OTC Markets Amends Listing Standards For OTCQB To Allow Non-Reporting Issuers
Posted by Securities Attorney Laura Anthony | June 27, 2017 Tags: , , , ,

Effective May 18, 2017, the OTC Markets has amended its qualification rules for the OTCQB to allow quotation by companies that follow its alternative reporting standard (“Alternative Reporting Standard”). OTC Markets aligned the new requirements with the existing OTCQX Alternative Reporting Standard requirements. In addition, the OTC Markets made clarifying amendments to its rules, amended the rules related to the timing of removal for delinquent filers, and revised the rules for international reporting companies.

Highlights of Changes

To qualify for the OTCQB using the Alternative Reporting Standard, a company must file audited financial statements prepared in accordance with U.S. GAAP by a PCAOB qualified auditor, have a minimum bid price of $0.01, not be subject to bankruptcy or reorganization proceedings, and maintain corporate governance including (i) have a board of directors that includes a minimum of two independent directors, and (ii) have an audit committee comprised of a majority of independent directors.

The cure period for delinquent filings has been extended to 45 days from the prior 30-day period. However, the cure period for a bid price deficiency has been reduced in half to 90 days from the prior 180 days. Moreover, if a company’s closing bid price falls below $0.001 at any time for five consecutive days, the company will automatically be removed from the OTCQB.

The new rules clarify that a U.S. transfer agent is only required for U.S. and Canadian incorporated companies. However, international reporting companies must now file their reports with OTC Markets immediately after such filing with their primary international market.

The new rules clarify that the OTCQB annual fee is due 30 days prior to the beginning of each new annual service period. An OTCQB company must remain registered and in good standing in its state of incorporation.

The OTCQB has been recognized by most U.S. states as a “securities manual” for the purpose of the blue sky manual’s exemption. In order to qualify, companies must file reports with OTC Markets that meet the information requirements for the manual’s exemption in the state.  The OTC Markets filings requirements are designed to ensure satisfaction of these requirements.

Finally, the new rules clarify that an OTCQB company is required to make timely disclosures of news releases and developments whether through an SEC form 8-K or press release with OTC Markets. A company must also act promptly to dispel unfounded rumors which result in unusual market activity or price variations.

Comprehensive Refresher on OTCQB, Including the New Amendments

The OTC Markets divide issuers into three (3) levels of quotation marketplaces: OTCQX, OTCQB and OTC Pink. The OTC Pink, which involves the highest-risk, highly speculative securities, is further divided into three tiers: Current Information, Limited Information and No Information. The OTCQB is considered the venture market tier designed for entrepreneurial and development-stage U.S. and international companies. To apply to the OTCQB, a company must submit a completed application and quotation agreement and pay the application fee.

Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible to be quoted on the OTCQB, all companies will be required to:

  • Meet a minimum closing bid price on OTC Markets of $.01 for each of the last 30 calendar days and as of the day the OTCQB application is approved;
  • In the event that there is no prior public market and a 15c2-11 application has been submitted to FINRA by a market maker, OTC Markets can waive the bid requirement at its sole discretion;
  • In the event that a company is a seasoned public issuer that completed a reverse stock split within 6 months prior to applying to the OTCQB, the company must have a post-reverse-split minimum bid price of $.01 at the close of business on each of the 5 consecutive trading days immediately before applying to the OTCQB;
  • In the event the company is moving to the OTCQB from the OTCQX, it must have a minimum closing bid price of $.01 for at least one (1) of the 30 calendar days immediately preceding;
  • Companies may not be subject to bankruptcy or reorganization proceedings the company’s application;
  • Either be subject to the reporting requirements of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and be current in such reporting obligations, be a Tier 2 Regulation A reporting company and be current in such reporting obligations, or, if an international issuer, be eligible to rely on the registration exemption found in Exchange Act Rule 12g-2(b) and be current and compliant in such requirements or be a bank current in its reporting obligations to its bank regulator, or be current in the OTC Markets Alternative Reporting Standards;
  • Have U.S. GAAP audited financials prepared by a PCAOB qualified auditor, including an audit opinion that is not adverse, disclaimed or qualified. International reporting companies may have audited financial statements prepared in accordance with IFRS;
  • Be duly organized, validly existing and in good standing under the laws of each jurisdiction in which it is organized and does business;
  • Submit an application and pay an application and annual fee;
  • Maintain a current and accurate company profile on the OTC Markets website;
  • Use an SEC registered transfer agent and authorize the transfer agent to provide information to OTC Markets about the company’s securities, including but not limited to shares authorized, shares issued and outstanding, and share issuance history; and
  • Submit an OTCQB Annual Certification confirming the accuracy of the current company profile and providing information on officers, directors and controlling shareholders.
  • For companies that are relying on the Alternative Reporting Standard (i.e., not reporting to the SEC), meet minimum corporate governance requirements, including (i) have a board of directors that includes at least two independent directors; and (ii) have an audit committee comprised of a majority of independent directors. A company may request the ability to phase in compliance with this requirement if: (a) at least one member of the board of directors and audit committee are independent at the time of the application; and (b) at least two members of the board and a majority of the audit committee are independent within the later of 90 days after the company begins trading on the OTCQB or by the time of the company’s next annual meeting and in no event later than one year from joining the OTCQB.

All companies are required to post their initial disclosure on the OTC Markets website and make an initial certification.  The initial disclosure includes:

  • Confirmation that the company is current in its SEC reporting obligations, whether subject to the Exchange Act reporting requirements or Regulation A+ reporting requirements, and has filed all reports with the SEC, that all financial statements have been prepared in accordance with U.S. GAAP, and that the auditor opinion is not adverse, disclaimed or qualified;
  • Bank Reporting Companies must have filed all financial reported required to be filed with their banking regulator for the prior two years, including audited financial statements;
  • International Companies – (i) Companies subject to the Exchange Act reporting requirements must be current in such reports; (ii) A company that is not an SEC Reporting company must be current and fully compliant in its obligations under Exchange Act Rule 12g3-2(b), if applicable, and shall have posted in English through the OTC Disclosure & News Service or an Integrated Newswire, the information required to be made publicly available pursuant to Exchange Act Rule 12g3-2(b) for the preceding 24 months (or from inception if less than 24 months); and all financial statements have been prepared in accordance with U.S. GAAP and that the auditor opinion is not adverse, disclaimed or qualified;
  • Alternative Reporting Companies must have filed, through the OTC Disclosure and News Services, an information and disclosure statement meeting the requirements of the OTCQX and OTCQB disclosure guidelines; and
  • Verification that the company profile is current, complete and accurate.

In addition, all companies will be required to file an initial and annual certification on the OTC Markets website, signed by the CEO and/or CFO, stating:

  • The company’s reporting standing (i.e., whether SEC reporting, Regulation A+ reporting, Alternative Standards Reporting, bank reporting or international reporting) and briefly describing the registration status of the company;
  • If the company is an international company and relying on 12g3-2(b), that it is current in such obligations;
  • That the company is current in its reporting obligations to its regulator and that such information is available either on EDGAR or the OTC Markets website;
  • That the company profile on the OTC Markets website is current and complete and includes the total shares outstanding, authorized and in the public float as of that date;
  • That the company is duly organized, validly existing and in good standing under the laws of each state or jurisdiction in which the company is organized and conducts business;
  • States the law firm and/or attorneys that assist the company in preparing its annual report or 10-K;
  • Identifies any third-party providers engaged by the company, its officers, directors or controlling shareholders, during the prior fiscal year and up to the date of the certification, to provide investor relations services, public relations services, stock promotion services or related services;
  • Confirms the total shares authorized, outstanding and in the public float as of that date; and
  • Names and shareholdings of all officers and directors and shareholders that beneficially own 5% or more of the total outstanding shares, including beneficial ownership of entity shareholders.

An application to OTCQB can be delayed or denied at OTC Markets’ sole discretion if they determine that admission would be likely to impair the reputation or integrity of OTC Markets group or be detrimental to the interests of investors.

Requirements for Bank Reporting Companies

Bank reporting companies must meet all the same requirements as all other OTCQB companies except for the SEC reporting requirements.  Instead, bank reporting companies are required to post their previous two years’ and ongoing yearly disclosures that were and are filed with the company’s bank regulator, on the OTC Markets website.

International Companies

In addition to the same requirements for all issuers as set forth above, foreign issuers must be listed on a Qualified Foreign Exchange and be compliant with SEC Rule 12g3-2(b). Moreover, a foreign entity must submit a letter of introduction from a qualified OTCQB Sponsor which states that the OTCQB Sponsor has a reasonable belief that the company is in compliance with SEC Rule 12g3-2(b), is listed on a Qualified Foreign Exchange, and has posted required disclosure on the OTC Markets website. A foreign entity must post two years’ historical and ongoing quarterly and annual reports, in English, on the OTC Markets website which comply with SEC Rule 12g3-2(b). I am a qualified OTCQB Sponsor and assist multiple international companies with this process.

Application Review Process

OTC Markets will review all applications and may request additional information on any of the information submitted. In addition, OTC Markets can require that a company provide a further undertaking, such as submission of personal information forms for any executive officer, director or 5% or greater beneficial owner. OTC Markets can request that third parties provide confirmations or information as well.  OTC Markets can, and likely will, conduct independent due diligence including through the review of publicly available information.

OTC Markets can deny an application if it determines, upon its sole and absolute discretion, that the admission of the company would be likely to impair the reputation or integrity of OTC Markets or be detrimental to the interests of investors.

Upon approval of an application, the company’s securities will be designated as OTCQB on the OTC Markets websites, market data products and broker-dealer platforms.

Ongoing Requirements

  • All companies are required to remain in compliance with the OTCQB standards, including the ongoing disclosure obligations;
  • S. OTCQB companies will be required to remain current and timely in their SEC reporting obligations, including either Exchange Act reports, Regulation A+ reports or Alternative Reporting Standard and including all audited financial statement requirements;
  • A foreign company that is not an SEC Reporting Company must remain current and fully compliant in its obligations under Exchange Act Rule 12g3-2(b), if applicable, and in any event shall, on an ongoing basis, post in English through the OTC Disclosure & News Service or an Integrated Newswire the information required to be made publicly available pursuant to Exchange Act Rule 12g3-2(b);
  • Banks must remain current in their banking reporting requirements and file copies of their reports on the OTC Markets website no later than 45 days following the end of a quarter or 90 days following the end of the fiscal year;
  • All OTC Markets postings and reports must be filed within 45 days following the end of a quarter or 90 days following the end of the fiscal year for US Exchange Act issuers and Alternative Reporting Standard filers, as required by Regulation A+ for Regulation A+ reporting issuers, and immediately after their submission to their primary regulator for international companies; where applicable, file a notice of late filing allowing for 5 extra days on a quarterly report and 15 extra days on an annual or semiannual report;
  • All OTCQB companies will be required to post annual certifications on the OTC Markets website signed by either the CEO or CFO no later than 30 days following the company’s annual report due date;
  • All companies are required to comply with all federal, state, and international securities laws and must cooperate with all securities regulatory agencies;
  • Must pay the annual fee within 30 days of prior to the beginning of each new annual service period;
  • All companies must respond to OTC Markets inquiries and requests;
  • All companies must maintain an updated verified company profile on the OTC Markets website and must submit a Company Update Form at least once every six months;
  • OTCQB is a recognized securities manual for purposes of blue sky secondary market exceptions. A precondition to relying upon the manuals exemption is the maintenance of current updated disclosure information as required by OTC Markets;
  • All companies must make a press release and possibly other public disclosure (such as a Form 8-K) to inform the public of any news or information which might be reasonably expected to materially affect the market of its securities;
  • All companies must file interim disclosures in the event the company undergoes a reverse merger or change of control and make new updated certifications and disclosure related to the new business and control persons;
  • In the event that OTC Markets determines, upon its sole discretion, that a company is the subject of promotional activities that encourage trading, OTC Markets may require the company to provide additional public information related to shareholdings of officers, directors and control persons and confirmation of shares outstanding, and any share issuance in the prior two years. OTC Markets may also require submission of a Personal Information Form for any executive officer, director or 5%-or-greater shareholder.
  • Not be subject to bankruptcy or reorganization proceedings;
  • Be duly organized and in good standing under the laws of each jurisdiction in which the company is organized or does business;
  • Companies relying on the Alternative Reporting Standard must comply with the ongoing corporate governance requirements subject to a notice and one-year grace period if the company falls into noncompliance;
  • All OTCQB companies must meet the minimum bid price of $.01 per share at the close of business of at least one of the previous thirty (30) consecutive calendar days; in the event that the price falls below $.01, the company will begin a grace period of 90 calendar days to maintain a closing bid price of $.01 for ten consecutive trading days; and
  • Use an SEC registered transfer agent and authorize the transfer agent to provide information to OTC Markets about the company’s securities, including but not limited to shares authorized, shares issued and outstanding, and share issuance history.

Officers and directors of the company are responsible for compliance with the ongoing requirements and the content of all information.  Entities that do not meet the requirements of either OTCQX or OTCQB will be quoted on the OTC Pink.

Fees

Newly applying entities must pay an initial application fee of $2,500, which fee is waived for existing OTCQB entities. All OTCQB companies will be required to pay an annual fee of $10,000. Fees are nonrefundable.

Removal/Suspension from OTCQB

A company may be removed from the OTCQB if, at any time, it fails to meet the eligibility and continued quotation requirements subject to a notice and opportunity to cure. Companies that are delinquent in filing and reporting requirements are subject to a 45-day cure period.  Companies with a bid price deficiency shall have a 90-day cure period. However, in the event the company’s bid price falls below $0.001 at any time for five consecutive trading days, the company will be immediately removed from the OTCQB. All other deficiencies are subject to a 30-day cure period. OTC Markets may provide additional cure periods, but in no event may audited financial statements be older than 18 months.

In addition, OTC Markets Group may remove the company’s securities from trading on OTCQB immediately and at any time, without notice, if OTC Markets Group, upon its sole and absolute discretion, believes the continued inclusion of the company’s securities would impair the reputation or integrity of OTC Markets Group or be detrimental to the interests of investors.

In addition, OTC Markets can temporarily suspend trading on the OTCQB pending investigation or further due diligence review.

A company may voluntarily withdraw from the OTCQB with 24 hours’ notice.

The Author

Laura Anthony, Esq.
Founding Partner
Legal & Compliance, LLC
Corporate, Securities and Going Public Attorneys
330 Clematis Street, Suite 217
West Palm Beach, FL 33401
Phone: 800-341-2684 – 561-514-0936
Fax: 561-514-0832
LAnthony@LegalAndCompliance.com
www.LegalAndCompliance.com
www.LawCast.com

Securities attorney Laura Anthony and her experienced legal team provides ongoing corporate counsel to small and mid-size private companies, OTC and exchange traded issuers as well as private companies going public on the NASDAQ, NYSE MKT or over-the-counter market, such as the OTCQB and OTCQX. For nearly two decades Legal & Compliance, LLC has served clients providing fast, personalized, cutting-edge legal service. The firm’s reputation and relationships provide invaluable resources to clients including introductions to investment bankers, broker dealers, institutional investors and other strategic alliances. The firm’s focus includes, but is not limited to, compliance with the Securities Act of 1933 offer sale and registration requirements, including private placement transactions under Regulation D and Regulation S and PIPE Transactions as well as registration statements on Forms S-1, S-8 and S-4; compliance with the reporting requirements of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, including registration on Form 10, reporting on Forms 10-Q, 10-K and 8-K, and 14C Information and 14A Proxy Statements; Regulation A/A+ offerings; all forms of going public transactions; mergers and acquisitions including both reverse mergers and forward mergers, ; applications to and compliance with the corporate governance requirements of securities exchanges including NASDAQ and NYSE MKT; crowdfunding; corporate; and general contract and business transactions. Moreover, Ms. Anthony and her firm represents both target and acquiring companies in reverse mergers and forward mergers, including the preparation of transaction documents such as merger agreements, share exchange agreements, stock purchase agreements, asset purchase agreements and reorganization agreements. Ms. Anthony’s legal team prepares the necessary documentation and assists in completing the requirements of federal and state securities laws and SROs such as FINRA and DTC for 15c2-11 applications, corporate name changes, reverse and forward splits and changes of domicile. Ms. Anthony is also the author of SecuritiesLawBlog.com, the OTC Market’s top source for industry news, and the producer and host of LawCast.com, the securities law network. In addition to many other major metropolitan areas, the firm currently represents clients in New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, Atlanta, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., Denver, Tampa, Detroit and Dallas.

Contact Legal & Compliance LLC. Technical inquiries are always encouraged.

Follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

Legal & Compliance, LLC makes this general information available for educational purposes only. The information is general in nature and does not constitute legal advice. Furthermore, the use of this information, and the sending or receipt of this information, does not create or constitute an attorney-client relationship between us. Therefore, your communication with us via this information in any form will not be considered as privileged or confidential.

This information is not intended to be advertising, and Legal & Compliance, LLC does not desire to represent anyone desiring representation based upon viewing this information in a jurisdiction where this information fails to comply with all laws and ethical rules of that jurisdiction. This information may only be reproduced in its entirety (without modification) for the individual reader’s personal and/or educational use and must include this notice.

© Legal & Compliance, LLC 2017

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Recommendations Of SEC Government-Business Forum On Small Business Capital Formation
Posted by Securities Attorney Laura Anthony | May 23, 2017 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

In early April, the SEC Office of Small Business Policy published the 2016 Final Report on the SEC Government-Business Forum on Small Business Capital Formation, a forum I had the honor of attending and participating in. As required by the Small Business Investment Incentive Act of 1980, each year the SEC holds a forum focused on small business capital formation. The goal of the forum is to develop recommendations for government and private action to eliminate or reduce impediments to small business capital formation.

The forum is taken seriously by the SEC and its participants, including the NASAA, and leading small business and professional organizations. The forum began with short speeches by each of the SEC commissioners and a panel discussion, following which attendees, including myself, worked in breakout sessions to drill down on specific issues and suggest changes to rules and regulations to help support small business capital formation, as well as the related, secondary trading markets. In particular, the three breakout groups were on exempt securities offerings; smaller reporting companies; and the secondary market for securities of small businesses.

Each breakout group is given the opportunity to make recommendations. The recommendations were refined and voted upon by the forum participants in the few months following the forum and have now been released by the SEC in a report containing all 15 final recommendations. In the process, the participants ranked the recommendations by whether it is likely the SEC will give high, medium, low or no priority to each recommendation.

Recommendations often gain traction. For example, the forum first recommended reducing the Rule 144 holding period for Exchange Act reporting companies to six months, a rule which was passed in 2008. Last year the forum recommended increasing the financial thresholds for the smaller reporting company definition, and the SEC did indeed propose a change following that recommendation. See my blog HERE for more information on the proposed change. Also last year the forum recommended changes to Rule 147 and 504, which recommendations were considered in the SEC’s rule changes that followed. See my blog HERE for information on the new Rule 147A and Rule 147 and 504 changes.

Forum Recommendations

The following is a list of the recommendations listed in order or priority. The priority was determined by a poll of all participants and is intended to provide guidance to the SEC as to the importance and urgency assigned to each recommendation. I have included my comments and commentary with the recommendations.

