As we know, many companies all over the globe are facing liquidity problems. i.e. are short on cash reserves. They are thus finding it very difficult to pay (interest) to their creditors. So who they will go to for funding? In usual case, the answer would be a bank loan or public debt (issuing bonds for example). But these days, the banks themselves are finding it extremely difficult to lend money (as trust among the market players is lost) and the public too would be hesitant to lend money to a company whose future is uncertain (a troubled company might default on its bond payment in the future).
The situation is so severe that many companies have become bankrupt or would file for a bankrupty in the near future if their need for cash is not satisfied immediately. There are already about 1,700 bankruptcies in Japan in 2009. The US government has helped such companies with multi-billion loans through the TARP (Trouble Asset Relief Program). For companies, who are finding this aid insufficient are now going to the public for help; by not offering debt but by means of equity shares ! some also want to repay their government debt by borrowing from the public. The idea is simple; in case of public debt the company is obligated to pay back the money with interest to the investors. If the company doesnt meet its obligations, it defaults, tis credit rating takes a hit and in worst case can even go bankrupt. On the other hand, by issuing equity, the company is on a safer side. It is not obligated to make dividend paymens to its shareholders.
I do not wish to name such companies or the size of their offering, but recently there has been a rise in number of equity offers in Japan as well as in the US. These amount to multi-buillion dollar deals. Companies are trying to woo the investors with such offers. This means from now on, it is the turn of the common investor (tax payer) to throw their hard-earned money at (troubled) businesses next to the US government. Do i sense some danger here? By the way, from where does the US government fund the money it loans to these "troubled" companies? From the tax payers pocket ofcourse. So it is the common man who is on the receiving end and is at high risk.
My view : Doubly evaluate the risks before jumping onto investing in any company (especially if its on the TARP list) else you might be in a TRAP !