Greenberg: Stock Splits Are an Illusion So Don't Fall for Them

This article appeared at 10:34 a.m. EDT on RealMoney Sept. 17.

SAN DIEGO (RealMoney) -- From the "Now I've seen everything" department: USCF Advisers is launching a new ETF that invests in the stocks of companies that do 2-for-1 stock splits. 

In its press release, the company says:

"The 2 for 1 Index idea is that a stock that splits may outperform expectations for a period of time. Investors and investment professionals have both been taught that stock splits really shouldn't impact a stock's performance, but there has been a lot of material published that demonstrates that stock splits, do in fact matter." 

Yes, they do -- in a bull market, when all things rise, and when stocks that are split give the illusion of a bargain. 

But, regardless of what the studies show, the reality is simple: Stock splits are an illusion. Nothing changes in a company's capitalization. Instead of having one stock at $50, you get two for $25. The market value of the company remains the same. 

The idea behind splits, back in the old regulated days of commissions, was that small investors could get a better deal on buying a 100-share lot if the price was lower. In order to attract them, companies would do a split. 

Since then, the concept of a split has translated into one of the last bastions (okay, not last!) of investment smoke and mirrors. It merely gives the illusion of making the stock more affordable. Yes, Apple (AAPL) has done it. So has Google (GOOGL) . 

But, notably, Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) hasn't, at least not with its Class A stock, which trades for $207,000. 

As this Wall Street Journal piece points out, fewer companies are resorting to splits: 

"From 2008 through 2013, only 12 S&P 500 (SPY) companies, on average, split their stocks each year, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices. By comparison, in the 1990s, an average of 64 companies in the S&P 500 split their stocks each year. In 1997, there were 102 total stock splits." 

Still, while there isn't an app for that, now there is an ETF. What'll they think of next? (Send your ideas my way.)

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At the time of publication, Greenberg had no positions in stocks mentioned but positions can change at any time.

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Herb Greenberg, editor of Herb Greenberg's Reality Check, is a contributor to CNBC. He does not own shares, short or trade shares in any individual corporate security. He can be reached at herbonthestreet@thestreet.com.

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