  1. As recommended by the SEC Advisory Committee on Small and Emerging Companies, the SEC should (a) maintain the monetary thresholds for accredited investors; and (b) expand the categories of qualification for accredited investor status based on various types of sophistication, such as education, experience or training, including, but not limited to, persons with FINRA licenses, CPA or CFA designations, or management positions with issuers. My blog on the Advisory Committee on Small and Emerging Companies’ recommendations can be read HERE. Also, to read on the SEC’s report on the accredited investor definition, see HERE.
  2. The definition of smaller reporting company and non-accelerated filer should be revised to include an issuer with a public float of less than $250 million or with annual revenues of less than $100 million, excluding large accelerated filers; and to extend the period of exemption from Sarbanes 404(b) for an additional five years for pre- or low-revenue companies after they cease to be emerging-growth companies. See my blog HERE for more information on the current proposed change to the definition of smaller reporting company and HERE related to the distinctions between a smaller reporting company and an emerging-growth company.
  3. Lead a joint effort with NASAA and FINRA to implement a private placement broker category including developing a workable timeline and plan to regulate and allow for “finders” and limited intermediary registration, regulation and exemptions. I think this topic is vitally important. The issue of finders has been at the forefront of small business capital formation during the 20+ years I have been practicing securities law. The topic is often explored by regulators; see, for example, the SEC Advisory Committee on Small and Emerging Companies recommendations HERE and a more comprehensive review of the topic HERE which includes a summary of the American Bar Association’s recommendations.

Despite all these efforts, it has been very hard to gain any traction in this area. Part of the reason is that it would take a joint effort by FINRA, the NASAA and both the Divisions of Corporation Finance and Trading and Markets within the SEC. This area needs attention. The fact is that thousands of people act as unlicensed finders—an activity that, although it remains illegal, is commonplace in the industry. In other words, by failing to address and regulate finders in a workable and meaningful fashion, the SEC and regulators perpetuate an unregulated fringe industry that attracts bad actors equally with the good and results in improper activity such as misrepresentations in the fundraising process equally with the honest efforts. However, practitioners, including myself, remain committed to affecting changes, including by providing regulators with reasoned recommendations.

  1. The SEC should adopt rules that pre-empt state registration for all primary and secondary trading of securities qualified under Regulation A/Tier 2, and all other securities registered with the SEC. I have been a vocal proponent of state blue sky pre-emption, including related to the secondary trading of securities. Currently, such secondary trading is usually achieved through the Manual’s Exemption, which is not recognized by all states. There is a lack of uniformity in the secondary trading market that continues to negatively impact small business issuers. For more on this topic, see my two-part blog HERE and HERE.
  2. Regulation A should be amended to: (i) pre-empt state blue sky regulation for all secondary sales of Tier 2 securities (included in the 4th recommendation above); (ii) allow companies registered under the Exchange Act, including at least business development companies, emerging-growth companies and smaller reporting companies, to utilize Regulation A (see my blog on this topic, including a discussion of a proposed rule change submitted by OTC Markets, HERE ); and (iii) provide a clearer definition of what constitutes “testing-the-waters materials” and permissible media activities.
  3. Simplify disclosure requirements and costs for smaller reporting companies and emerging-growth companies with a principles-based approach to Regulation S-K, eliminating information that is not material, reducing or eliminating non-securities-related disclosures with a political or social purpose (such as pay ratio, conflict minerals, etc.), making XBRL compliance optional and harmonizing rules for emerging-growth companies with smaller reporting companies. For more on the ongoing efforts to revise Regulation S-K, including in manners addressed in this recommendation, see HERE and for more information on the differences between emerging-growth companies and smaller reporting companies, see HERE.
  4. Mandate comparable disclosure by short sellers or market makers holding short positions that apply to long investors, such as through the use of a short selling report on Schedule 13D.
  5. The SEC should provide scaled public disclosure requirements, including the use of non-GAAP accounting standards that would constitute adequate current information for entities whose securities will be traded on secondary markets. This recommendation came from the secondary market for securities of small businesses breakout group. I was part of the smaller reporting companies breakout group, so I did not hear the specific discussion on this recommendation.  However, I do note that Rule 144 does provide for a definition of adequate current public information for companies that are not subject to the Exchange Act reporting requirements.  In particular, Rule 144 provides that adequate current public information would include the information required by SEC Rule 15c2-11 and OTC Markets specifically models its alternative reporting disclosure requirements to satisfy the disclosures required by Rule 15c2-11.
  6. The eligibility requirements for the use of Form S-3 should be revised to include all reporting companies. For more on the use of Form S-3, see my blog HERE
  7. The SEC should clarify the relationship of exempt offerings in which general solicitation is not permitted, such as in Section 4(a)(2) and Rule 506(b) offerings, with Rule 506(c) offerings involving general solicitation in the following ways: (i) the facts and circumstances analysis regarding whether general solicitation is attributable to purchasers in an exempt offering should apply equally to offerings that allow general solicitation as to those that do not (such that even if an offering is labeled 506(c), if in fact no general solicitation is used, it can be treated as a 506(b); and (ii) to clarify that Rule 152 applies to Rule 506(c) so that an issuer using Rule 506(c) may subsequently engage in a registered public offering without adversely affecting the Rule 506(c) exemption. I note that within days of the forum, the SEC did indeed issue guidance on the use of Rule 152 as applies to Rule 506(c) offerings, at least as relates to an lternative trading systemintegration analysis between 506(b) and 506(c) offerings. See my blog HERE.
  8. The SEC should amend Regulation ATS to allow for the resale of unregistered securities including those traded pursuant to Rule 144 and 144A and issued pursuant to Sections 4(a)(2), 4(a)(6) and 4(a)(7) and Rules 504 and 506.
  9. The SEC should permit an ATS to file a 15c2-11 with FINRA and review the FINRA process to make sure that there is no undue burden on applicants and issuers. An ATS is an “alternative trading system.” The OTC Markets’ trading platform is an ATS. This recommendation would allow OTC Markets to directly file 15c2-11 applications on behalf of companies. A 15c2-11 application is the application submitted to FINRA to obtain a trading symbol and allow market makers to quote the securities of companies that trade on an ATS, such as the OTC Markets. Today, only market makers seeking to quote the trading in securities can submit the application. Also today, the application process can be difficult and lack clear guidance or timelines for the market makers and companies involved. This process definitely needs attention and this recommendation would be an excellent start.
  10. Regulation CF should be amended to (i) permit the usage of special-purpose vehicles so that many small investors may be grouped together into one entity which then makes a single investment in a company raising capital under Regulation CF; and (ii) harmonize the Regulation CF advertising rules to avoid traps in situations where an issuer advertises or engages in general solicitations under Regulation A or Rule 506(c) and then converts to or from a Regulation CF offering.
  11. The SEC should provide greater clarity on when trading activities require ATS registration, and when an entity or technology platform needs to a funding portal, broker-dealer, ATS and/or exchange in order to “be engaged in the business” of secondary trading transactions.
  12. Reduce the Rule 144 holding period to 3 months for reporting companies. I fully support this recommendation.

The Author

Laura Anthony, Esq.
Founding Partner
Legal & Compliance, LLC
Corporate, Securities and Going Public Attorneys
330 Clematis Street, Suite 217
West Palm Beach, FL 33401
Phone: 800-341-2684 – 561-514-0936
Fax: 561-514-0832
LAnthony@LegalAndCompliance.com
www.LegalAndCompliance.com
www.LawCast.com

Securities attorney Laura Anthony and her experienced legal team provides ongoing corporate counsel to small and mid-size private companies, OTC and exchange traded issuers as well as private companies going public on the NASDAQ, NYSE MKT or over-the-counter market, such as the OTCQB and OTCQX. For nearly two decades Legal & Compliance, LLC has served clients providing fast, personalized, cutting-edge legal service. The firm’s reputation and relationships provide invaluable resources to clients including introductions to investment bankers, broker dealers, institutional investors and other strategic alliances. The firm’s focus includes, but is not limited to, compliance with the Securities Act of 1933 offer sale and registration requirements, including private placement transactions under Regulation D and Regulation S and PIPE Transactions as well as registration statements on Forms S-1, S-8 and S-4; compliance with the reporting requirements of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, including registration on Form 10, reporting on Forms 10-Q, 10-K and 8-K, and 14C Information and 14A Proxy Statements; Regulation A/A+ offerings; all forms of going public transactions; mergers and acquisitions including both reverse mergers and forward mergers, ; applications to and compliance with the corporate governance requirements of securities exchanges including NASDAQ and NYSE MKT; crowdfunding; corporate; and general contract and business transactions. Moreover, Ms. Anthony and her firm represents both target and acquiring companies in reverse mergers and forward mergers, including the preparation of transaction documents such as merger agreements, share exchange agreements, stock purchase agreements, asset purchase agreements and reorganization agreements. Ms. Anthony’s legal team prepares the necessary documentation and assists in completing the requirements of federal and state securities laws and SROs such as FINRA and DTC for 15c2-11 applications, corporate name changes, reverse and forward splits and changes of domicile. Ms. Anthony is also the author of SecuritiesLawBlog.com, the OTC Market’s top source for industry news, and the producer and host of LawCast.com, the securities law network. In addition to many other major metropolitan areas, the firm currently represents clients in New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, Atlanta, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., Denver, Tampa, Detroit and Dallas.

Contact Legal & Compliance LLC. Technical inquiries are always encouraged.

Follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

Legal & Compliance, LLC makes this general information available for educational purposes only. The information is general in nature and does not constitute legal advice. Furthermore, the use of this information, and the sending or receipt of this information, does not create or constitute an attorney-client relationship between us. Therefore, your communication with us via this information in any form will not be considered as privileged or confidential.

This information is not intended to be advertising, and Legal & Compliance, LLC does not desire to represent anyone desiring representation based upon viewing this information in a jurisdiction where this information fails to comply with all laws and ethical rules of that jurisdiction. This information may only be reproduced in its entirety (without modification) for the individual reader’s personal and/or educational use and must include this notice.

© Legal & Compliance, LLC 2017

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The SEC Has Issued New Guidance Related To Foreign Private Issuers
Posted by Securities Attorney Laura Anthony | March 14, 2017 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

On December 8, 2016, the SEC issued 35 new compliance and disclosure interpretations (C&DI) including five related to the use of Form 20-F by foreign private issuers and seven related to the definition of a foreign private issuer.

C&DI Related to use of Form 20-F

In the first of the five new C&DI, the SEC confirms that under certain circumstances the subsidiary of a foreign private issuer may use an F-series registration statement to register securities that are guaranteed by the parent company, even if the subsidiary itself does not qualify as a foreign private issuer. In addition, the subsidiary may use Form 20-F for its annual report. To qualify, the parent and subsidiary must file consolidated financial statements or be eligible to present narrative disclosure under Rule 3-10 of Regulation S-X.

Likewise in the second of the new C&DI, the SEC confirms that an F-series registration statement may be used to register securities to be issued by the parent and guaranteed by the subsidiary. When a parent foreign private issuer issues securities guaranteed or co-issued by one or more subsidiaries that do not themselves qualify as a foreign private issuer, the parent and subsidiary may use an F-series registration statement when they are eligible to present condensed consolidating financial information or narrative disclosure.

In the third C&DI the SEC clarifies the deadline for filing a Form 20-F annual report. In particular, the Form 20-F is due 4 months to the day from the end of a company’s fiscal year-end. For example, if a company’s fiscal year-end is February 20, the Form 20-F due date would be June 20.

In the fourth C&DI, the SEC confirms that a wholly owned subsidiary can omit certain information from its Form 20-F annual report in the same manner that a wholly owned subsidiary of a U.S. company can omit information in its Form 10-K. The subsidiary would need to include a prominent statement on its cover page that it meets the requirements to and is providing reduced disclosure.

The requirements to be able to provide reduced disclosure, for both 20-F and 10-K filers, include: (i) all of the company’s equity securities are owned, either directly or indirectly, by a single entity which is subject to the reporting requirements of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”); (ii) such parent entity is current in its reporting requirements; (iii) the parent company specifically names the subsidiary in its description of its business; (iv) during the preceding 36 calendar months and any subsequent period of days, there has not been any material default in the payment of principal, interest or any other material default with respect to any indebtedness of the parent or its subsidiaries; and (v) there has not been any material default in the payment of rentals under material long-term leases.

The disclosure that may be omitted by a qualifying subsidiary includes: (i) selected financial data; (ii) operating and financial review prospects; (iii) the list of subsidiaries exhibit; (iv) information required by Item 6.A, Directors and Senior Management, Item 6.B, Compensation, 6.D, Employees, Item 6.E, Share Ownership, Item 7, Major Shareholders and Related Party Transactions, Item 16A, Audit Committee Financial Expert, and Item 16B, Code of Ethics; and (v) Item 4 Information on the company as long as such information is included in the parent company’s filings.

In the final new C&DI, the SEC confirms that a foreign private issuer may incorporate by reference into a Form 20-F annual report information that had previously been filed with the SEC in another report, such as a Form 6-K.

C&DI Related to Definition of Foreign Private Issuer

The first of the new guidance on the definition of a foreign private issuer relates to determining whether 50% or more of a company’s outstanding securities are directly or indirectly owned by U.S. residents when a company has multiple classes of voting stock with different voting rights. In such a case a company may either (i) calculate voting power on a combined basis; or (ii) make a determination based on the number of voting securities. A company must apply its methodology on a consistent basis.

The second C&DI provides guidance on determining whether an individual is a U.S. resident. In particular, the SEC confirms that a permanent residence with a green card would be considered a U.S. resident. A company may also consider any relevant facts including tax residency, nationality, mailing address, physical presence, the location of a significant portion of their financial and legal relationships and immigration status. The application of facts must be consistently applied to all shareholders.

The third C&DI clarifies the determination of citizenship and residency of directors and officers. A company must consider the citizenship and residency of all individual directors and officers separately and not count them as a single group. In the fourth C&DI, the SEC addresses the determination where a company has two boards of directors. In that case, the company should examine the board that most closely undertakes functions that U.S.-style boards of directors would. Where such determination cannot be made or where both boards provide these functions, both boards should be aggregated and citizenship and residency examined for both.

In the fifth C&DI the SEC confirms that a company can use the geographic segment information in its balance sheet to determine if more than 50% of its assets are located outside the U.S. A company may also use any other reasonable methodology as long as it is used consistently.

In the sixth C&DI the SEC provides guidance for determining whether a business is principally administered in the U.S. As with the theme of the other guidance, the SEC gives the company guidance to exercise reasonable discretion consistently. A company must assess the location from which its officers, partners, or managers primarily direct, control and coordinate the company business and activities.

In the seventh new C&DI the SEC confirms that holding meetings of shareholders or the board of directors on occasion, will not necessarily result in a conclusion that the company is principally administered in the U.S.

In another new C&DI the SEC confirms that all securities-trading markets in countries that are part of the European Union may be considered a single foreign jurisdiction for purposes of applying the trading market definition for purposes of determining the trading of foreign securities.

Refresher Overview for Foreign Private Issuers

                Definition of Foreign Private Issuer

Both the Securities Act of 1933, as amended (“Securities Act”) and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (“Exchange Act”) contain definitions of a “foreign private issuer.” Generally, if a company does not meet the definition of a foreign private issuer, it is subject to the same registration and reporting requirements as any U.S. company.

The determination of foreign private issuer status is not just dependent on the country of domicile, though a U.S. company can never qualify regardless of the location of its operations, assets, management and subsidiaries. There are generally two tests of qualification as a foreign private issuer, as follows: (i) relative degree of U.S. share ownership; and (ii) level of U.S. business contacts.

As with many securities law definitions, the overall definition of foreign private issuer starts with an all-encompassing “any foreign issuer” and then carves out exceptions from there. In particular, a foreign private issuer is any foreign issuer, except one that meets the following as of the last day of its second fiscal quarter:

(i) a foreign government;

(ii) more than 50% of its voting securities are directly or indirectly held by U.S. residents; and any of the following: (a) the majority of the executive officers or directors are U.S. citizens or residents; (b) more than 50% of the assets are in the U.S.; or (c) the principal business is in the U.S.  Principal business location is determined by considering the company’s principal business segments or operations, its board and shareholder meetings, its headquarters, and its most influential key executives.

That is, if less than 50% of a foreign company’s shareholders are located in the U.S., it qualifies as a foreign private issuer.  If more than 50% of the record shareholders are in the U.S., the company must further consider the location of its officers and directors, assets and business operations.

Registration and Ongoing Reporting Obligations

Like U.S. companies, when a foreign company desires to sell securities to U.S. investors, such offers and sales must either be registered or there must be an available Securities Act exemption from registration. The registration and exemption rules available to foreign private issuers are the same as those for U.S. domestic companies, including, for example, Regulation D (with the primarily used Rules 506(b) and 506(c)) and Regulation S) and resale restrictions and exemptions such as under Section 4(a)(1) and Rule 144.

When offers and sales are registered, the foreign company becomes subject to ongoing reporting requirements. Subject to the exemption under Exchange Act Rule 12g3-2(b) discussed at the end of this blog, when a foreign company desires to trade on a U.S. exchange or the OTC Markets, it must register a class of securities under either Section 12(b) or 12(g) of the Exchange Act.  Likewise, when a foreign company’s worldwide assets and worldwide/U.S. shareholder base reaches a certain level ($10 million in assets; total shareholders of 2,000 or greater or 500 unaccredited with U.S. shareholders being 300 or more), it is required to register with the SEC under Section 12(g) of the Exchange Act.

The SEC has adopted several rules applicable only to foreign private issuers and maintains an Office of International Corporate Finance to review filings and assist in registration and reporting questions. Of particular significance:

(i) Foreign private issuers may prepare financial statements using either US GAAP; International Financial Reporting Standards (“IFRS”); or home country accounting standards with a reconciliation to US GAAP;

(ii) Foreign private issuers are exempt from the Section 14 proxy rules;

(iii) Insiders of foreign private issuers are exempt from the Section 16 reporting requirements and short swing trading prohibitions; however, they must comply with Section 13 (for a review of Sections 13 and 16, see my blog HERE);

(iv) Foreign private issuers are exempt from Regulation FD;

(v) Foreign private issuers may use separate registration and reporting forms and are not required to file quarterly reports (for example, Form F-1 registration statement and Forms 20-F and 6-K for annual and periodic reports); and

(vi) Foreign private issuers have a separate exemption from the Section 12(g) registration requirements (Rule 12g3-2(b)) allowing the trading of securities on the OTC Markets without being subject to the SEC reporting requirement.

Although a foreign private issuer may voluntarily register and report using the same forms and rules applicable to U.S. issuers, they may also opt to use special forms and rules specifically designed for and only available to foreign companies. Form 20-F is the primary disclosure document and Exchange Act registration form for foreign private issuers and is analogous to both an annual report on Form 10-K and an Exchange Act registration statement on Form 10. A Form F-1 is the general registration form for the offer and sale of securities under the Securities Act and, like Form S-1, is the form to be used when the company does not qualify for the use of any other registration form.

