Preference shares are those shares which carry certain special or priority rights. Firstly, dividend at a fixed rate is payable on these shares before any dividend is paid on equity shares. Secondly, at the time of winding up of the company, capital is repaid to preference shareholders prior to the return of equity capital. Preference shares do not carry voting rights. However, holders of preference shares may claim voting rights if the dividends are not paid for two years or more on cumulative preference shares and three years or more on non-cumulative preference shares.
Preference shares have the characteristics of both equity shares and debentures. Like equity shares, dividend on preference shares is payable only when there are profits and at the discretion of the Board of Directors.
Preference shares are similar to debentures in the sense that the rate of dividend is fixed and preference shareholders do not generally enjoy voting rights. Therefore, preference shares are a hybrid form of financing.