What are Pink Sheets?

What Are Pink Sheets?

Pink sheets are listings for stocks that trade over-the-counter (OTC) rather than on a major U.S. stock exchange. Many pink sheet listings are for stocks in companies that cannot meet the requirements for listing on a major U.S. stock exchange like the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). Some companies choose to sell their shares through the over-the-counter network to avoid the greater costs and regulatory requirements for listing on an exchange.

Most pink sheet listings are low-priced penny stocks, meaning that they trade for less than $5 per share. Pink Sheets is also a private company that works with broker-dealers to market the shares of OTC equities they represent.

Trading in pink sheet securities is generally seen as highly speculative.

Key Takeaways Pink sheets are listings for stocks that trade over-the-counter (OTC).Pink sheet listings are not listed on a major U.S. stock exchange.Most pink sheet stocks are small-company penny stocks.Pink sheet stocks are highly risky due to a lack of regulatory oversight and low liquidity.


High-Risk Investing

Buying stock using The Pink Sheets is risky because an investor lacks knowledge of a company trading on the OTC market. The majority available on this secondary market are companies primarily based in foreign countries that cannot gain access to primary trading markets or failing companies that have lost the financial clout to trade on more legitimate stages. The values of these pink sheet OTC stocks are also low – $5 or less per share. Has anyone ever got rich off penny stocks? Absolutely, but the risk is far greater when they are in unregulated companies.

To buy a Pink Sheet stock, a broker controlling the OTC market has to be willing to sell it, according to ExtraordinaryInvestor.com. You can find OTC stock lists online. An investor must question whether the broker is looking to dump a stock that’s about to fail or if the broker is looking to turn a profit on a stock about to rise even higher.


Is there a difference between pink sheets and OTC?

Stocks that trade over the counter are broadly referred to as “pink sheets,” but the term technically has a more specific meaning. All pink sheet stocks trade over the counter through dealer networks. But not all OTC-traded stocks are listed by OTC Markets Group, the publisher that originally used pink sheets. 

Companies that adopt a certain set of regulatory and reporting standards are listed by the Over the Counter Bulletin Board (OTCBB) system, while companies that adhere to a stricter set of standards can list through the OTCQX. While stocks that trade over the counter are broadly referred to as “pink sheets,” the risk profiles of these stocks can vary greatly.

OTCBB Listings

There are limited restrictions to enter OTC markets. OTC-Link doesnt place restrictions on securities which might be listed, and OTCBB only needs updated financial reports to be filed accurately with the banking regulators, insurance regulators, or the SEC. These markets provide brokers, as well as, dealers with a mechanism for listing their current bidding, as well as, asking prices to finalize transactions. OTC stocks are usually termed securities which are too little in size to be listed on a bigger exchange and those that have moved from traditional exchanges. Also, these shares might not satisfy the requirements for joining the exchange. Further, many companies find the $500,000 NYSE listing cost up to $75,000 for a Nasdaq listing as a financial barrier. Thus, OTC listings can comprise companies of all sizes. Large international companies like Bayer A.G. and Nestle SA trade through the OTC platform. Bonds, as well as, derivatives are also listed on the OTC marketplaces. A penny stock is the stock of a small company trading for less than $5 per share. Despite the fact that certain stocks trade on big exchanges like the NYSE, the majority of the penny stocks trade via OTC through the OTC Bulletin Board (OTCBB) or pink sheet listings.

OTCBB vs. the Pink Sheets

There are two primary platforms for the listing of over-the-counter securities. The first is the OTCBB and the second is the pink sheets platform. Nasdaq operates the OTCBB which acts as a quotation service for over-the-counter sales. Shares are further divided between the OTCQX and the OTCQB platforms.

Pink Sheets is a private listing company for over-the-counter securities.

OTCBB Listings

There are comparatively few barriers to entry on the OTC markets. OTC-Link places no restrictions on securities that may be listed, and OTCBB requires only that updated financial reports be properly filed with the SEC, banking regulators, or insurance regulators. These OTC markets give brokers and dealers a mechanism to list their current bidding and asking prices to complete transactions.

Many OTC stocks are issued by companies that are too small in size to be listed on a major U.S. exchange. They may find the $500,000 NYSE listing fee, or the $75,000 Nasdaq fee, to be a financial barrier.

Others have previously been listed on a major exchange but got kicked off it for failing to meet the exchange requirements. This can occur automatically when the company's share price falls below a set level, such as $1.

However, some very prominent foreign companies including the Swiss food conglomerate Nestle SA and the German pharmaceutical company Bayer A.G. use the OTC platform. They also list on their home exchanges and may find the duplication of regulatory paperwork too onerous.

Bonds and derivatives also find a listing home on the OTC marketplaces.

A penny stock refers to a small company's stock that trades for less than five dollars per share. Although some penny stocks trade on large exchanges such as the NYSE, most penny stocks trade via OTC or over the counter through pink sheet listings or the OTC Bulletin Board (OTCBB).

Pink Sheets and Penny Stocks

Pink sheet listings usually consist of even smaller-company stocks called penny stocks. These companies do not need to file the required documentation with the SEC. To list on the Pink Sheets a business must file Form 211, which includes some financial information, with the OTC Compliance Unit.

Companies are not obligated to make their financial situations transparent to investors or the broker-dealers who market their products.

These companies are even smaller than those that list on the OTCBB. Pink sheet penny stocks can trade infrequently resulting in a lack of liquidity. Because of the low liquidity, investors might have difficulty finding an accurate price and may find it difficult to buy or sell when they want to enter into a trade.