A Form F-3 is analogous to a Form S-3.  A Form F-3 allows incorporation by reference of an annual and other SEC reports. To qualify to use a Form F-3, the foreign company must, among other requirements that are substantially similar to S-3, have been subject to the Exchange Act reporting requirements for at least 12 months and have filed all reports in a timely manner during that time. The company must have filed at least one annual report on Form 20-F. A Form F-4 is used for business combinations and exchange offers, and a Form F-6 is used for American Depository Receipts (ADR).  Also, under certain circumstances, a foreign private issuer can submit a registration statement on a confidential basis.

Once registered, a foreign private issuer must file periodic reports. A Form 20-F is used for an annual report and is due within four months of fiscal year-end. Quarterly reports are not required. A Form 6-K is used for periodic reports and captures: (i) the information that would be required to be filed in a Form 8-K; (ii) information the company makes or is required to make public under the laws of its country of domicile; and (iii) information it files or is required to file with a U.S. and foreign stock exchange.

As noted above, a foreign private issuer may elect to use either U.S. GAAP; International Financial Reporting Standards (“IFRS”); or home country accounting standards with a reconciliation to U.S. GAAP in the preparation and presentation of its financial statements. Regardless of the accounting standard used, the audit firm must be registered with the PCAOB.

All filings with the SEC must be made in English. Where a document or contract is being translated from a different language, the SEC has rules to ensure that the translation is fair and accurate.

The SEC rules do not have scaled disclosure requirements for foreign private issuers. That is, all companies, regardless of size, must report the same information. A foreign private issuer that would qualify as a smaller reporting company or emerging growth company should consider whether it should use and be subject to the regular U.S. reporting requirements and registration and reporting forms. The company should also consider that no foreign private issuer is required to provide a Compensation Discussion & Analysis (CD&I).  If the foreign company opts to be subject to the regular U.S. reporting requirements, it must also use U.S. GAAP for its financial statements. For further discussions on general reporting requirements and rules related to smaller reporting and emerging growth companies, see my blogs HERE and HERE and related to ongoing proposed changes HERE, which includes multiple related links under the “further background” subsection.

                Deregistration

The deregistration rules for a foreign private issuer are different from those for domestic companies. A foreign private issuer may deregister if: (i) the average daily volume of trading of its securities in the U.S. for a recent 12-month period is less than 5% of the worldwide average daily trading volume; or (ii) the company has fewer than 300 shareholders worldwide. In addition, the company must: (i) have been reporting for at least one year and have filed at least one annual report and be current in all reports; (ii) must not have registered securities for sale in the last 12 months; and (iii) must have maintained a listing of securities in its primary trading markets for at least 12 months prior to deregistration.

American Depository Receipts (ADRs)

An ADR is a certificate that evidences ownership of American Depository Shares (ADS) which, in turn, reflect a specified interest in a foreign company’s shares. Technically the ADR is a certificate reflecting ownership of an ADS, but in practice market participants just use the term ADR to reflect both.  An ADR trades in U.S. dollars and clears through the U.S. DTC, thus avoiding foreign currency issuers. ADR’s are issued by a U.S. bank which, in turn, either directly or indirectly through a relationship with a foreign custodian bank, holds a deposit of the underlying foreign company’s shares. ADR securities must either be subject to the Exchange Act reporting requirements or be exempt under Rule 12g3-2(b).  ADR’s are always registered on Form F-6.

OTC Markets

OTC Markets allows for the listing and trading of foreign entities on the OTCQX and OTCQB that do not meet the definition of a foreign private issuer as long as such company has its securities listed on a Qualifying Foreign Stock Exchange for a minimum of the preceding 40 calendar days subject to OTC Markets’ ability to waive such requirement upon application. If the company does not meet the definition of foreign private issuer, it still must fully comply with Exchange Act Rule 12g3-2(b). For details on the OTCQX listing requirements for international companies, see my blog HERE and for listing requirements for OTCQB companies, including international issuers, see HERE.

India as an Emerging Market

India is widely considered the world’s fastest-growing major economy. The small- and micro-cap industry has been eyeing India as an emerging market for the U.S. public marketplace for several years now. In my practice alone, I have been approached by several groups that see the U.S. public markets as offering incredible potential to the exploding Indian start-up and emerging growth sector. Taking advantage of this opportunity, however, was stifled by strict Indian laws prohibiting or limiting foreign investment into Indian companies. In June 2016, the Indian government announced new rules allowing for foreign direct investments into Indian-owned and -domiciled companies, opening up the country to foreign investment, including by U.S. shareholders.

The new rules allow for up to 100% foreign investment in certain sectors. U.S. investors who already invest heavily in Indian-based defense, aviation, pharmaceutical and technology companies will see even greater opportunity in these sectors, which will now allow up to 100% foreign investment.  Although certain sectors, including defense, will still require advance government approval for foreign investment, most sectors will receive automatic approval. U.S. public companies will now be free to invest in and acquire Indian-based subsidiaries. Likewise, more India-based companies will be able to trade on U.S. public markets, attracting U.S. shareholders and the benefits of market liquidity and public company valuations.

Indian companies are slowly starting to take advantage of reverse-merger transactions with U.S. public companies. In July 2016, online travel agency Yatra Online, Inc., entered into a reverse-merger agreement with Terrapin 3 Acquisition Corp, a U.S. SPAC.  The transaction is expected to close in October 2016. Yatra is structured under a U.S. holding company with operations in India though an India-domiciled subsidiary.

Last year Vidocon d2h became the first India-based company to go public via reverse merger when it completed a reverse merger with a U.S. NASDAQ SPAC. In January, 2016 Bangalore-based Strand Life Sciences Pvt. Ltd. became the second India-based reverse merger when it went public in the U.S. in a transaction with a NASDAQ company.

In addition, U.S.-based public companies, venture capital and private equity firms, and hedge funds and family offices have been investing heavily in the Indian start-up and emerging growth boom. Yatra and Strand Life had both received several rounds of U.S. private funding before entering into their reverse merger agreements. NASDAQ-listed firm Ctrip.com International recently invested $180 million into another India-based online travel company, MakeMyTrip.

India’s Mumbai/Bombay Stock Exchange is already a Qualified Foreign Exchange for purposes of meeting the standards to trade on the U.S. OTCQX International.  For details on all OTCQX listing requirements, including for international companies, see my blog HERE and related directly to international companies including Rule 12g3-2(b), see HERE.  At least 5 companies currently trade on the OTCQX, with their principal market being in India.

Exchange Act Rule 12g3-2(b)

Exchange Act Rule 12g3-2(b) permits foreign private issuers to have their equity securities traded on the U.S. over-the-counter market without registration under Section 12 of the Exchange Act (and therefore without being subject to the Exchange Act reporting requirements). The rule is automatic for foreign issuers that meet its requirements. A foreign issuer may not rely on the rule if it is otherwise subject to the Exchange Act reporting requirements.

The rule provides that an issuer is not required to be subject to the Exchange Act reporting requirements if:

  1. the issuer currently maintains a listing of its securities on one or more exchanges in a foreign jurisdiction which is the primary trading market for such securities; and
  2. the issuer has published, in English, on its website or through an electronic information delivery system generally available to the public in its primary trading market (such as the OTC Market Group website), information that, since the first day of its most recently completed fiscal year, it (a) has made public or been required to make public pursuant to the laws of its country of domicile; (b) has filed or been required to file with the principal stock exchange in its primary trading market and which has been made public by that exchange; and (c) has distributed or been required to distribute to its security holders.

 Primary Trading Market means that at least 55 percent of the trading in the subject class of securities on a worldwide basis took place in, on or through the facilities of a securities market or markets in a single foreign jurisdiction or in no more than two foreign jurisdictions during the issuer’s most recently completed fiscal year.

In order to maintain the Rule 12g3-2(b) exemption, the issuer must continue to publish the required information on an ongoing basis and for each fiscal year. The information required to be published electronically is information that is material to an investment decision regarding the subject securities, such as information concerning:

(i) Results of operations or financial condition;

(ii) Changes in business;

(iii) Acquisitions or dispositions of assets;

(iv) The issuance, redemption or acquisition of securities;

(v) Changes in management or control;

(vi) The granting of options or the payment of other remuneration to directors or officers; and

(vii) Transactions with directors, officers or principal security holders.

At a minimum, a foreign private issuer shall electronically publish English translations of the following documents:

(i) Its annual report, including or accompanied by annual financial statements;

(ii) Interim reports that include financial statements;

(iii) Press releases; and

(iv) All other communications and documents distributed directly to security holders of each class of securities to which the exemption relates.

Click Here To Print- PDF Printout The SEC Has Issued New Guidance Related To Foreign Private Issuers

The Author

Laura Anthony, Esq.
Founding Partner
Legal & Compliance, LLC
Corporate, Securities and Going Public Attorneys
LAnthony@LegalAndCompliance.com

Securities attorney Laura Anthony and her experienced legal team provides ongoing corporate counsel to small and mid-size private companies, OTC and exchange traded issuers as well as private companies going public on the NASDAQ, NYSE MKT or over-the-counter market, such as the OTCQB and OTCQX. For nearly two decades Legal & Compliance, LLC has served clients providing fast, personalized, cutting-edge legal service. The firm’s reputation and relationships provide invaluable resources to clients including introductions to investment bankers, broker dealers, institutional investors and other strategic alliances. The firm’s focus includes, but is not limited to, compliance with the Securities Act of 1933 offer sale and registration requirements, including private placement transactions under Regulation D and Regulation S and PIPE Transactions as well as registration statements on Forms S-1, S-8 and S-4; compliance with the reporting requirements of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, including registration on Form 10, reporting on Forms 10-Q, 10-K and 8-K, and 14C Information and 14A Proxy Statements; Regulation A/A+ offerings; all forms of going public transactions; mergers and acquisitions including both reverse mergers and forward mergers, ; applications to and compliance with the corporate governance requirements of securities exchanges including NASDAQ and NYSE MKT; crowdfunding; corporate; and general contract and business transactions. Moreover, Ms. Anthony and her firm represents both target and acquiring companies in reverse mergers and forward mergers, including the preparation of transaction documents such as merger agreements, share exchange agreements, stock purchase agreements, asset purchase agreements and reorganization agreements. Ms. Anthony’s legal team prepares the necessary documentation and assists in completing the requirements of federal and state securities laws and SROs such as FINRA and DTC for 15c2-11 applications, corporate name changes, reverse and forward splits and changes of domicile. Ms. Anthony is also the author of SecuritiesLawBlog.com, the OTC Market’s top source for industry news, and the producer and host of LawCast.com, the securities law network. In addition to many other major metropolitan areas, the firm currently represents clients in New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, Atlanta, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., Denver, Tampa, Detroit and Dallas.

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SEC Issues White Paper On Penny Stock Risks
Posted by Securities Attorney Laura Anthony | February 21, 2017 Tags: , , , , , ,

On December 16, 2016, the SEC announced several new settled enforcement proceedings against market participants including issuers, attorneys and a transfer agent, related to penny stock fraud. On the same day the SEC issued a new white paper detailing the risks associated with investing in penny stocks. This blog summarizes the SEC white paper.

As I have written about on numerous occasions, the prevention of micro-cap fraud is and will always be a primary focus of the SEC and other securities regulators. In fact, the SEC will go to great lengths to investigate and ultimately prosecute micro-cap fraud. See my blog HERE regarding the recent somewhat scandalous case involving Guy Gentile.

Introduction

The SEC Division of Economic and Risk Analysis published a white paper on the risks and consequences of investing in stocks quoted in the micro-cap markets versus those listed on a national securities exchange. The paper reviewed 1.8 million trades by more than 200,000 investors and concludes that returns on investment in the micro-cap markets tend to be negative with the returns and risk worsening for less transparent companies or those involved in improper promotional campaigns.

The white paper notes that the incidence of and amount of negative returns, as well as alleged market manipulation increase with the fewer disclosure-related requirements associated with the company. The white paper, on the whole, is very negative towards OTC Markets securities. However, off the top, I think the white paper is skewed unfairly against OTC Markets securities when it should target those lower-tier securities that do not provide disclosures to the public.

This blog will summarize the white paper, including many of its facts and figures, but will find issue with its framework. The white paper does not give fair distinction to the higher OTCQX tier of OTC Markets. In fact, “OTCQX” only appears twice in the entire white paper, both in a footnote that purports to list the OTCQX requirements, but fails to mention the quantitative requirements, including that the security not be a penny stock as defined by the federal securities laws. The shortened “QX” does appear 13 times in the white paper, providing some factual and statistical information such as market size and trading patterns, but again, ignores the meaningful distinction related to the penny stock definition. For a review of the OTCQX tier of OTC Markets and its listing requirements, see my blog HERE.

It is axiomatic that the vast majority of new jobs are created by small and emerging companies and that these companies are critical to the economic well being of the United States. See, for example, my blog on the SEC report on the definition of accredited investor HERE and its study on private placements HERE.

According to both Bloomberg and Forbes, 8 out of 10 new businesses fail within 18 months and that number jumps to 96% in the first 10 years. However, despite that failure rate, it is indisputable that we need entrepreneurs to continue forming new businesses and access supportive capital, to have a healthy economy.

Likewise, it is axiomatic to all micro-cap market participants that those companies that fail to provide meaningful disclosure to the public, are more likely to result in investment losses. Those companies are also more likely to engage in market manipulation and other securities law violations. However, those companies that do provide meaningful disclosure to the public, whether through SEC reporting or alternatively to the OTC Markets, and especially those companies that trade on the OTCQX, are the very small and emerging companies that are necessary and vital to our healthy economy. They may be the 8 out of 10 or the 96%, but some will also be the 2 out of 10 and 4% ­­– and all are necessary.

Also, the fact is that bank financing is not readily available for these companies, and they have no choice but to try to access capital through the public. That public wants an exit strategy and that exit strategy tends to be the public markets. Where the companies are small and immature in their business life cycle, the OTC Markets provide that secondary trading market. In discussing this aspect of the economies of these small public companies, they are more positively referred to by the SEC as “venture” companies and the trading market as a “venture exchange” (see my blog HERE).

Many times when a company ceases to provide disclosure or information to the public and remains dark for a period of time, its business operations have failed, it has gone private, or otherwise has been abandoned. These companies continue to trade, and sometimes with high volume with no public information. The SEC makes an effort to eliminate these companies through its Operation Shell-Expel (see HERE), but unfortunately many remain and new ones are added all the time as the 8-out-of-10 cycle continues.

Although all penny stocks are risky, and are undeniably the highest-risk investments, grouping all OTC Markets into the white paper, in the fashion that the SEC has done, strikes me as fundamentally unfair. Throughout my summary of the SEC White Paper, I provide thoughts and commentary.

SEC White Paper

The SEC White Paper begins with an introduction on some high-level differences between an exchange traded security and one on the OTC Markets. One of the biggest distinctions is that the majority of ownership and trading of an exchange listed security is by institutional investors, whereas the majority of ownership and trading on the OTC Markets is by individuals. The SEC points out that institutions tend to be more proactive in research and shareholder activism, creating a check on corporate governance.  As an aside, these institutions are also more sophisticated and able to assert greater influence and power over a company than an individual small shareholder.

The SEC quickly highlights the negative literature on OTC Markets securities, including that they have poor liquidity, generate negative and volatile returns and are often subject to market manipulation, including by the dissemination of false and misleading information. Although OTC securities offer the opportunity to invest in early-stage companies that may grow to be larger successful ones, the number that do exceed is small (such as the 2 out of 10 in my summary above).

One portion of the white paper’s information I find interesting is that despite the risks, OTC Markets continue to grow and investor demands for these stocks continues to rise. The SEC offers two hypotheses for this. The first is that OTC investors are simply gambling for the big return, just as they do with the lottery.  The second is that OTC Markets investors simply make bad investment decisions. However, the report does admit that little is known about the characteristics of OTC investors and that this is likely the first comprehensive study trying to determine those demographics. Personally, I also think that many OTC Markets investors are day traders and that although a particular stock may go down over time, those day traders are taking advantage of the small intraday price changes to make a profit.

The SEC reviewed 1.8 million trades by more than 200,000 investors and concludes that returns on investment in the micro-cap markets tend to be negative, with the returns and risk worsening for less transparent companies or those involved in improper promotional campaigns, and are also worse for elderly and retired investors and those with lower levels of income and education.  The SEC white paper purports to be the first study of its kind that examines investor outcomes around stock promotions and level of disclosure.

I would suggest that the exact same results (i.e., lower returns on less transparent investments and those engaged in improper promotional campaigns and lower returns for the elderly and lower income and education demographic) would be found for any investments in any studied market and are not unique to OTC Markets securities. To be clear, I don’t think the correlation is necessarily improper activity, though that could be the case especially when looking at some stock promotions. Companies that provide less disclosure may have less capital and financial resources to further their business plan and, as such, are far riskier investments. Also, companies that provide less disclosure may be less interested in furthering the public aspect of their business.  Even if the underlying business is sound, if they are not providing public disclosure, the stock price and liquidity are unlikely to reflect the underlying business, which could result in poor investor returns.

The SEC white paper continues with a three-part discussion: (i) OTC Market structure and size; (ii) review of academic literature; and (iii) analysis of OTC investor demographics and outcomes.

OTC Market Structure and Size

The SEC white paper describes the basic makeup of OTC Markets including its three tiers of OTC Pink, OTCQB and OTCQX. I’ve written about these market tiers many times. For a review of the three tiers, see my blog HERE, though I note that both the OTCQB and OTCQX have updated their listing standards since that blog was written. The OTC Pink remains unchanged. For the most current listing standards on the OTCQX see HERE and for the OTCQB see HERE.

The SEC white paper also references the OTCBB, which technically still exists, but has fewer than 400 listed securities and does not have a readily accessible quote page.

The SEC white paper has a lot of information on the market size and its growth over the years. Without getting into a lot of facts and figures, I note that the OTC Markets grew by 47% from 2012 through 2015, with $238 billion of trading in 2015. There are approximately 10,000 securities quoted on OTC Markets, as compared to approximately 2,700 on NASDAQ, of which only approximately 675 are micro-cap companies.

The OTC Markets monthly newsletter gives a complete review and breakdown of the size of OTC Markets. For the one month of December 31, 2016, the following is the number of traded securities and volume:

Monthly Trade Summary – December 2016
Market Designations Number
of Securities*
Monthly
$ Volume
Monthly $ Volume
per Security
2016 $ Volume*
OTCQX 461 $3,844,835,942 $8,340,208 $36,847,879,435
OTCQB 933 $3,249,939,872 $3,483,322 $13,638,584,206
Pink 8,234 $14,648,939,577 $1,779,079 $142,411,521,245
Total 9,628 $21,743,715,392 $2,258,383 $192,897,984,887

Literature Review

The SEC white paper continues with a summary of recent academic research and analysis including on OTC Markets securities’ liquidity, returns, market manipulation, transition to an exchange and investor participation.

