The term auction rate preferred stock refers to securities with interest rates that are reset through auctions. Oftentimes issued by closed-end funds, auction rate preferred stock typically have their interest rate reset on a schedule that ranges from fourteen days to seven weeks.
Also known as auction market preferred stock (AMPS), the rate of interest paid to holders of auction rate preferred stock can vary over time. A third party provider is typically used to oversee the auction process. The results of the auction were of importance to investors at one time, since the interest rate achieved through this process could be used to help predict the yields of similar securities. Investors that wish to insulate themselves from the effects of inflation also value these securities.
If there is insufficient investor interest in an auction to purchase all shares of the security, a failed auction is said to occur. When this happens, the rate of interest paid is usually set to the maximum allowable rate as originally defined by the issuer.
Historically, underwriters would participate in the auction to prevent it from failing. However, following the financial crisis of 2007, underwriters pulled back from this market in 2008. Eventually, the Securities and Exchange Commission would conclude a number of firms violated the Securities Act of 1933. Specifically, it found there were material misstatements and omissions during the offer / sale of these securities to investors.