Due to their lack of liquidity, brokers charge wide bid-ask spreads, or price quotes, between the sell-side and buy-side. Penny stocks are generally considered highly speculative meaning investors could lose a sizable amount or all of their investment.

In these cases, investors may not have adequate information to make an investment decision about a penny stock. The company's financial situation might not be stable.

Some penny stocks including pink sheet stocks have turned out to be fraudulent shell companies or companies on the verge of insolvency.

How did the Pink Sheets market get its name?

Stock price quotes used to be printed on sheets of paper that were pink. Although everything is quoted and done electronically now, the name has stuck. The term ‘pink sheets’ can refer to either the stocks themselves or the over-the-counter listing service.

The term ‘over-the-counter’ refers to the fact that these stock quotes are not made through a large exchange, but rather through a broker-dealer network.

Do Pink Sheet Companies have Any Financial Requirements?

Filing Form 211 is mandatory for a company to be listed on pink sheets. Companies in foreign countries should also meet the financial regulations basing on their locale. However, these statements aren’t subject to auditing by the Financial Industry Regulation Authority.

You should also note that there is different levels of pink sheet listings. The higher the level, the more requirements are needed. The company should also have not less than 50 shareholders and a minimum bid of $0.25. Most pink sheet stocks are priced well below that minimum with a  lot of them often trading below a penny per share.

Seeking Improvement

Pink sheets has attempted to do away with many of the downsides, both real and perceived, associated with the service. For instance, by starting a premium listing service called OTCQX. This service has three different levels of trade minimums, and companies need to meet some or all of the requirements for being listed on a major exchange, including posting quarterly and annual reports and making public all relevant information.  

Despite these new service levels, investors should still follow some simple rules when trading on the pink sheets. These include doing your homework and knowing the company you are investing in. Just like when investing in any stock, investors should look for catalysts that will cause a potential investment to go up. Examples of catalysts include any upcoming news in favor of a company, such as winning a legal battle, the potential for a merger or acquisition, or a new product or service that will increase profits. Investors also need to set limits on the level of investment and sell signals. In addition, using a limit order instead of a market order should reduce the volatility concern.

Is Trading Pink Sheets A Good Idea?

Let’s face it, pink sheets appear to be quite tempting from the overview. But, when you consider the risk factors, pink sheets are not an ideal option for the average investor.

The price vulnerability and illiquidity make it worse for day traders looking scalp or get in and out of trades quickly with any type of size, which is why we don’t recommend pink sheet trading at all. It’s better to trade lower prices companies that are on a listed exchange like the NYSE or NASDAQ.

Advantages and disadvantages of pink sheets

The table below outlines some pros and cons to consider before buying and selling pink sheet stocks:

Advantages Disadvantages
  • The pink sheets market provides access to a wider range of stocks.
  • Companies that can’t or don’t want to list on a major exchange can make their stock available to investors.
  • For investors with high risk tolerances, volatility and low-dollar-value share prices create the potential for big gains.
  • Many pink sheet stocks offer little or no visibility into the operations and accounting of the underlying business.
  • Low trading volumes.
  • Trading commission fees.
  • Volatility and elevated risk profiles of pink sheet companies can generate huge portfolio losses.

Chart by author.

Pros and Cons of the Pink Sheets

Pink sheet listings offer various small companies the opportunity of raising capital via selling shares to the public. These small firms sell their stock at a low price thereby making it easy for all investors to afford a stake of the action and maybe make huge returns. Because they dont charge the high listing fees which the large exchanges charge, the pink sheet transaction costs are always lower. Pink sheet stock is liable to fraud, as well as, price manipulation as a result of the lack of financial information needed to list. Many companies can end up as shell companies without active business or even assets. These shares trade infrequently and thinly, making it difficult to purchase or sell when the investor wants. Less regulation brings about less available public information, the opportunity of outdated information, and also the likelihood of fraud. 

Pros Pink sheet listing grants small companies access to capital funding via public stock sales. Low share prices can allow for expansive share appreciation provided the company thrives. Trade transaction costs are less in that companies dont pay exorbitant exchange listing fees. 

Cons Fewer requirements and regulations can result in incorrect or outdated information given to the investor. Pink sheet stocks trade thinly which makes it difficult for an investor to buy or even sell shares. Pink sheet listing is liable to fraud and shell companies listing.

The Pros and Cons of Trading OTC Pink Sheets

 Photo Courtesy: jodiecoston/Getty Images
 Photo Courtesy: jodiecoston/Getty Images

One of the clearest perks of trading pink sheet stocks — and a big part of their appeal — is that, because many of them are penny stocks, they tend to be highly affordable. Often, pink sheets trade for under $5 and some go for even less than $1 per share. Before you jump in headfirst, however, you should know that trading pink sheet stocks is very different from trading stocks on the major exchanges.

Because companies don’t need to follow as many regulations to list as pink sheets, it tends to be much harder to find the kind of financial information you need to make informed trading decisions. While this information is freely provided on the larger exchanges, pink sheet trading requires a much higher level of independent research. For this reason, pink sheets tend to be speculative, and large institutional investors generally avoid them.

Additionally, the lack of regulatory requirements associated with pink sheets can make them low-hanging fruit for scammers or pump-and-dump schemes. Last but not least, pink sheets tend to offer much lower liquidity than stocks that trade on the major indexes. That means that it may take much longer to generate a sale, which gives the price more time to fluctuate before your order goes through.

So, why would anyone trade these stocks? Pink sheets tend to be popular among day traders who are attracted to the higher level of volatility. While they aren’t really the kind of stocks most people invest in for the long run, they can be profitable if you manage to catch the right one before a major upswing. On the other hand, you can just as easily lose money very quickly if you invest in one on an off day.