Liquidity refers to the ability of shareholders to quickly buy and sell securities near the market price without substantial price impact. Where there is a lack of liquidity, it is difficult to sell.  Also, low-volume stocks tend to have wider price fluctuations and bid-ask spreads, and are more expensive for dealers to hold in inventory. OTC Markets securities are less liquid than those listed on a national exchange such as the NYSE MKT or NASDAQ. Research also shows that there tends to be lower liquidity with less transparency and disclosure. None of this is surprising, though many of us that work in the OTC Markets space have seen the anomaly of a company with no information, and likely no underlying business or management, trading on heavy volume.

The returns on OTC Markets securities are also very different than exchange traded securities. Returns on OTC Markets are often negative, volatile and skewed (the lottery factor). Where the majority of trades have negative returns, there is the incidence of extremely high, lottery-like returns on some of the securities. This, again, is not surprising. OTC Markets-traded companies tend to be smaller companies and thus would naturally have a smaller market capitalization and smaller returns as well as the potential for larger upside.

Again, returns on companies that provide less transparency and public information tend to be lower.  Interestingly, another hypothesis as to why returns are lower is the short-sale constraints on OTC Market securities. Many OTC Market securities are ineligible for margin (and thus short sales), and locating shares for borrow can be challenging. Those that are margin-eligible usually have a very high carry interest and per-share transaction cost for short sales. The argument is that short sales create an equilibrium and thus help reflect a truer stock price such that the stock will be less vulnerable to negative price adjustments. However, unfortunately, sophisticated traders can open offshore accounts that will allow for short selling of OTC Market securities, opening those same securities up to manipulation by those investors.

OTC Markets securities are relatively often the target of market manipulation, including outright fraudulent disclosures and pump-and-dump schemes. Generally these schemes are conducted in the trading of those companies that are less transparent in disclosures. A market manipulation scheme can involve the dissemination of false information followed by taking advantage of the price changes that result. The scheme can be perpetrated by the company and its insiders, or by unaffiliated investors.  Examples include spam and email campaigns, rumors and false information in Internet chat rooms or forums, and false “analyst reports.” Research shows these schemes are effective – that is, the price increases while the stock is being touted and falls when the campaign is over.

Obviously not all increases in stock prices are a result of improper behavior. OTC Markets stocks react to legitimate news and growth as well.  In fact, the majority of extreme increases in trading price and volume are the result of changes in company fundamentals and not market manipulation. Moreover, not investor relations and stock promotion is perfectly legal and can be completely legitimate. It is when false or misleading information is being disseminated, or targeted marketing aimed at vulnerable investor groups is used, that it is problematic. The key is recognizing the difference, which generally involves transparency from companies that provide steady, consistent disclosure with apparent credible information.

Many OTC investors are hoping to “bet” on the company that will grow and move to an exchange where it is likely the stock price will increase substantially, as will liquidity. The SEC white paper gives dismal statistics on the rates of graduation. However, it does note that the rate of movement to an exchange is much higher for OTCQX or OTCQB (9%) than OTC Pink companies (less than 1%). The SEC white paper also suggests that companies that graduate to an exchange from the OTC Markets underperform those companies that go public onto an exchange in the first instance.

The last area that the SEC white paper discusses in this section is investor participation and, in particular, why that investor participation continues to grow year over year. The SEC white paper gives two hypotheses, the first being that investors are drawn by the opportunity for lottery-like payoff and the second is that investors are “duped about the stock return probabilities.”  Although this sounds harsh, the white paper is not actually referring to market manipulation, but rather suggests that all OTC investors, including the most sophisticated, make poor estimates on return probabilities. No reason for this is offered.

Studies show that although investors frequently lose small investments in OTC stocks, they also occasionally receive an extremely large return. As such, the SEC white paper suggests that these investors are really just gamblers. I’m sure that oftentimes is correct.

Data Analysis and Investor Demographics

The Division of Economic and Risk Analysis studied a sampling of trades for specific securities and time periods which included information on the issuer, trade and investor. The purpose of the review was to determine a relationship between investor returns on the one hand and stock promotions, company transparency and investor demographics on the other hand. However, the information used for the analysis is admittedly biased in that such information was taken from the SEC enforcement files for the year 2014. Since one or more parties to the trades were the subject of enforcement proceedings, this information would not be indicative of the usual OTC company.

The SEC white paper comes to the conclusion that there is a positive correlation between losses and market manipulation and lack of transparency. As discussed above, this is not surprising and is actually quite logical. The white paper also found a positive correlation between losses and elderly, lower-income and poorly educated investors.

The Author

Laura Anthony, Esq.
Founding Partner
Legal & Compliance, LLC
Corporate, Securities and Going Public Attorneys
LAnthony@LegalAndCompliance.com

Securities attorney Laura Anthony and her experienced legal team provides ongoing corporate counsel to small and mid-size private companies, OTC and exchange traded issuers as well as private companies going public on the NASDAQ, NYSE MKT or over-the-counter market, such as the OTCQB and OTCQX. For nearly two decades Legal & Compliance, LLC has served clients providing fast, personalized, cutting-edge legal service. The firm’s reputation and relationships provide invaluable resources to clients including introductions to investment bankers, broker dealers, institutional investors and other strategic alliances. The firm’s focus includes, but is not limited to, compliance with the Securities Act of 1933 offer sale and registration requirements, including private placement transactions under Regulation D and Regulation S and PIPE Transactions as well as registration statements on Forms S-1, S-8 and S-4; compliance with the reporting requirements of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, including registration on Form 10, reporting on Forms 10-Q, 10-K and 8-K, and 14C Information and 14A Proxy Statements; Regulation A/A+ offerings; all forms of going public transactions; mergers and acquisitions including both reverse mergers and forward mergers, ; applications to and compliance with the corporate governance requirements of securities exchanges including NASDAQ and NYSE MKT; crowdfunding; corporate; and general contract and business transactions. Moreover, Ms. Anthony and her firm represents both target and acquiring companies in reverse mergers and forward mergers, including the preparation of transaction documents such as merger agreements, share exchange agreements, stock purchase agreements, asset purchase agreements and reorganization agreements. Ms. Anthony’s legal team prepares the necessary documentation and assists in completing the requirements of federal and state securities laws and SROs such as FINRA and DTC for 15c2-11 applications, corporate name changes, reverse and forward splits and changes of domicile. Ms. Anthony is also the author of SecuritiesLawBlog.com, the OTC Market’s top source for industry news, and the producer and host of LawCast.com, the securities law network. In addition to many other major metropolitan areas, the firm currently represents clients in New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, Atlanta, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., Denver, Tampa, Detroit and Dallas.

Contact Legal & Compliance LLC. Technical inquiries are always encouraged.

Follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

Legal & Compliance, LLC makes this general information available for educational purposes only. The information is general in nature and does not constitute legal advice. Furthermore, the use of this information, and the sending or receipt of this information, does not create or constitute an attorney-client relationship between us. Therefore, your communication with us via this information in any form will not be considered as privileged or confidential.

This information is not intended to be advertising, and Legal & Compliance, LLC does not desire to represent anyone desiring representation based upon viewing this information in a jurisdiction where this information fails to comply with all laws and ethical rules of that jurisdiction. This information may only be reproduced in its entirety (without modification) for the individual reader’s personal and/or educational use and must include this notice.

© Legal & Compliance, LLC 2017


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OTC Markets Petitions The SEC To Expand Regulation A To Include SEC Reporting Companies
Posted by Securities Attorney Laura Anthony | June 28, 2016 Tags: , , , , , , , ,

On June 6, OTC Markets filed a petition for rulemaking with the SEC requesting that the SEC amend Regulation A to expand the eligibility criteria to include all small issuers, including those that are subject to the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”) reporting requirements and to allow “at-the-market offerings.”

Background

On March 25, 2015, the SEC released final rules amending Regulation A. The new Regulation A creates two tiers of offerings.  Tier I of Regulation A, which does not preempt state law, allows offerings of up to $20 million in a twelve-month period.  Due to difficult blue sky compliance, Tier 1 is rarely used.  Tier 2, which does preempt state law, allows a raise of up to $50 million.  Issuers may elect to proceed under either Tier I or Tier 2 for offerings up to $20 million.  The new rules went into effect on June 19, 2015 and have been gaining traction ever since.  Since that time, the SEC Division of Corporation Finance has issued periodic Compliance and Disclosure Interpretations (C&DI) to provide guidance related to Regulation A.  I have previously written several articles on Regulation A and the C&DI.  For a good review and summary, please see my blog HERE.

From inception, a Regulation A company could apply for a listing on the OTC Markets OTCQX Tier assuming it meets the qualifications.  Elio Motors trades on the OTCQX.  For a review of such qualifications, see my blog HERE.  Unlike the OTCQX, generally a company that is not subject to the Exchange Act reporting requirements did not qualify for the OTCQB; however, effective July 10, the OTCQB has amended their rules to allow a Tier 2 reporting entity to qualify to apply for and trade on the OTCQB.  My blog on the OTCQB rules related to Regulation A can be read HERE.

Whether trading on the OTCQX or OTCQB, keep in mind that unless the issuer has filed a Form 8-A or Form 10, they will not be considered “subject to the Exchange Act reporting requirements” for purposes of benefiting from the shorter 6-month Rule 144 holding period.   For a short overview of Rule 144, see HERE.

Regulation A Eligibility – Reporting Issuers

As enacted, Regulation A is available to companies organized and operating in the United States and Canada.  The following issuers are not be eligible for a Regulation A+ offering:

  • Companies currently subject to the reporting requirements of the Exchange Act;
  • Investment companies registered or required to be registered under the Investment Company Act of 1940, including BDC’s;
  • Blank check companies, which are companies that have no specific business plan or purpose or whose business plan and purpose is to engage in a merger or acquisition with an unidentified target; however, shell companies are not prohibited, unless such shell company is also a blank check company. A shell company is a company that has no or nominal operations; and either no or nominal assets, assets consisting of cash and cash equivalents, or assets consisting of any amount of cash and cash equivalents and nominal other assets.  Accordingly, a start-up business or minimally operating business may utilize Regulation A+;
  • Issuers seeking to offer and sell asset-backed securities or fractional undivided interests in oil, gas or other mineral rights;
  • Issuers that have been subject to any order of the SEC under Exchange Act Section 12(j) denying, suspending or revoking registration, entered within the past five years;
  • Issuers that became subject to Exchange Act reporting requirements, such as through a Tier 2 offering, and did not file required ongoing reports during the preceding two years; and
  • Issuers that are disqualified under the “bad actor” rules and, in particular, Rule 262 of Regulation A+.

Although companies subject to the reporting requirement have been disqualified from day one, the SEC quickly issued guidance clarifying that Regulation A may be used by many existing “reporting entities” either because they voluntarily report (generally because they never filed a Form 8-A or Form 10 after an S-1 registration statement and the initial required reporting period has passed) or through a wholly owned subsidiary resulting in a complete or partial spin-off.

The SEC specifically provided that a company that was once subject to the Exchange Act reporting obligations but suspended such reporting obligations by filing a Form 15 is eligible to utilize Regulation A.  The determination of eligibility is made at the time of the offering.  Moreover, a company that voluntarily files reports under the Exchange Act is not “subject to the Exchange Act reporting requirements” and therefore is eligible to rely on Regulation A.  In addition, a wholly owned subsidiary of an Exchange Act reporting company parent is eligible to complete a Regulation A+ offering as long as the parent reporting company is not a guarantor or co-issuer of the securities being issued.

Related to small business issuers, the current rules create an unfair distinction.  A company trading on the OTC Markets that voluntarily reports to the SEC would be eligible, whereas a company that may be substantially similar but is required to file reports would be ineligible to utilize Regulation A+.

On June 6, 2016, OTC Markets filed a petition for rulemaking with the SEC requesting that the SEC amend Regulation A+ to expand the eligibility criteria to include all small issuers, including those that are subject to the Exchange Act reporting requirements and to allow “at-the-market offerings.”

The OTC Markets petition is concise and to the point.  When Congress passed the JOBS Act, it left the particulars of Regulation A+ rulemaking to the SEC with only the following mandates:

  • The aggregate offering amount of all securities sold within a 12-month period shall not exceed $50,000,000;
  • The securities may be offered and sold publicly;
  • The securities shall not be restricted securities within the meaning of the federal securities laws;
  • The civil liability provisions under Section 12(a)(2) of the Securities Act shall apply to any person offering or selling Regulation A securities;
  • The issuer may solicit interest in the offering prior to filing any offering statement, on such terms and condition as the SEC may prescribe in the public interest and protecting investors;
  • The SEC shall require the issuer to file annual audited financial statements; and
  • Such other terms and conditions as the SEC shall determine are necessary in the public interest and protecting investors.

The JOBS Act itself did not prohibit or limit the use of Regulation A+ for reporting companies, and accordingly, that decision is within the SEC rulemaking discretion.  In fact, throughout the JOBS Act and in particular in Title IV related to Regulation A+, Congress refers to expanding capital formation for “small issues” under $50 million with the goal of increasing capital to all small companies.

The SEC reasoning for excluding reporting companies in the first place is weak at best.  In particular, the SEC excluded reporting issuers because the prior Regulation A rules, which were admittedly rarely used and ineffective at assisting in small business capital formation, contained the exclusion.  That is, when revamping Regulation A+ as mandated by the JOBS Act, the SEC just didn’t change that provision.

The OTC Markets points out that the Regulation A+ rules as enacted offer more protections for non-accredited investors than a fully registered S-1 or S-3 offering.  In particular, there are no investor limitations for unaccredited purchasers in an S-1 or S-3 offering, whereas a Regulation A+ offering limits investments by unaccredited investors to no more than 10% of the greater of the investor’s annual income or net worth.  In addition, a traditional S-1 or S-3 does not have any limitations or prohibitions related to bad actor disqualifications, whereas Regulation A+ does prohibit use by “bad actors.”

The OTC Markets petition also contains a good discussion on the costs associated with an S-1 or S-3 offering, including added costs of state blue sky law compliance.  State blue sky preemption is one of the cornerstones of Tier 2 Regulation A+ offerings that benefit issuers.  Moreover, generally only much larger issuers are S-3 eligible and thus S-3 is not considered a “small company” capital formation tool.  Similarly, private offerings under Regulation D are not registered and so do not offer the same level of investor protections.  These offerings also result in restricted securities and thus less investor incentive to participate.

In addition to the obvious benefit to small and emerging company capital formation of allowing small reporting companies to utilize Regulation A+, there is also an added potential benefit to the capital markets as a whole.  OTC Markets opines that the flow of freely tradable securities into the marketplace for existing public companies could have a positive uptick on the liquidity and overall growth and vitality of venture markets.  Regulation A+ could have the benefit of pushing forward the much needed venture market for the secondary trading of securities of early-stage, small and emerging growth companies.  OTC Markets points out that it could and should be that venture market.

The OTC Markets petition contains a pointed discussion on the market benefits, including noting that “Regulation A+ allows smaller companies, traditionally lacking the backing of bulge bracket investment banks and the large base of institutional ownership needed to fund ongoing research coverage, to reach out to a broader pool of potential investors through ‘testing the waters’ provisions and the efficient economical reach of the Internet and social media.  Emerging companies can use Regulation A+ online offerings to tap into large numbers of individual investors and efficiently target smaller institutions.  Allowing fully SEC reporting companies the same ability to leverage technology and transparency to reach potential investors would be expected to provide a ready source of growth capital, and, equally important, an increase in liquidity in the secondary market.”

Interestingly, OTC argues that opening up Regulation A+ to small reporting companies may reduce or minimize the use of toxic financing options which carry substantial dilution and downward pricing pressure on company stock.  Moreover, allowing small reporting companies to utilize Regulation A+ may raise the interest in these offerings for investment banks.

Finally, in order to make Regulation A+ the most useful for reporting companies, OTC Markets requests that the SEC also amend the rules to allow “at-the-market” offerings.  Currently all Regulation A+ offerings must be priced.  In the case of a security that is already trading, the ability to price accurately is difficult and the inability to adjust such pricing in response to fluctuating market conditions can impede the success of the offering.

Further Thoughts

From my perspective, Regulation A has become the most popular method of fundraising and private-to-public transactions for small business issuers.  Although as of the date of this blog, only one issuer, Elio Motors, Inc., has received a trading symbol and actively trades, many others are in the works and I think we will see an opening of the floodgates.  As Tier 2 requires audited financial statements, the preparation process can take months and the placement of an offering can also take months.

A traditional IPO is completed using an underwriter on a “firm commitment” basis where the underwriter buys all the company’s securities on the first day of the IPO and proceeds to resell them.  No Regulation A offerings have yet been completed in a firm commitment underwritten offering.  To the contrary, current Regulation A offerings are either self-placed by the issuing company, or completed with the assistance of a broker-dealer placement agent on a best efforts basis.  This placement process can take several months to complete.  Accordingly, many issuers have not closed out their offerings as of yet and therefore have not reached the point of eligibility to apply for a trade symbol.   My office alone has over half a dozen Regulation A offerings in the works.

Tier 2 offerings in particular present a much-needed opportunity for smaller companies to go public without the added time and expense of state blue sky compliance but with added investor qualifications.  Tier 2 offerings preempt state blue sky laws.  To compromise with opponents to the state blue sky preemption, the SEC included investor qualifications for Tier 2 offerings.  In particular, Tier 2 offerings have a limitation on the amount of securities non-accredited investors can purchase of no more than 10% of the greater of the investor’s annual income or net worth.  It is the obligation of the issuer to notify investors of these limitations.  Issuers may rely on the investors’ representations as to accreditation and investment limits with no added verification.

Tier 2 issuers that have used the S-1 format for their Form 1-A filing will be permitted to file a Form 8-A to register under the Exchange Act and become subject to its reporting requirements.  A Form 8-A is a simple registration form used instead of a Form 10 for issuers that have already filed the substantive Form 10 information with the SEC.  Upon filing a Form 8-A, the issuer will become subject to the full Exchange Act reporting obligations, and the scaled-down Regulation A+ reporting will automatically be suspended.  With the filing of a Form 8-A, the issuer can apply to trade on a national exchange.

This marks a huge change and opportunity for companies that wish to go public directly and raise less than $50 million.  An initial or direct public offering on Form S-1 does not preempt state law.  By choosing a Tier 2 Regulation A+ offering followed by a Form 8-A, the issuer can achieve the same result – i.e., become a fully reporting trading public company, without the added time and expense of complying with state blue sky laws.  The other consideration would be the added investor qualifications, but if the issuer meets the requirements for and lists on a national exchange, the added investor qualifications no longer apply.

The SEC has a well published mission of “protecting investors, maintaining fair, orderly and efficient markets and facilitating capital formation.”  Regulation A+ offers significant investor protections in that a form of registration statement is filed with the SEC and subject to a review and comment process.  In addition, Regulation A+ allows for pre- and post-filing marketing using the Internet, social media, presentations and the like, provided all such materials are filed with the SEC and subject to review and comment.  This process provides significant investor protections, including a permanent record of disclosures made during the offering process.  Regulation A+ also provides a streamlined, affordable registration process with access to an expanded pool of investors, thus facilitating capital formation.

