Preferred stock, or preference shares.
To appeal to investors who wish to be sure of receiving dividends regularly, many companies issue what is called preferred stock, or preference shares. This class of stock has a prior claim to dividends paid by the company and, usually, to the assets of the company in the event of its dissolution. Dividends are usually set at a fixed annual rate that must be paid before dividends are distributed to the common stockholders. Preferred stock may be participating, meaning that its holders share with common stockholders in any company earnings over and above the stated dividends on the preferred stock. Preferred stock may be cumulative or noncumulative: if cumulative, dividends not paid in one year must be paid in addition to dividends earned in the following year, before any dividend payments are made on the common stock.