to find accurate quotes for certain penny stocks. Therefore, it may be difficult or even impossible to accurately price certain penny stocks. Due to these risks, penny stock investors may lose their whole investment. When penny stock investing is combined with margin borrowing the results can be catastrophic for the investor.
If the inherent risks of penny stocks were not great enough, penny stocks are often used and manipulated for fraudulent purposes. One common scheme is the “pump and dump” scheme. The idea behind a pump and dump scheme is to create unfounded hype for a penny stock the pumper already owns. As the pumper’s victims buy into the hype additional purchases drive up the price of the stock artificially. The pumper then sells his shares for a large profit while those the pumper recommended the penny stock to quickly lose their money as the stock’s value decreases precipitously.