To the contrary, private offering documents are not filed or reviewed with the SEC and the process and level of disclosure are far less regulated.  Public offerings using Form S-1 limit offering communications, and those communications are not necessarily filed or reviewed by the SEC.  The Form S-1 process does not allow for broad Internet, crowd or social media marketing.  A Form S-1 process also does not preempt state law and accordingly has significant added costs for a company.  A Form S-1 works best for larger issuers with strong underwriter and institutional support.  Regulation A+ provides the best method of registered capital formation for small companies, including those that are already subject to the SEC reporting requirements.

As was understood in passing the JOBS Act in 2012, the transparent Regulation A+ process is a preferred method of capital raising for small businesses, especially companies already subject to the reporting requirements who have audited financial statements readily available and processes in place for meeting SEC reporting and review requirements.

When the SEC issued the Regulation A+ rules on March 25, 2015, it issued a press release in which SEC Chair Mary Jo White was quoted as saying, “These new rules provide an effective, workable path to raising capital that also provides strong investor protections.  It is important for the Commission to continue to look for ways that our rules can facilitate capital raising by smaller companies.”   Allowing small reporting companies to partake in Regulation A+ meets all the mandates of the JOBS Act while concurrently satisfying the SEC goal of providing investor protections, and I am a strong advocate in support of a rule change in that regard.

The Author

Laura Anthony, Esq.
Founding Partner
Legal & Compliance, LLC
Corporate, Securities and Going Public Attorneys
LAnthony@LegalAndCompliance.com

Securities attorney Laura Anthony and her experienced legal team provides ongoing corporate counsel to small and mid-size private companies, OTC and exchange traded issuers as well as private companies going public on the NASDAQ, NYSE MKT or over-the-counter market, such as the OTCQB and OTCQX. For nearly two decades Legal & Compliance, LLC has served clients providing fast, personalized, cutting-edge legal service. The firm’s reputation and relationships provide invaluable resources to clients including introductions to investment bankers, broker dealers, institutional investors and other strategic alliances. The firm’s focus includes, but is not limited to, compliance with the Securities Act of 1933 offer sale and registration requirements, including private placement transactions under Regulation D and Regulation S and PIPE Transactions as well as registration statements on Forms S-1, S-8 and S-4; compliance with the reporting requirements of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, including registration on Form 10, reporting on Forms 10-Q, 10-K and 8-K, and 14C Information and 14A Proxy Statements; Regulation A/A+ offerings; all forms of going public transactions; mergers and acquisitions including both reverse mergers and forward mergers, ; applications to and compliance with the corporate governance requirements of securities exchanges including NASDAQ and NYSE MKT; crowdfunding; corporate; and general contract and business transactions. Moreover, Ms. Anthony and her firm represents both target and acquiring companies in reverse mergers and forward mergers, including the preparation of transaction documents such as merger agreements, share exchange agreements, stock purchase agreements, asset purchase agreements and reorganization agreements. Ms. Anthony’s legal team prepares the necessary documentation and assists in completing the requirements of federal and state securities laws and SROs such as FINRA and DTC for 15c2-11 applications, corporate name changes, reverse and forward splits and changes of domicile. Ms. Anthony is also the author of SecuritiesLawBlog.com, the OTC Market’s top source for industry news, and the producer and host of LawCast.com, the securities law network. In addition to many other major metropolitan areas, the firm currently represents clients in New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, Atlanta, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., Denver, Tampa, Detroit and Dallas.

Contact Legal & Compliance LLC. Technical inquiries are always encouraged.

Follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

Download our mobile app at iTunes.

Legal & Compliance, LLC makes this general information available for educational purposes only. The information is general in nature and does not constitute legal advice. Furthermore, the use of this information, and the sending or receipt of this information, does not create or constitute an attorney-client relationship between us. Therefore, your communication with us via this information in any form will not be considered as privileged or confidential.

This information is not intended to be advertising, and Legal & Compliance, LLC does not desire to represent anyone desiring representation based upon viewing this information in a jurisdiction where this information fails to comply with all laws and ethical rules of that jurisdiction. This information may only be reproduced in its entirety (without modification) for the individual reader’s personal and/or educational use and must include this notice.

© Legal & Compliance, LLC 2016


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OTC Markets Amends IPO Listing Standards for OTCQX
Posted by Securities Attorney Laura Anthony | May 31, 2016 Tags: , , ,

OTC Markets has unveiled changes to the quotations rule and standards for the OTCQX, which proposed changes are scheduled to become effective on June 13, 2016.  The proposed amendments are intended to address and accommodate companies completing an IPO onto the OTCQX and which accordingly have no prior trading history.  Such entities either would have a recently cleared Form 211 with FINRA or are completing the 211 application process through a market maker, at the time of their OTCQX application.  The initial qualification changes apply to OTCQX Rules for U.S. Companies, U.S. Banks and International Companies.

The OTCQX previously amended its listing standards effective January 1, 2016 to increase the quantitative criteria for listing and to add additional qualitative requirements further aligning the OTCQX with a national stock exchange.  To read my blog on the January 1, 2016 amendments see HERE.

The new amendments will (i) allow companies that meet the $5 bid price test to use unaudited, interim financials to meet certain OTCQX financial standards; and (ii) provide a phase-in compliance period for US companies to meet the OTCQX corporate governance requirements.

A complete summary of all OTCQX listing requirements is included below.

Morningstar Collaboration

In addition, effective May 6, 2016 OTC Markets collaborated with Morningstar, an independent research and equity ratings firm, to provide research and ratings on all OTCQX companies.  The research reports are available on a company’s quote page on the OTC Markets website.  As part of each Morningstar report, the company’s equity is rated as to valuation, illustrating an over or under valuation, based on the Morningstar analysis.  The Morningstar reports are updated daily.

Morningstar reports are also published under the research section of each OTCQX company’s quote page on the OTC Markets website.

A well-known issue for all small- and micro-cap companies is a lack of independent research or analysts’ coverage.  I’ve reviewed several of the Morningstar reports and they provide very good information.

Specific Amendments for Listing

Compliance with penny stock exemptions under Rule 3a51-1 of the Exchange Act

To be eligible to trade on the OTCQX tier of OTC Markets, all companies must meet one of the following penny stock exemptions under Rule 3a51-1 of the Exchange Act: (i) have a bid price of $5 or more as of the close of business on each of the 30 consecutive calendar days immediately preceding the company’s application, and as of the most recent fiscal year-end have at least one of the following: (w) net income of $500,000; (x) net tangible assets of $1,000,000; (y) revenues of $2,000,000; or (z) total assets of $5,000,000; or (ii) have net tangible assets of $2 million if the company has been in continuous operation for at least three years, or $5,000,000 if the company has been in continuous operation for less than three years, which qualification can be satisfied as of the end of a fiscal period or as a result of an interim capital raise; or (iii) have average revenue of at least $6,000,000 for the last three years.

The OTCQX is amending its eligibility requirements to allow for the use of CEO or CFO certified pro forma financial statements to satisfy the financial qualitative criteria associated with the $5 bid price penny stock exemption, where the company has not had a prior public market for its securities and where the company has an approved Form 211 with a bid price greater than $5 per share.

A company seeking to rely on pro forma financial statements must file such statements through the EDGAR database or on OTC Markets, and such statements must be certified by the company CEO or CFO.  A company may also rely on its annual, quarterly or current financial statements filed with EDGAR in accordance with the registration requirements under the Securities Act of 1933 (such as a Form S-1) or Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (such as a Form 10) or its Exchange Act reports (i.e., Form 10-Q or 10-K) as long as such financial statements reflect information as of the most recent fiscal year-end.

In addition, a company must make a written request to OTC Markets for a waiver of the requirement that it maintain a bid price over $5 per share as of the close of business on each of the 30 consecutive days prior to the date of the application.  OTC Markets may grant or deny the waiver at its sole discretion.

This amendment will allow a company that is completing the IPO process and has an approved 15c2-11 at $5.00 or greater to meet the penny stock exemption for OTCQX eligibility.  In addition, such company will not need to wait until its current fiscal year-end audit is completed to satisfy the qualification criteria.   This will be especially helpful for a company that is completing an IPO in Q1 of its fiscal year.

The amendment related to compliance with the penny stock exemptions applies to all issuers seeking application on the OTCQX including U.S. companies, international companies and banks.

Corporate Governance Eligibility Criteria

The OTC Markets are also amending the requirements related to its corporate governance eligibility criteria for U.S. companies applying to the OTCQX in conjunction with an initial public offering.  The amendment will allow a phase-in period to satisfy full compliance with the corporate governance requirements.  The corporate governance amendments apply to U.S. and U.S. Premier applicants only.

Effective January 1, 2016, to list on OTCQX, U.S. companies are required to (i) have a minimum of 2 independent board members; (ii) have an audit committee comprised of a majority of independent directors; and (iii) conduct an annual shareholders meeting and submit annual financial reports to shareholders at least 15 calendar days prior to such meeting.

The new amendments, scheduled to be effective June 13, 2016, will allow a phase-in for compliance with these requirements for companies making application to the OTCQX in connection with its initial public offering and initial Form 211 application to FINRA.  In particular: (i) at least one member of the board of directors and the audit committee must be independent at the time of the OTCQX application; and (ii) at least 2 members of the board of directors and a majority of the members of the audit committee must be independent at the later of 90 days after the company begins trading on the OTCQX or the company’s next shareholder meeting.  Moreover, the company’s next shareholder meeting must be held within one year of the company joining OTCQX.

A Complete Summary of OTCQX Initial and Ongoing Listing Requirements

The following is a complete summary of the OTCQX listing standards as in effect on January 1, 2016 and including the proposed amendments scheduled to go effective June 13, 2016.

The OTCQX divides its listing criteria between U.S. companies and international companies, though they are very similar.  The OTCQX has two tiers of quotation for U.S. companies: (i) OTCQX U.S. Premier (also eligible to quote on a national exchange); and (ii) OTCQX U.S. and two tiers for international companies: (i) OTCQX International Premier; and (ii) OTCQX International.  Quotation is available for American Depository Receipts (ADR’s) or foreign ordinary securities of companies traded on a Qualifying Foreign Stock Exchange, and an expedited application process is available for such companies.  The OTCQX also has specific listing criteria and rules for banks, which criteria and rules are not included in this blog.

Issuers on the OTCQX must meet specified eligibility requirements.  Moreover, OTC Markets have the discretionary authority to allow quotation to substantially capitalized acquisition entities that are analogous to SPAC’s.

OTCQX – Requirements for Admission

To be eligible to be quoted on the OTCQX U.S., companies must:

Have $2 million in total assets as of the most recent annual or quarter end;

As of the most recent fiscal year-end, have at least one of the following: (i) $2 million in revenues; (ii) $1 million in net tangible assets; (iii) $500,000 in net income; or (iv) $5 million in market value of publicly traded securities;

Have a market capitalization of at least $10 million on each of the 30 consecutive calendar days immediately preceding the company’s application;

Meet one of the following penny stock exemptions under Rule 3a51-1 of the Exchange Act: (i) have a bid price of $5 or more as of the close of business on each of the 30 consecutive calendar days immediately preceding the company’s application and, as of the most recent fiscal year-end, have at least one of the following: (a) net income of $500,000; (b) net tangible assets of $1,000,000; (c) revenues of $2,000,000; or (d) total assets of $5,000,000; or (ii) have net tangible assets of $2 million if the company has been in continuous operation for at least three years, or $5,000,000 if the company has been in continuous operation for less than three years, which qualification can be satisfied as of the end of a fiscal period or as a result of an interim capital raise; or (iii) have average revenue of at least $6,000,000 for the last three years;

Effective June 13, 2016, a company may satisfy the financial qualitative criteria associated with the $5 bid price penny stock exemption, where the company has not had a prior public market for its securities and where the company has an approved Form 211 with a bid price greater than $5 per share by using its most recent annual, quarterly or current event report filed through EDGAR or a pro forma financial statement, signed and certified by the CEO or CFO, posted through EDGAR or the OTC Markets Disclosure and News Service. In such case, the company may apply in writing for an exemption from the requirement to maintain a bid price over $5 per share as of the close of business on each of the 30 consecutive days prior to the company’s application day, which exemption may be granted by OTC Markets at its sole and absolute discretion.

Not be a blank check or shell company as defined by the Securities Act of 1933 (“Securities Act”);

Not be in bankruptcy or reorganization proceedings;

Be in good standing in its state of incorporation and in each state in which it conducts business;

Have a minimum of 50 beneficial shareholders owning at least one round lot (100 shares) each;

Be quoted by at least one market maker on the OTC Link;

Have a minimum bid price of $0.25 per share for its common stock as of the close of business on each of the 30 consecutive calendar days immediately preceding the company’s application for OTCQX. If (i) there has been no prior public market for the company’s securities in the S. and (ii) FINRA has approved a Form 211, then the company may apply to OTC Markets for an exemption from the minimum bid price requirements, which exemption is at the sole discretion of OTC Markets. In the event that the company is a Seasoned Public Issuer (i.e., has been in operation and quoted on either OTC Link, the OTCBB or an exchange for at least one year) that completed a reverse stock split within 6 months prior to applying for admission to OTCQX U.S., the company must have a minimum bid price of $0.25 per share for its common stock as of the close of business on each of the 5 consecutive trading days immediately preceding the company’s application for OTCQX, after the reverse split;

Have GAAP compliant (i) audited balance sheets as of the end of each of the two most recent fiscal years, or as of a date within 135 days if the company has been in existence for less than two fiscal years, and audited statements of income, cash flows and changes in stockholders’ equity for each of the fiscal years immediately preceding the date of each such audited balance sheet (or such shorter period as the company has been in existence), and must include all going concern disclosures including plans for mitigation; and GAAP compliant (ii) unaudited interim financial reports, including a balance sheet as of the end of the company’s most recent fiscal quarter, and income statements, statements of changes in stockholders’ equity and statements of cash flows for the interim period up to the date of such balance sheet and the comparable period of the preceding fiscal year;

Be included in a Recognized Securities Manual or be subject to the reporting requirements of the Exchange Act; and

Have an OTCQX Advisor.

To be eligible to be quoted on the OTCQX U.S. Premier, companies must:

Satisfy all of the eligibility requirements for OTCQX U.S. set forth above;

Meet one of the following: (i) Market Value Standard – have at least (a) $15 million in public float and (b) a market capitalization of at least $50 million, each as of the close of business on each of the 30 consecutive days immediately preceding the company’s application; or (ii) Net Income Standard – have at least (a) $1 million in public float; and (b) a market capitalization of at least $10 million, each as of the close of business on each of the 30 consecutive days immediately preceding the company’s application; and (c) $750,000 in net income as of the company’s most recent fiscal year-end;

Have at least 500,000 publicly held shares;

Have a minimum of 50 beneficial shareholders owning at least one round lot (100 shares) each;

Have a minimum of 100 beneficial shareholders owning at least one round lot (100 shares) each;

Have a minimum bid price of $4.00 per share for its common stock as of the close of business on each of the 30 consecutive calendar days immediately preceding the company’s application for OTCQX. If (i) there has been no prior public market for the company’s securities in the S. and (ii) FINRA has approved a Form 211 and (iii) the bid price is equal to or greater than $1.00, then the company may apply to OTC Markets for an exemption from the 30-day minimum bid price requirements, which exemption is at the sole discretion of OTC Markets. In the event that the company is a Seasoned Public Issuer (i.e., has been in operation and quoted on either OTC Link, the OTCBB or an exchange for at least one year) that completed a reverse stock split within 6 months prior to applying for admission to OTCQX U.S., the company must have a minimum bid price of $4.00 per share for its common stock as of the close of business on each of the 5 consecutive trading days immediately preceding the company’s application for OTCQX, after the reverse split;

Have at least $4 million in stockholder’s equity;

Have a 3-year operating history; and

Conduct annual shareholders’ meetings and submit annual financial reports to its shareholders at least 15 calendar days prior to such

To be eligible to be quoted as an OTCQX U.S. Acquisition Company, companies must:

Satisfy all of the eligibility requirements for OTCQX U.S. set forth above;

Have a minimum bid price of $5.00 per share for its common stock as of the close of business on each of the 30 consecutive calendar days immediately preceding the company’s application for OTCQX; and

Be subject to the reporting requirements of the Exchange Act.

Corporate Governance Requirements for all OTCQX U.S., U.S. Premier and U.S. Acquisition Companies:

Have at least 2 independent board members on the board of directors;

Have an audit committee comprised of a majority of independent directors; and

Conduct annual shareholders’ meetings and submit annual financial reports to its shareholders at least 15 calendar days prior to such.

Effective June 13, 2016, the OTCQX will allow a phase-in for compliance with these requirements for companies making application to the OTCQX in connection with its initial public offering and initial Form 211 application to FINRA.  In particular: (i) at least one member of the board of directors and the audit committee must be independent at the time of the OTCQX application; and (ii) at least 2 members of the board of directors and a majority of the members of the audit committee must be independent at the later of 90 days after the company begins trading on the OTCQX or the company’s next shareholder meeting.  Moreover, the company’s next shareholder meeting must be held within one year of the company joining OTCQX.

To be eligible to be quoted on the OTCQX International, companies must:

Have U.S. $2 million in total assets as of the most recent annual or quarter end;

As of the most recent fiscal year-end, have at least one of the following: (i) U.S. $2 million in revenues; (ii) U.S. $1 million in net tangible assets; (iii)S. $500,000 in net income; or (iv) U.S. $5 million in global market capitalization;

Meet one of the following penny stock exemptions under Rule 3a51-1 of the Exchange Act: (i) have a bid price of $5 or more as of the close of business on each of the 30 consecutive calendar days immediately preceding the company’s application, and as of the most recent fiscal year-end have at least one of the following: (a) net income of $500,000; (b) net tangible assets of $1,000,000; (c) revenues of $2,000,000 or (d) total assets of $5,000,000; or (ii) have net tangible assets of U.S. $2 million if the company has been in continuous operation for at least three years, orS. $5,000,000 if the company has been in continuous operation for less than three years; or (iii) have average revenue of at least U.S. $6,000,000 for the last three years;

Effective June 13, 2016, a company may satisfy the financial qualitative criteria associated with the $5 bid price penny stock exemption, where the company has not had a prior public market for its securities and where the company has an approved Form 211 with a bid price greater than $5 per share by using its most recent annual, quarterly or current event report filed through EDGAR or a pro forma financial statement, signed and certified by the CEO or CFO, posted through EDGAR or the OTC Markets Disclosure and News Service. In such case, the company may apply in writing for an exemption from the requirement to maintain a bid price over $5 per share as of the close of business on each of the 30 consecutive days prior to the company’s application day, which exemption may be granted by OTC Markets at its sole and absolute discretion.

Be quoted by at least one market maker on the OTC Link (which requires a 15c2-11 application if the company is not already quoted on a lower tier of OTC Markets);

Not be a shell company or blank check company;

Not be in bankruptcy or reorganization proceedings;

Have a minimum of 50 beneficial shareholders owning at least one round lot (100 shares) each;

Have a minimum bid price of $0.25 per share for its common stock as of the close of business on each of the 30 consecutive calendar days immediately preceding the company’s application for OTCQX. If there has been no prior public market for the company’s securities in the S., FINRA must have approved a Form 211 with a minimum bid price of $0.25 or greater. If the company is applying to the OTCQX immediately following a delisting from a national securities exchange, it must have a minimum bid price of at least $0.10.

