British corporate types...What does 'plc' mean?

I’ve noticed this designation used with some very large companies, e.g. Wolesley plc. The letters are always lower case.
What do they mean?

It stands for “public limited company” and it refers to a company which can have an unlimited number of shareholders, and is subject to rather more stringent capital requirements than a private limited company (abbreviated to “ltd”), which can only have (I think) a maximum of 50 shareholders, and usually has rather less.

Public Limited Company

Thanks for all the input. However, can anyone comment on this answer? Stateside, most of us just assumed that “Ltd.” simply meant the same thing as a “Inc.” over here, and could be a widely held corporation with many small holders. The answer above indicates that that’s not quite accurate. Or is this more restrictive use of “Ltd.” a recent development? FTR I never saw the “plc” designation until about 13 years ago; while “Ltd.” has been familiar to us Americans since time immemorial.

There has always been a distinction beetween public and private companies. A public company can have an unlimited number of shareholders and its shares are freely transferrable; a private cannot have more than fifty members, and there must be some restriction on the transfer of shares.

The rule used to be that both kinds of company had to have the word “limited” (abbreviated to “ltd”) in their names. Since (I think) 1982 the rule is that a public limited company must have “public limited company” (abbreviated to “plc”) in its name. The old rule continues to apply to private companies.

In short, both “ltd” and “plc” give you the same information as “inc” - that the company is incorporated. In addition they tell you whether it is private or public, which (I believe) you cannot tell from “inc”.

The “limited” in the name refers to limited liability .This means that the members of the company are liable for the company’s debts only to the extent of the capital sum that they have provided and invested in the company.

Up until some years ago, UK companies called themselves Acme Ltd or Acme Co Ltd if they were incorporated and had limited liability, as mentioned above (nothing to do with limits on number of shareholders). There was no distinction between publicly listed companies - in which anyone may buy shares - or private companies (not listed on the stock market).

“plc” was introduced to distinguish the publicly listed companies from the private ones. IIRC, it was at the behest of the usual megalomaniac Euro-rabble in Brussels who were intent on imposing uniformity. Presumably the German Gmbh or the French SA have the same meaning.

Not quite correct. The “plc” designation indicates a company which *may[/i have an unlimited number of shareholders and whose shares are freely transferrable, and which therefore could be listed on the stock exchange (assuming compliance with the many other requirements of the stock exchange). But not all plc’s are listed on the stock exchange, or make their shares available to the public.

From the point of view of a third party dealing with the company, there is no great difference between “plc” and “ltd”. Both indicate limited liability. (In theory the plc may be a slightly better credit risk because it has a larger minimum capital, which is more stringently policed. But this is probably not very important in practice.) But from the point of view of an investor invited to buy shares in the company, the distinction is of great significance. The shares in a “ltd” are not freely marketable, which makes an investment in them illiquid and uncertain.