Be included in a Recognized Securities Manual or be subject to the reporting requirements of the Exchange Act;

Have its securities listed on a Qualifying Foreign Stock Exchange for a minimum of the preceding 40 calendar days – provided, however, that in the event the company’s securities are listed on a non-U.S. exchange that is not a Qualified Foreign Stock Exchange, then at the company’s request and subsequent to the company providing OTC Markets Group with personal information forms for each executive officer, director, and beneficial owner of 10% or more of a class of the company’s securities and such other materials as OTC Markets Group deems necessary to make an informed determination of eligibility, OTC Markets Group may, at its sole and absolute discretion, consider the company’s eligibility for OTCQX International;

Have a global market capitalization of at least $10 million on each of the 30 consecutive calendar days immediately preceding its application day;

Meet one of the following conditions: (i) be eligible to rely on the registration exemption found in Exchange Act Rule 12g-2(b) and be current and compliant in such requirements; or (ii) have a class of securities registered under Section 12(g) of the Exchange Act and be current in its SEC reporting requirements; or (iii) if such company is not eligible to rely on the exemption from registration provided by Exchange Act Rule 12g3-2(b) because it does not (A) meet the definition of “foreign private issuer” as that term is used in Exchange Act Rule 12g3-2(b) or (B) maintain a primary trading market in a foreign jurisdiction as set forth in Exchange Act Rule 12g3-2(b)(ii), and is not otherwise required to register under Section 12(g), be otherwise current and fully compliant with the obligations of a company relying on the exemption from registration provided by Exchange Act Rule 12g3-2(b); and

Have a Principal American Liaison (PAL).

Explanation of Exchange Act Rule 12g3-2(b):

Exchange Act Rule 12g3-2(b) permits foreign private issuers to have their equity securities traded on the U.S. over-the-counter market without registration under Section 12 of the Exchange Act (and therefore without being subject to the Exchange Act reporting requirements).  The rule is automatic for foreign issuers that meet its requirements.  A foreign issuer may not rely on the rule if it is otherwise subject to the Exchange Act reporting requirements.

The rule provides that an issuer is not required to be subject to the Exchange Act reporting requirements if: (i) the issuer currently maintains a listing of its securities on one or more exchanges in a foreign jurisdiction which is the primary trading market for such securities; and (ii) the issuer has published, in English, on its website or through an electronic information delivery system generally available to the public in its primary trading market (such as the OTC Market Group website), information that, since the first day of its most recently completed fiscal year, it (a) has made public or been required to make public pursuant to the laws of its country of domicile; (b) has filed or been required to file with the principal stock exchange in its primary trading market and which has been made public by that exchange; and (c) has distributed or been required to distribute to its security holders.

Primary Trading Market means that at least 55 percent of the trading in the subject class of securities on a worldwide basis took place in, on or through the facilities of a securities market or markets in a single foreign jurisdiction or in no more than two foreign jurisdictions during the issuer’s most recently completed fiscal year.

In order to maintain the Rule 12g3-2(b) exemption, the issuer must continue to publish the required information on an ongoing basis and for each fiscal year.

The information required to be published electronically under paragraph (b) of this section is information that is material to an investment decision regarding the subject securities, such as information concerning: (i) Results of operations or financial condition; (ii) Changes in business; (iii) Acquisitions or dispositions of assets; (iv) The issuance, redemption or acquisition of securities; (v) Changes in management or control; (vi) The granting of options or the payment of other remuneration to directors or officers; and (vii) Transactions with directors, officers or principal security holders.

At a minimum, a foreign private issuer shall electronically publish English translations of the following documents: (i) Its annual report, including or accompanied by annual financial statements; (ii) Interim reports that include financial statements; (iii) Press releases; and (iv) All other communications and documents distributed directly to security holders of each class of securities to which the exemption relates.

To be eligible to be quoted on the OTCQX International Premier, companies must:

Satisfy all of the eligibility requirements for OTCQX International set forth above;

Have a global market capitalization of at least $1 billion on each of the 30 consecutive calendar days immediately preceding its application day; and

Have one of the following over the prior 6 months: (i) average weekly trading volume of at least 200,000 shares; or (ii) average weekly trading volume of at least $1 million.

Application to the OTCQX

All U.S. companies that are quoted on the OTCQX must submit an application and pay an application fee.  The application consists of (i) the application with information related to the company; (ii) the contractual agreement with OTCQX for quotation; (iii) personal information for each executive officer, director and beneficial owner of 5% or more of the securities, except for companies already traded on a foreign exchange or moving from a recognized U.S. exchange; (iv) designation of the OTCQX Advisor; (v) appointment form for the OTCQX Advisor; and (vi) a digital company logo.

All international companies that are quoted on the OTCQX must submit an application and pay an application fee.  The application consists of (i) OTCQX application for international companies; (ii) the contractual agreement with OTCQX for international companies; (ii) the OTCQX application fee; (iv) the OTCQX Agreement for international companies; (v) an application for the international company’s desired PAL if such PAL is not already pre-qualified; (vi) an appointment form for the PAL; and (vii) a copy of the company’s logo in encapsulated postscript (EPS) format.

The application is subject to review and comment by OTC Markets.  OTC Markets may require additional conditions or undertakings prior to admission.  Moreover, the application may be denied if, in the opinion of OTC Markets, trading would be likely to impair the reputation or integrity of OTC Markets Group or be detrimental to the interests of investors.

Initial Disclosure Obligations

A company must post its initial disclosure documents on the OTC Markets website as a precondition to acceptance of an application for quotation, and such posting must be confirmed with a letter by the company OTCQX ADVISOR/PAL.

Initial disclosure documents include: (i) SEC reports if the company is subject to the Exchange Act reporting requirements; (ii) current information in accordance with OTC Markets disclosure guidelines including financial statements; (iii) if the company is a Regulation A reporting company, it must be current in such reporting requirements; (iv) if the company was an SEC Reporting Company immediately prior to joining OTCQX and has a current 10-K on file with the SEC, or was a Regulation A Reporting Company immediately prior to joining OTCQX and has a current 1-K on file with the SEC, the company is not required to post an information statement through the OTC Markets, but subsequent to joining OTCQX must post all annual, quarterly, interim and current reports required pursuant to the Disclosure Guidelines; and (v) for international companies not subject to the SEC reporting requirements, all information required to be made public pursuant to Exchange Act Rule 12g3-2(b) for the preceding 24 months, which information must be posted in English.

A company must supplement and update any changes to the initial disclosure within 30 days of acceptance of its application for quotation.  International companies must follow initial disclosure with a PAL Letter of Introduction.

Requirements for Ongoing Qualification for Quotation on the OTCQX

The following is a summary of the ongoing responsibilities for U.S. OTCQX quoted securities:

Compliance with Rules – OTCQX quoted companies must maintain compliance with the OTCQX rules including disclosure requirements. The company’s OTCQX ADVISOR/PAL is responsible for reporting their/its potential conflicts of interest;

Compliance with Laws – OTCQX quoted companies must maintain compliance with state and federal securities laws and must cooperate with any securities regulators, including self-regulatory organizations;

Blue Sky Manual Exemption – Companies must either properly qualify for a blue sky manual exemption or be subject to and current in their Exchange Act reporting requirements;

Retention and Advice of OTCQX ADVISOR – Companies must have an OTCQX ADVISOR at all times and are required to seek the advice of such OTCQX ADVISOR as to their OTCQX obligations;

Duty to Inform OTCQX ADVISOR – As part of its duty to seek advice from its OTCQX ADVISOR, a company has an obligation to provide disclosure and information to the OTCQX ADVISOR, including “complete access to information regarding the company, including confidential and propriety information”; access to personnel; updated personal information forms; and timely responses to requests for information or documents;

Notification of Resignation or Dismissal of OTCQX ADVISOR – A company must immediately notify OTC Markets in writing of the resignation or dismissal of the OTCQX ADVISOR for any reason;

Payment of Fees – a company must pay its annual fees to OTC Markets;

Sales of Company Securities by Affiliates – Prior to transacting in the company’s securities through a broker-dealer, each officer, director or other affiliate of the company shall make its status as an affiliate of the company known to the broker-dealer;

Distribution and Publication of Proxy Statements – The company shall solicit proxies for all meetings of shareholders. If the company is a Regulation A Reporting Company, the company shall publish, on EDGAR through SEC Form 1-U, copies of all proxies, proxy statements and all other material mailed by the company to its shareholders with respect thereto, within 15 days of the mailing of such material. If the company is not an SEC Reporting Company or a Regulation A Reporting Company, the company shall publish, through the OTC Markets, copies of all proxies, proxy statements and all other material mailed by the company to its shareholders with respect thereto, within 15 days of the mailing of such material;

Redemption Requirements – All redemptions must be either by lot or pro rata and require 15 days’ notice;

Changes in Form or Nature of Securities – All changes in form, nature or rights associated with securities quoted on the OTCQX require 20 days’ advance notice to OTC Markets;

Transfer Agent – Companies are required to use the services of a registered transfer agent and authorize such transfer agent to share information with OTC Markets;

Accounting Methods – Any change in accounting methods requires advance notice of such change and its impact, to OTC Markets;

Change in Auditors – All changes in auditor requires prompt notification and a letter from such auditor analogous to Form 8-K requirements;

Responding to OTC Markets Group Requests – OTCQX quoted companies are required to respond to OTC Markets comments and amend filings as necessary in response thereto;

Ongoing Disclosure Obligations – (i) Companies subject to the Exchange Act reporting requirements must remain current in such reports; (ii) Companies not subject to the Exchange Act reporting requirements must remain current with the annual, quarterly and current reporting requirements of OTC Markets, including posting annual audited financial statements prepared in accordance with GAAP and audited by a PCAOB auditor; (iii) Regulation A reporting companies shall maintain current compliance with their Regulation A reporting requirements and within 45 days of the end of the first and third fiscal quarters shall file quarterly disclosure including all information required in a semi-annual report (i.e., the company shall file quarterly and not just semi-annual reports); (iv) file a notification of late filing when necessary; (v) quickly release disclosure of material news and recent developments, whether positive or negative, through a press release on the OTC Markets website (in addition to SEC filings); (vi) an OTCQX company should also act promptly to dispel unfounded rumors which result in unusual market activity or price variations;

General requirements regarding integrity – OTCQX quoted companies are expected to act professionally and uphold the OTC Markets standards for “high quality,” and to release news and reports that are prepared factually and accurately with neither excessive puffery or conservatism; companies must not report or act in a way that could be misleading; must not inundate with non-material releases; and must not make misleading premature announcements;

Maintain Company Updated Profile – OTCQX quoted companies are required to maintain updated, accurate information on their profile page and to verify same every six months;

OTCQX ADVISOR Letter – Within 120 days of each fiscal year-end and after the posting of the company’s annual report, every company must submit an annual OTCQX ADVISOR letter;

To remain eligible for trading on the OTCQX U.S. tier, the company’s common stock must have a minimum bid price of $0.10 per share as of the close of business for at least one of every thirty consecutive calendar days. In the event that the minimum bid price for the company’s common stock falls below $0.10 per share at the close of business for thirty consecutive calendar days, a grace period of 180 calendar days to regain compliance shall begin, during which the minimum bid price for the company’s common stock at the close of business must be $0.10 for ten consecutive trading days;

To remain eligible for trading on the OTCQX U.S. tier, the company must maintain a market capitalization of at least $5 million for at least one of every 30 consecutive calendar days;

To remain eligible for trading on the OTCQX U.S. tier, the company must have at least 2 market makers quote the stock;

To remain eligible for trading on the OTCQX S. Premier tier, the company’s common stock must have a minimum bid price of $1.00 per share as of the close of business for at least one of every thirty consecutive calendar days. In the event that the minimum bid price for the company’s common stock falls below $1.00 per share at the close of business for thirty consecutive calendar days, a grace period of 180 calendar days to regain compliance shall begin, during which the minimum bid price for the company’s common stock at the close of business must be $1.00 for ten consecutive trading days. In the event that the company’s common stock does not regain compliance during the grace period, the company shall have a fast-track option to have its securities traded on the OTCQX U.S. tier.

To remain eligible for trading on the OTCQX S. Premier tier, the company must meet one of the following standards: (i) Market Value Standard – have at least (a) $15 million in public float and (b) a market capitalization of at least $35 million, each as of the close of business on each of the 30 consecutive days immediately preceding the company’s application; or (ii) Net Income Standard – have at least (a) $1 million in public float; and (b) a market capitalization of at least $5 million, each as of the close of business on each of the 30 consecutive days immediately preceding the company’s application; and (c) $500,000 in net income as of the company’s most recent fiscal year-end;

To remain eligible for trading on the OTCQX S. Premier tier, the company must have at least $1 million in stockholders’ equity;

To remain eligible for trading on the OTCQX S. Premier tier, the company must have at least 4 market makers quoting the stock;

All U.S. companies, whether U.S. standard or U.S. Premier, must maintain corporate governance standards including independent director and audit committee requirements. A company must notify OTC Markets immediately of a disqualification and must regain compliance by its next annual shareholder meeting or one year from the date of non-compliance.

The following is a summary of the ongoing responsibilities for OTCQX International quoted securities:

Eligibility Criteria – The international company must meet the above eligibility requirements as of the end of each most recent fiscal year;

Compliance with Rules – OTCQX quoted companies must maintain compliance with the OTCQX rules, including disclosure requirements. Officers and directors of the company are responsible for compliance and are solely responsible for the content of information;

Compliance with Laws – OTCQX quoted companies must maintain compliance with applicable securities laws of their country of domicile and applicable U.S. federal and state securities laws. The company must comply with Exchange Act Rule 10b-17 and FINRA rule 6490 regarding notification and processing of corporate actions (such as name changes, splits and dividends).  The company must cooperate with any securities regulators, whether in their country of domicile or in the U.S., including self-regulatory organizations;

Blue Sky Manual Exemption – Companies must either properly qualify for a blue sky manual exemption or be subject to and current in their Exchange Act reporting requirements;

Retention and Advice of PAL – Companies must have a PAL at all times and are required to seek the advice of such PAL as to their OTCQX obligations;

Notification of Resignation or Dismissal of PAL – A company must immediately notify OTC Markets in writing of the resignation or dismissal of the PAL for any reason;

Payment of Fees – A company must pay its annual fees to OTC Markets;

Responding to OTC Markets Group Requests – OTCQX quoted companies are required to respond to OTC Markets comments and amend filings as necessary in response thereto;

To remain eligible for OTCQX International, the company must maintain a minimum bid price of $0.10 as of the close of business for at least one of every 30 consecutive calendar days. In the event that the minimum bid price for the company’s common stock falls below $0.10 per share at the close of business for thirty consecutive calendar days, a grace period of 180 calendar days to regain compliance shall begin, during which the minimum bid price for the company’s common stock at the close of business must be $0.10 for ten consecutive trading days;

To remain eligible for OTCQX International, the company must maintain a market capitalization of at least $5 million for at least one of every 30 consecutive calendar days;

To remain eligible for OTCQX International, the company must maintain at least 2 market makers;

Ongoing Disclosure Obligations – (i) Companies subject to the Exchange Act reporting requirements must remain current in such reports; (ii) A company that is not an SEC Reporting Company must remain current and fully compliant in its obligations under Exchange Act Rule 12g3-2(b), if applicable, and in any event shall, on an ongoing basis, post in English through the OTC Disclosure & News Service or an Integrated Newswire, the information required to be made publicly available pursuant to Exchange Act Rule 12g3-2(b); (iii) provide a letter to its PAL at least once a year, no later than 210 days after the fiscal year-end, which states that the company (a) continues to satisfy the OTCQX quotation requirements; and (b) is current and compliant in its obligations under Exchange Act Rule 12g3-2(b) and that the information required under such rule is posted, in English, on the OTC Markets website or that the company is subject to the SEC reporting requirements and is current in such reporting requirements;

PAL Letter – Within 225 days of each fiscal year-end and after the posting of the company’s annual report, every company must submit an annual PAL letter; and

To remain eligible for the OTCQX International Premier, the company must have (i) a global market capitalization of at least $500 million for at least one of every 30 consecutive calendar days; (ii) of one following over the prior 6 months (a) an average weekly trading volume of at least 100,000 shares or (b) an average weekly trading dollar volume of at least $500,000; and (iii) at least 4 market makers.

Removal from OTCQX International

A company may be removed from the OTCQX if, at any time, it fails to meet the eligibility and continued quotation requirements subject to a 30-day notice and opportunity to address them.  In addition, OTC Markets Group may remove the company’s securities from trading on OTCQX immediately and at any time, without notice, if OTC Markets Group, at its sole and absolute discretion, believes the continued inclusion of the company’s securities would impair the reputation or integrity of OTC Markets Group or be detrimental to the interests of investors.  In addition, OTC Markets can temporarily suspend trading on the OTCQX pending investigation or further due diligence review.

A company may voluntarily withdraw from the OTCQX with 24 hours’ notice.

Fees

Upon application for quotation on the OTCQX, companies must pay an initial non-refundable fee of $5,000.  In addition, companies must pay an annual non-refundable fee of $20,000.  The annual fee is based on the calendar year and is due by December 1st each year.

OTCQX Advisor (formerly known as Designated Advisors for Disclosure (“DAD”)) and Principal American Liaison (“PAL”) Requirements

As part of the rule changes, OTC Markets has renamed its U.S. Designated Advisor for Disclosure (DAD) to an OTCQX Advisor.  All U.S. companies that are quoted on the OTCQX must have either an attorney or an Investment Bank OTCQX Advisor.  A company may appoint a new OTCQX Advisor at any time, provided that the company retains an approved OTCQX Advisor at all times.

All International companies that are quoted on the OTCQX must have either an Attorney Principal American Liaison (“PAL”) or an Investment Bank PAL – provided, however, that if the company’s OTCQX traded security is an ADR, the international company may have an ADR PAL.  All PAL’s must be approved by OTC Markets Group.  A company may appoint a new PAL at any time provided they maintain a PAL at all times.

All OTCQX Advisors and PALs must be approved by OTCQX after submitting an application.  Eligibility to act as an OTCQX Advisor or PAL is limited to experienced and qualified securities attorneys or qualified FINRA member investment banking firms.  I am an approved OTCQX Advisor and PAL.

The primary roles of an OTCQX Advisor and PAL include (i) to provide advice and guidance to a company in meeting its OTCQX obligations; (ii) to provide professional guidance to the issuer on creating investor demand as they build long-term relationships with management; (iii) to assist companies in discerning the information that is material to the market and should be disclosed to investors; and (iv) to provide a professional review of the company’s disclosure.  The OTCQX puts a great deal of onus on the OTCQX Advisor/PAL to be responsible for the company which it sponsors, emphasizing the negative impact on the OTCQX Advisor’s reputation for sponsoring companies that are not of acceptable quality.  In addition to providing advice and counsel to a company, an OTCQX Advisor/PAL is required to conduct investigations to confirm disclosures.  An OTCQX Advisor/PAL must submit a Letter of Introduction and subsequent annual letters confirming their duties and the attesting to the disclosures made by the company.

The Author

Laura Anthony, Esq.
Founding Partner
Legal & Compliance, LLC
Corporate, Securities and Going Public Attorneys
LAnthony@LegalAndCompliance.com

Securities attorney Laura Anthony and her experienced legal team provides ongoing corporate counsel to small and mid-size private companies, OTC and exchange traded issuers as well as private companies going public on the NASDAQ, NYSE MKT or over-the-counter market, such as the OTCQB and OTCQX. For nearly two decades Legal & Compliance, LLC has served clients providing fast, personalized, cutting-edge legal service. The firm’s reputation and relationships provide invaluable resources to clients including introductions to investment bankers, broker dealers, institutional investors and other strategic alliances. The firm’s focus includes, but is not limited to, compliance with the Securities Act of 1933 offer sale and registration requirements, including private placement transactions under Regulation D and Regulation S and PIPE Transactions as well as registration statements on Forms S-1, S-8 and S-4; compliance with the reporting requirements of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, including registration on Form 10, reporting on Forms 10-Q, 10-K and 8-K, and 14C Information and 14A Proxy Statements; Regulation A/A+ offerings; all forms of going public transactions; mergers and acquisitions including both reverse mergers and forward mergers, ; applications to and compliance with the corporate governance requirements of securities exchanges including NASDAQ and NYSE MKT; crowdfunding; corporate; and general contract and business transactions. Moreover, Ms. Anthony and her firm represents both target and acquiring companies in reverse mergers and forward mergers, including the preparation of transaction documents such as merger agreements, share exchange agreements, stock purchase agreements, asset purchase agreements and reorganization agreements. Ms. Anthony’s legal team prepares the necessary documentation and assists in completing the requirements of federal and state securities laws and SROs such as FINRA and DTC for 15c2-11 applications, corporate name changes, reverse and forward splits and changes of domicile. Ms. Anthony is also the author of SecuritiesLawBlog.com, the OTC Market’s top source for industry news, and the producer and host of LawCast.com, the securities law network. In addition to many other major metropolitan areas, the firm currently represents clients in New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, Atlanta, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., Denver, Tampa, Detroit and Dallas.

Contact Legal & Compliance LLC. Technical inquiries are always encouraged.

Follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

Download our mobile app at iTunes.

Legal & Compliance, LLC makes this general information available for educational purposes only. The information is general in nature and does not constitute legal advice. Furthermore, the use of this information, and the sending or receipt of this information, does not create or constitute an attorney-client relationship between us. Therefore, your communication with us via this information in any form will not be considered as privileged or confidential.

This information is not intended to be advertising, and Legal & Compliance, LLC does not desire to represent anyone desiring representation based upon viewing this information in a jurisdiction where this information fails to comply with all laws and ethical rules of that jurisdiction. This information may only be reproduced in its entirety (without modification) for the individual reader’s personal and/or educational use and must include this notice.

© Legal & Compliance, LLC 2016


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Mergers And Acquisitions: Types Of Transactions
Posted by Securities Attorney Laura Anthony | April 5, 2016 Tags: , , , , , ,

As merger and acquisition (M&A) transactions completed its most active year since the financial crisis, it is helpful to go back to basics. Activity has been prevalent in all market sectors, including large, mid and small cap and across all industries, including biotech, financial services, technology, consumer goods and services, food and beverage and healthcare, among others.

Although I’ve written about M&A transactions multiple times, this will be the first time I’ve given a broad overview of the forms that an M&A transaction can take.

Types of Mergers and Acquisitions

A merger or acquisition transaction is the combination of two companies into one resulting in either one corporate entity or a parent-holding and subsidiary company structure. Mergers can categorized by the competitive relationship between the parties and by the legal structure of the transaction. Related to competitive relationship, there are three types of mergers: horizontal, vertical and conglomerate. In a horizontal merger, one company acquires another that is in the identical or substantially similar industry eliminating a competitor. In a vertical merger, one company acquires a customer or supplier. A conglomerate merger covers all other transactions where there is no direct competitive or vertical relationship between the merging parties. The result is generally the creation of a conglomerate – thus the name.

From a legal structure perspective, an M&A transaction can be an asset purchase, a stock purchase, a forward merger or a forward or reverse triangular merger. In an asset purchase, stock acquisition, forward merger or forward triangular merger, the acquiring company remains in control. In a reverse merger or a reverse triangular merger, the target company shareholders and management gain control of the acquiring company.

In an asset purchase transaction, the acquirer can pick and choose the assets that it is purchasing, and likewise the liabilities it is assuming. An asset purchase can be complex and requires careful drafting to ensure that the desired assets are included, including all tangible and intangible rights thereto, and that only the specified liabilities are legally assumed. Third-party consents are often required to achieve the result.

In a stock acquisition, the acquiring company purchases the stock from the target company shareholders. A stock acquisition can result in a forward or reverse acquisition depending on the control of the target company shareholders at the closing of the transaction. In a stock acquisition transaction, the operations, assets and liabilities of the target remain unchanged; it just has different ownership. Complexities arise if some of the target company shareholders refuse to participate in the transaction, leaving unfriendly minority shareholders. Oftentimes a stock acquisition is structured such that a closing is contingent upon a certain percentage participation, such as 90% or even 100%.

In a forward merger or a forward or reverse triangular merger, two companies combine into one, resulting in either one corporate entity or a parent-holding and subsidiary company structure. The shareholders of the target company receive either stock of the acquirer, cash or a combination of both. All assets and liabilities are included in the M&A transaction. A triangular merger is one in which a new acquisition subsidiary is formed to complete the transaction and results in a parent-subsidiary structure.

As mentioned above, a reverse merger results in a change of control of the acquirer. In particular, in a reverse or reverse triangular merger the shareholders of the target company exchange their shares for either new or existing shares of the acquiring company so that at the end of the transaction, the shareholders of the target company own a majority of the acquiring company and the target company has become a wholly owned subsidiary of the acquiring company or has merged into a newly formed acquisition subsidiary. A reverse merger is often used as a private to public transaction for a target company where the acquiring company is a public entity.

The specific form of the transaction should be determined considering the relevant tax, accounting and business objectives of the overall transaction.

Refresher on Other Aspects of the Transaction

An Outline of the Transaction Documents

Generally the first step in an M&A deal is executing a confidentiality agreement and letter of intent followed by the merger agreement itself. In addition to requiring that both parties keep information confidential, a confidentiality agreement sets forth important parameters on the use of information, including allowable disclosure both internally and to third parties. Moreover, a confidentiality agreement may contain other provisions unrelated to confidentiality, such as a prohibition against solicitation of customers or employees (non-competition) and other restrictive covenants. Standstill and exclusivity provisions may also be included, especially where the confidentiality agreement is separate from the letter of intent.

A letter of intent (“LOI”) is generally non-binding and spells out the broad parameters of the transaction. The LOI helps identify and resolve key issues in the negotiation process and hopefully narrows down outstanding issues prior to spending the time and money associated with conducting due diligence and drafting the transaction contracts and supporting documents. Among other key points, the LOI may set the price or price range, the parameters of due diligence, necessary pre-deal recapitalizations, confidentiality, exclusivity, and time frames for completing each step in the process. Along with an LOI, the parties’ attorneys prepare a transaction checklist which includes a “to do” list along with the “who do” identification.

Many, if not all, letters of intent contain some sort of exclusivity provision. In deal terminology, these exclusivity provisions are referred to as “no shop” or “window shop” provisions. A “no shop” provision prevents one or both parties from entering into any discussions or negotiations with a third party that could negatively affect the potential transaction, for a specific period of time. A “window shop” provision allows for some level of third-party negotiation. For example, a window shop provision may allow for the consideration of unsolicited proposals.

Much different from a no shop or window shop provision is a “go shop” provision. To address a board of directors’ fiduciary duty and, in some instances, to maximize dollar value for its shareholders, a potential acquirer may request that the target “go shop” for a better deal up front to avoid wasted time and expense. A go shop provision is more controlled than an auction and allows both target and acquiring entities to test the market prior to expending resources. A go shop provision is common where it is evident that the board of directors’ “Revlon Duties” have been triggered.

A standstill provision prevents a party from making business changes outside of the ordinary course, during the negotiation period. Examples include prohibitions against selling off major assets, incurring extraordinary debts or liabilities, spinning off subsidiaries, hiring or firing management teams and the like. Many companies also protect their interests in the LOI stage by requiring significant stockholders to agree to lock-ups pending a deal closure. Some lock-ups require that the stockholder agree that they will vote their shares in favor of the deal as well as not transfer or divest themselves of such shares.

The Merger Agreement

In a nutshell, the merger agreement sets out the financial terms of the transaction and legal rights and obligations of the parties with respect to the transaction. It provides the buyer with a detailed description of the business being purchased and provides for rights and remedies in the event that this description proves to be materially inaccurate. The merger agreement sets forth closing procedures, preconditions to closing and post-closing obligations, and sets out representations and warranties by all parties and the rights and remedies if these representations and warranties are inaccurate.

The main components of the merger agreement and a brief description of each are as follows:

  1. Representations and warranties – Representations and warranties generally provide the buyer and seller with a snapshot of facts as of the closing date. From the seller the facts are generally related to the business itself, such as that the seller has title to the assets, there are no undisclosed liabilities, there is no pending litigation or adversarial situation likely to result in litigation, taxes are paid and there are no issues with employees. From the buyer the facts are generally related to legal capacity, authority and ability to enter into a binding contract. Both parties represent as to the accuracy of public filings, financial statements, material contract, tax matters and organization and structure of the entity.
  2. Covenants – Covenants generally govern the parties’ actions for a period prior to and following closing. An example of a covenant is that a seller must continue to operate the business in the ordinary course and maintain assets pending closing. All covenants require good faith in completion.
  3. Conditions – Conditions generally refer to pre-closing conditions such as shareholder and board of director approvals, that certain third-party consents are obtained and proper documents are signed. Generally, if all conditions precedent are not met, the parties can cancel the transaction.
  4. Indemnification/remedies – Indemnification and remedies provide the rights and remedies of the parties in the event of a breach of the agreement, including a material inaccuracy in the representations and warranties or in the event of an unforeseen third-party claim related to either the agreement or the business.
  5. Deal protections – Like the LOI, the merger agreement itself will contain deal protection terms. These deal protection terms can include no shop or window shop provisions, requirements as to business operations by the parties prior to the closing, breakup fees, voting agreements and the like.
  6. Schedules – Schedules generally provide the meat of what the seller is purchasing, such as a complete list of customers and contracts, all equity holders, individual creditors and terms of the obligations. The schedules provide the details.

In the event that the parties have not previously entered into a letter of intent or confidentiality agreement providing for due diligence review, the merger agreement may contain due diligence provisions. Due diligence refers to the legal, business and financial investigation of a business prior to entering into a transaction. Although the due diligence process can vary depending on the nature of a transaction (a relatively small acquisition vs. a going public reverse merger), it is arguably the most important component of a transaction (or at least equal with documentation).

Board of Directors’ Fiduciary Duties in the Merger Process

State corporate law generally provides that the business and affairs of a corporation shall be managed under the direction of its board of directors. Members of the board of directors have a fiduciary relationship to the corporation, which requires that they act in the best interest of the corporation, as opposed to their own. Generally a court will not second-guess directors’ decisions as long as the board has conducted an appropriate process in reaching its decisions. This is referred to as the “business judgment rule.” The business judgment rule creates a rebuttable presumption that “in making a business decision the directors of a corporation acted on an informed basis, in good faith and in the honest belief that the action taken was in the best interests of the company” (as quoted in multiple Delaware cases, including Smith vs. Van Gorkom, 488 A.2d 858 (Del. 1985)).

However, in certain instances, such as in a merger and acquisition transaction, where a board may have a conflict of interest (i.e., get the most money for the corporation and its shareholders vs. getting the most for themselves via either cash or job security), the board of directors’ actions face a higher level of scrutiny. This is referred to as the “enhanced scrutiny business judgment rule” and stems from Revlon, Inc. vs. MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings, Inc., 506 A.2d 173 (Del. 1986) and Unocal vs. Mesa Petroleum, 493 A.2d 946 (Del. 1985).

A third standard, referred to as the “entire fairness standard,” is only triggered where there is a conflict of interest involving directors and/or shareholders such as where directors are on both sides of the transaction. Under the entire fairness standard, the directors must establish that the entire transaction is fair to the shareholders, including both the process and dealings and price and terms.

In all matters, directors’ fiduciary duties to a corporation include honesty and good faith as well as the duty of care, duty of loyalty and a duty of disclosure. In short, the duty of care requires the director to perform their duty with the same care a reasonable person would use, to further the best interest of the corporation and to exercise good faith, under the facts and circumstances of that particular corporation. The duty of loyalty requires that there be no conflict between duty and self-interest. The duty of disclosure requires the director to provide complete and materially accurate information to a corporation.

As with many aspects of the law, a director’s responsibilities and obligations in the face of a merger or acquisition transaction depend on the facts and circumstances. From a high level, if a transaction is not material or only marginally material to the company, the level of involvement and scrutiny facing the board of directors is reduced and only the basic business judgment rule will apply. For example, in instances where a company’s growth strategy is acquisition-based, the board of directors may set out the strategy and parameters for potential target acquisitions but leave the completion of the acquisitions largely with the C-suite executives and officers.

Moreover, the director’s responsibilities must take into account whether they are on the buy or sell side of a transaction. When on the buy side, the considerations include getting the best price deal for the company and integration of products, services, staff, and processes. On the other hand, when on the sell side, the primary objective of maximizing the return to shareholders though social interests and considerations (such as the loss of jobs) may also be considered in the process.

The law focuses on the process, steps and considerations made by the board of directors, as opposed to the actual final decision. The greater the diligence and effort put into the process, the better, both for the company and its shareholders, and the protection of the directors in the face of scrutiny. Courts will consider facts such as attendance at meetings, the number and frequency of meetings, knowledge of the subject matter, time spent deliberating, advice and counsel sought by third-party experts, requests for information from management, and requests for and review of documents and contracts.

In the performance of their obligations and fiduciary responsibilities, a board of directors may, and should, seek the advice and counsel of third parties, such as attorneys, investment bankers, and valuation experts. Moreover, it is generally good practice to obtain a third-party fairness opinion on a transaction.

Dissenter and Appraisal Rights

Unless they are a party to the transaction itself, such as in the case of a share-for-share exchange agreement, shareholders of a company in a merger transaction generally have what is referred to as “dissenters” or “appraisal rights.” An appraisal right is the statutory right by shareholders that dissent from a particular transaction, to receive the fair value of their stock ownership. Generally such fair value may be determined in a judicial or court proceeding or by an independent valuation. Appraisal rights and valuations are the subject of extensive litigation in merger and acquisition transactions.

Although the details and appraisal rights process vary from state to state (often meaningfully), as with other state corporate law matters, Delaware is the leading statutory example and the Delaware Chancery Court is the leader in judicial precedence in this area of law. More than half of U.S. public companies and more than two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies are domiciled in Delaware.

As is consistent with all states, the Delaware General Corporation Law (“DGCL”) Section 262 providing for appraisal rights requires both petitioning stockholders and the company to comply with strict procedural requirements. Section 262 of the DGCL gives any stockholder of a Delaware corporation who (i) is the record holder of shares of stock on the date of making an appraisal rights demand, (ii) continuously holds such shares through the effective date of the merger, (iii) complies with the procedures set forth in Section 262, and (iv) has neither voted in favor of nor consented in writing to the merger, to seek an appraisal by the Court of Chancery of the fair value of their shares of stock.

Generally there are four recurring valuation techniques used in an appraisal rights proceeding: (i) the discounted cash flow (DCF) analysis; (ii) a comparable company’s analysis and review; (iii) a comparable transactions analysis and review; and (iv) the merger price itself. Merger price is usually reached through the reality of a transaction process, as opposed to the academic and subjective valuation processes used in litigation challenging such price.

In a recent line of cases, the Delaware court has upheld the merger price as the most reliable indicator of fair value where the merger price was reached after a fair and adequate process in an arm’s-length transaction. Where there is a question as to the process resulting in the final merger price, Delaware courts generally look to the DCF analysis as the next best indicator of fair value.

The Author

Laura Anthony, Esq.
Founding Partner
Legal & Compliance, LLC
Corporate, Securities and Going Public Attorneys
LAnthony@LegalAndCompliance.com

Securities attorney Laura Anthony and her experienced legal team provides ongoing corporate counsel to small and mid-size private companies, OTC and exchange traded issuers as well as private companies going public on the NASDAQ, NYSE MKT or over-the-counter market, such as the OTCQB and OTCQX. For nearly two decades Legal & Compliance, LLC has served clients providing fast, personalized, cutting-edge legal service. The firm’s reputation and relationships provide invaluable resources to clients including introductions to investment bankers, broker dealers, institutional investors and other strategic alliances. The firm’s focus includes, but is not limited to, compliance with the Securities Act of 1933 offer sale and registration requirements, including private placement transactions under Regulation D and Regulation S and PIPE Transactions as well as registration statements on Forms S-1, S-8 and S-4; compliance with the reporting requirements of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, including registration on Form 10, reporting on Forms 10-Q, 10-K and 8-K, and 14C Information and 14A Proxy Statements; Regulation A/A+ offerings; all forms of going public transactions; mergers and acquisitions including both reverse mergers and forward mergers, ; applications to and compliance with the corporate governance requirements of securities exchanges including NASDAQ and NYSE MKT; crowdfunding; corporate; and general contract and business transactions. Moreover, Ms. Anthony and her firm represents both target and acquiring companies in reverse mergers and forward mergers, including the preparation of transaction documents such as merger agreements, share exchange agreements, stock purchase agreements, asset purchase agreements and reorganization agreements. Ms. Anthony’s legal team prepares the necessary documentation and assists in completing the requirements of federal and state securities laws and SROs such as FINRA and DTC for 15c2-11 applications, corporate name changes, reverse and forward splits and changes of domicile. Ms. Anthony is also the author of SecuritiesLawBlog.com, the OTC Market’s top source for industry news, and the producer and host of LawCast.com, the securities law network. In addition to many other major metropolitan areas, the firm currently represents clients in New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, Atlanta, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., Denver, Tampa, Detroit and Dallas.

Contact Legal & Compliance LLC. Technical inquiries are always encouraged.

Follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

Download our mobile app at iTunes.

Legal & Compliance, LLC makes this general information available for educational purposes only. The information is general in nature and does not constitute legal advice. Furthermore, the use of this information, and the sending or receipt of this information, does not create or constitute an attorney-client relationship between us. Therefore, your communication with us via this information in any form will not be considered as privileged or confidential.

This information is not intended to be advertising, and Legal & Compliance, LLC does not desire to represent anyone desiring representation based upon viewing this information in a jurisdiction where this information fails to comply with all laws and ethical rules of that jurisdiction. This information may only be reproduced in its entirety (without modification) for the individual reader’s personal and/or educational use and must include this notice.

© Legal & Compliance, LLC 2016


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Responding To SEC Comments
Posted by Securities Attorney Laura Anthony | March 29, 2016 Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Background

The SEC Division of Corporation Finance (CorpFin) reviews and comments upon filings made under the Securities Act of 1933 (“Securities Act”) and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”). The purpose of a review by CorpFin is to ensure compliance with the disclosure requirements under the federal securities laws, including Regulation S-K and Regulation S-X, and to enhance such disclosures as to each particular issuer. CorpFin will also be cognizant of the anti-fraud provisions of the federal securities laws and may refer a matter to the Division of Enforcement where material concerns arise over the adequacy and accuracy of reported information or other securities law violations, including violations of the Section 5 registration requirements. CorpFin has an Office of Enforcement Liason in that regard.

CorpFin’s review and responsibilities can be described with one word: disclosure!

CorpFin selectively reviews filings, although generally all first-time filings, such as an S-1 for an initial public offering or Form 10 registration under the Exchange Act, are fully reviewed. Forms 8-K reporting a change of auditor, a material acquisition, or a change in financial statements are almost always reviewed. Moreover, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 requires that CorpFin review all public companies at least once every three years. Section 508 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act specifies certain factors that the SEC should consider when scheduling reviews, including market capitalization, financial restatements, volatility of the company’s stock price and the price/earnings ratio.

CorpFin does not publicly disclose the criteria it uses to identify companies and filings for review. Essentially, a publicly reporting company’s filings may be reviewed at any time and periodic comment letters are a standard part of being a public company.

There are three basic levels of review. A review by CorpFin can be a “full review” in which CorpFin will review a filing from cover to cover, including both legal and accounting aspects and basic form for compliance with the federal securities laws. A partial review may include either legal or accounting, but generally a partial review is related to financial statements and related disclosures, including Management Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations, and is completed by CorpFin accounting staff. A review may also be a targeted review in which CorpFin will examine the filing for one or more specific items of disclosure. Moreover, although not a designated level of review, CorpFin sometimes “monitors” a filing, which is a term used for a light review.

Reviewers are appointed files based on industry sectors. CorpFin has broken down its reviewers into the following eleven broad industry sectors: healthcare and insurance; consumer products; information technologies and services; natural resources; transportation and leisure; manufacturing and construction; financial services; real estate and commodities; beverages, apparel and mining; electronics and machinery and telecommunications. Each industry office is staffed with an assistant director and approximately 25 to 35 professionals, primarily accountants and lawyers. Each filing has more than one reviewer with a frontline contact person and supervisor. A full review file will have an accounting and legal reviewer as well as a supervisor.

Neither the SEC nor the CorpFin evaluates the merits of any transaction or makes an assessment or determination as to whether a transaction or company is appropriate for any particular investor or the marketplace as a whole. The purpose of a review is to ensure compliance with the disclosure requirements of the securities laws. In that regard, CorpFin may ask for increased risk factors and clear disclosure related to the merits or lack thereof of a particular transaction, but they do not assess or comment upon those merits beyond the disclosure.

Comment Letters and Responses

Comment letters are based on a company’s filings and other public information about the company. For instance, CorpFin will review press releases and a company’s website, management communications and speeches, and conference presentations in addition to the company’s filings with the SEC. In comment letters, CorpFin may ask that a company provide additional supplemental information to the staff (such as backup materials to justify factual information such as reference to reports, statistics, market or industry size, etc.), revise disclosure in the document, provide additional disclosure in the reviewed filing or provide additional or different disclosure in future filings. Where a change is requested in future filings, intended disclosures may be provided in the comment letter response for SEC advance approval.

A company generally responds to the particular comment letter with a responsive letter that addresses each comment and where appropriate, amended filings on the particular report(s) being commented upon. The response letter may refer to changes made in a filing in response to the comment or provide reasoning or explanations as to why a change was not made or in support of a particular disclosure. CorpFin then may issue additional comment letters either on the same question or issue, or additional questions or issues as it continues its review, and analyze the company’s responses. The company should carefully consider its responses to comments that could open the door to additional review and comments. Comments related to accounting treatment and the flow-through to MD&A can be especially tricky and open the door to further review and changes.

Each comment response should clearly present the company’s position on the pertinent issue in a way that will persuade CorpFin that it is the correct position. Comment responses should cite applicable SEC rules and guidance and accounting authority (as the comments themselves most often do). Responses should explain how the company’s approach serves to satisfy the SEC’s requirements while providing good disclosure to investors. Avoid conclusory or argumentative statements. If it is the company’s position that the technical application of the rule will place too large of a burden on the company, explain how the company is burdened and how the alternative provided by the company will provide adequate disclosure for investors. The argument that technical compliance is overly burdensome rarely succeeds with CorpFin, but at times a middle ground can be reached if the company is convincing enough in its analysis.

The comment and response process continues until the staff has resolved all comments. CorpFin may request that the reasoning behind a disclosure be added to the SEC report itself, and so the company should consider whether it wants particular language included in public filings when drafting a response letter to a comment.

Although the basic process involves letters and responses, the CorpFin staff is available to discuss comments with a company and its legal, accounting and other advisors. The process can and often does involve such conversations. CorpFin will not give legal or accounting advice, but it will talk through comments and responses and discuss the analysis and adequacy related to disclosures. The initial comment letter received from CorpFin will have the reviewer’s direct contact information. The back-and-forth process does not require a formal protocol other than the required written response letter. That is, a company or its advisors may engage in conversations regarding comments, or request the staff to reconsider certain comments prior to putting pen to paper.

Moreover, CorpFin encourages this type of conversation, especially where the company or its advisors do not understand a particular comment. The staff would rather discuss it than have the company guess and proceed in the wrong direction. Where the staff suggests that a company should revise its disclosure or its financial statements, the company may, and should as appropriate, provide the staff with a written explanation of why it provided the disclosure it did. This explanation may resolve the comment without the need for the requested amendment. A CorpFin review is not an attack and should not be approached as such. My experience with CorpFin has always been pleasant and involves a type of collaboration to improve company disclosures.

A company may also “go up the ladder,” so to speak, in its discussion with the CorpFin review staff. Such further discussions are not discouraged or seen as an adversarial attack in any way. For instance, if the company does not understand or agree with a comment, it may first talk to the reviewer. If that does not resolve the question, they may then ask to talk to the particular person who prepared the comment or directly with the legal branch chief or accounting branch chief identified in the letter. A company may even then proceed to speak directly with the assistant director, deputy director, and then even director. Matters of legal disclosure or application of GAAP accounting principles are not an exact science, and discussions are encouraged such that the end result is an enhanced disclosure by the company and consistent disclosures across different companies. The SEC provides all of these individuals contact information on its website and will willingly engage in productive conversations with a company.

When responding to comment letters and communicating with SEC staff, it is important that a person who understands the process, such as SEC counsel, take the lead in communication. Responses should be consistent, both related to a particular comment letter and over time. A company that flip-flops on accounting treatment or disclosures will lose credibility with the SEC and invoke further review and comments.

CorpFin is also willing to provide a reasonable amount of extra time to respond to comment letters when requested. Most comment letters request a response within 10 days. CorpFin is usually willing to give an extra 10 days but will balk at much longer than that without a very good reason by the company for the delay.

If the reviewed filing is a Securities Act registration statement, such as an S-1, the CorpFin staff will verbally inform the company that it has cleared comments and the company may request that the SEC declare the registration statement effective. Where the reviewed filing is an Exchange Act filing that does not need to be declared effective, CorpFin will provide the company with a letter stating that it has resolved all of its comments.

Comment letters and responses are posted on the EDGAR database by CorpFin no earlier than 20 days after it has finished the review process.

The SEC generally requires an affirmative statement from the company acknowledging that the company cannot use the SEC’s comment process as a defense in any securities-related litigation. This language is referred to as a “Tandy” letter. The Tandy portion of a response must be agreed to by the company itself, so if the response letter is on attorney letterhead, a signature line must be provided for the company or the company can submit a separate letter. The Tandy language for an Exchange Act filing is generally as follows:

The company acknowledges that:

the company is responsible for the adequacy and accuracy of the disclosure in the filing;

staff comments or changes to disclosure in response to staff comments do not foreclose the Commission from taking any action with respect to the filing; and

the company may not assert staff comments as a defense in any proceeding initiated by the Commission or any person under the federal securities laws of the United States.

Tandy language for a Securities Act registration statement is generally as follows:

The company acknowledges the following:

should the Commission or the staff, acting pursuant to delegated authority, declare the filing effective, it does not preclude the Commission from taking any action with respect to the filing;

the action of the Commission or the staff, acting pursuant to delegated authority, in declaring the filing effective does not relieve the company from its full responsibility for the adequacy and accuracy of the disclosure in the filing; and

the company may not assert staff comments and the declaration of effectiveness as a defense in any proceeding initated by the Commission or any person under the federal securities laws of the United States.

A company can stay prepared for comment letters, and responses, by making sure it has adequate internal controls and procedures for reporting. The company should also stay on top of SEC guidance on disclosure matters, which can be accomplished by ensuring that the company has experienced SEC counsel that, in turn, stays up to date on all SEC rules, regulations and guidance. Likewise, the company should retain an accountant that monitors up-to-date accounting pronouncements and guidance. The company should maintain a file with backup materials for any disclosures made, including copies of reference materials for third-party disclosure items. In responding to comments, it is helpful to review other companies’ comment response letters and disclosures on particular issues. Where the SEC has requested changes in future filings, the company and its counsel must be sure to continuously monitor to be sure those changes are included. As mentioned, the SEC reviews public information on the company, including websites and press releases and accordingly, these materials should be reviewed for consistency in SEC reports. As CorpFin is only reviewing information provided by, or publicly available related to, a company, the completion of a review is not a guarantee as to the accuracy or adequacy of the information in the filing and cannot be used as a defense to claims of fraud or misrepresentations.

Although a full discussion of confidential treatment and requests are beyond the scope of this blog, a company may seek confidential treatment of materials and responses to comments under Rule 83. Rule 83 requires the company to respond to comments with two separate letters – one containing the confidential information and the other not. Unlike confidential treatment requests under Rule 406 and 24b-2, a confidential treatment request for a comment response letter does not require that the company provide a justification for such confidential treatment. However, if a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request is submitted by a third party related to such comment letter response, the SEC will inform the company and request justification for continued confidential treatment. Confidential treatment under Rule 83 expires after 10 years unless a renewal is requested. Both Rule 83 and other confidential treatment rules require very specific transmittal procedures, and the documents must all clearly indicate that confidential treatment is requested. In a future blog I will discuss confidential treatment requests and SEC review policies.

Conclusion

The very best way to handle comments and responses is to have a competent team in place that submits high-quality SEC reports in the first place and that is able to communicate with the SEC and understand the legal disclosure and accounting requirements, including interpretative changes over time. The topic of disclosures and disclosure requirements is in the forefront these days, and changes are being reviewed and considered by the SEC (see, HERE for example). Understanding the disclosure requirements for your particular company and industry will save substantial time and effort for a public company.

For a review of basic public company disclosures, see my blog HERE. For more information regarding officer and director liability associated with signing SEC reports, see my blog HERE.

The Author

Laura Anthony, Esq.
Founding Partner
Legal & Compliance, LLC
Corporate, Securities and Going Public Attorneys
LAnthony@LegalAndCompliance.com

Securities attorney Laura Anthony and her experienced legal team provides ongoing corporate counsel to small and mid-size private companies, OTC and exchange traded issuers as well as private companies going public on the NASDAQ, NYSE MKT or over-the-counter market, such as the OTCQB and OTCQX. For nearly two decades Legal & Compliance, LLC has served clients providing fast, personalized, cutting-edge legal service. The firm’s reputation and relationships provide invaluable resources to clients including introductions to investment bankers, broker dealers, institutional investors and other strategic alliances. The firm’s focus includes, but is not limited to, compliance with the Securities Act of 1933 offer sale and registration requirements, including private placement transactions under Regulation D and Regulation S and PIPE Transactions as well as registration statements on Forms S-1, S-8 and S-4; compliance with the reporting requirements of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, including registration on Form 10, reporting on Forms 10-Q, 10-K and 8-K, and 14C Information and 14A Proxy Statements; Regulation A/A+ offerings; all forms of going public transactions; mergers and acquisitions including both reverse mergers and forward mergers, ; applications to and compliance with the corporate governance requirements of securities exchanges including NASDAQ and NYSE MKT; crowdfunding; corporate; and general contract and business transactions. Moreover, Ms. Anthony and her firm represents both target and acquiring companies in reverse mergers and forward mergers, including the preparation of transaction documents such as merger agreements, share exchange agreements, stock purchase agreements, asset purchase agreements and reorganization agreements. Ms. Anthony’s legal team prepares the necessary documentation and assists in completing the requirements of federal and state securities laws and SROs such as FINRA and DTC for 15c2-11 applications, corporate name changes, reverse and forward splits and changes of domicile. Ms. Anthony is also the author of SecuritiesLawBlog.com, the OTC Market’s top source for industry news, and the producer and host of LawCast.com, the securities law network. In addition to many other major metropolitan areas, the firm currently represents clients in New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, Atlanta, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., Denver, Tampa, Detroit and Dallas.

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OTC Markets Amends Listing Standards For The OTCQX
Posted by Securities Attorney Laura Anthony | December 30, 2015 Tags: , , , , ,

OTC Markets has unveiled changes to the quotations rule and standards for the OTCQX, which changes become effective January 1, 2016. The amended listing standards increase the quantitative criteria for listing and add additional qualitative requirements continuing to align the OTCQX with standards associated with a national stock exchange. Companies already listed on the OTCQX as of December 31, 2015 will have until January 2017 to meet the new ongoing eligibility requirements.

As part of the rule changes, OTC Markets has renamed its U.S. Designated Advisor for Disclosure (DAD) to an OTCQX Advisor. All U.S. companies that are quoted on the OTCQX must have either an attorney or an Investment Bank OTCQX Advisor. A company may appoint a new OTCQX Advisor at any time, provided that the company retains an approved OTCQX Advisor at all times.

All International companies that are quoted on the OTCQX must have either an Attorney Principal American Liaison (“PAL”) or an Investment Bank PAL ­– provided however, if the company’s OTCQX traded security is an ADR, the international company may have an ADR/PAL. All PAL’s must be approved by OTC Markets Group. A company may appoint a new PAL at any time provided they maintain a PAL at all times.

All OTCQX Advisors and PALs must be approved by OTCQX after submitting an application. Eligibility to act as an OTCQX Advisor or PAL is limited to experienced and qualified securities attorneys or qualified FINRA member investment banking firms. I am an approved OTCQX Advisor and PAL.

The primary roles of an OTCQX Advisor and PAL include (i) to provide advice and guidance to a company in meeting its OTCQX obligations; (ii) to provide professional guidance to the issuer on creating investor demand as they build long-term relationships with management; (iii) to assist companies in discerning the information that is material to the market and should be disclosed to investors; and (iv) to provide a professional review of the company’s disclosure. The OTCQX puts a great deal of onus on the OTCQX Advisor/PAL to be responsible for the company in which it sponsors, emphasizing the negative impact on the OTCQX Advisor’s reputation for sponsoring companies that are not of acceptable quality. In addition to providing advice and counsel to a company, an OTCQX Advisor/PAL is required to conduct investigations to confirm disclosures. An OTCQX Advisor/PAL must submit a Letter of Introduction and subsequent annual letters confirming their duties and the attesting to the disclosures made by the company.

Summary of Changes

The OTCQX has increased its quantitative initial and ongoing listing standards for U.S. companies including: (i) increase of initial bid price requirement from $0.10 to $0.25 for initial qualification and to $0.10 for ongoing eligibility; (ii) addition of initial minimum market capitalization requirement of $10 million; (iii) addition of continued listing minimum market capitalization requirement of $5 million; (iv) minimum of two market makers with priced quoted on OTC Markets within 90 days of joining; and (v) expands the requirement that the company remain qualified for a penny stock exemption under Rule 3a51-1 or be removed.

The OTCQX has also increased its quantitative initial and ongoing listing standards for international companies including: (i) increase of initial bid price requirement from $0.10 to $0.25 for initial qualification and to $0.10 for ongoing eligibility; (ii) addition of initial minimum market capitalization requirement of $10 million; (iii) addition of continued listing minimum market capitalization requirement of $5 million; and (iv) minimum of two market makers with priced quoted on OTC Markets within 90 days of joining.

The OTCQX has added new qualitative corporate governance requirements for U.S. issuers as well. In particular to list on OTCQX, U.S. companies will be required to (i) have a minimum of 2 independent board members; (ii) have an audit committee comprised of a majority of independent directors; and (iii) conduct an annual shareholders meeting and submit annual financial reports to shareholders at least 15 calendar days prior to such meeting.

The standards for the OTCQX U.S. and International Premier tiers have also increased. The U.S. Premier increases are meant to align such companies with the financial standards recognized by most states for issuer state blue sky exemptions. In particular U.S. Premier companies will require (i) a minimum bid price of $4 for initial qualification and $1 on an ongoing basis; (ii) a minimum market capitalization of $10 million for initial qualification and $5 million on an ongoing basis for companies with a public float of at least $15 million or a minimum market capitalization of $50 million for initial qualification and $35 million on an ongoing basis for companies with a public float of at least $1 million and $750,000 in net income as of the most recent fiscal year end; (iii) stockholders’ equity of $4 million for initial qualification and $1 million for ongoing eligibility; (iv) minimum of 4 market makers with prices quoted on OTC Markets within 90 days of joining; and (v) a minimum of 3 years’ operating history.

The International Premier standards have increased to align with the margin eligibility standards set by the Federal Reserve and SEC. In particular International Premier Companies must have: (i) a global market capitalization of $1 billion for initial qualification and $500 million for ongoing eligibility; (ii) a minimum 5 years’ operating history; (iii) average weekly share volume of 200,000 shares or $1 million for initial qualification and 100,000 shares or $500,000 for ongoing eligibility; and (iv) minimum of 4 market makers with prices quoted on OTC Markets within 90 days of joining.

The annual fee for all companies on the OTCQX has been raised to $20,000.

As part of the changes, the term “OTCQX Advisor” has replaced the current Designated Advisor for Disclosure (DAD) for U.S. companies. I am a qualified approved OTCQX Advisor.

OTCQX

The following is a complete summary of the OTCQX listing standards as they will be in effect on January 1, 2016.

The OTCQX divides its listing criteria between U.S. companies and international companies, though they are very similar. The OTCQX has two tiers of quotation for U.S. companies: (i) OTCQX U.S. Premier (also eligible to quote on a national exchange); and (ii) OTCQX U.S. and two tiers for international companies: (i) OTCQX International Premier; and (ii) OTCQX International. Quotation is available for American Depository Receipts (ADR’s) or foreign ordinary securities of companies traded on a Qualifying Foreign Stock Exchange, and an expedited application process is available for such companies.

Issuers on the OTCQX must meet specified eligibility requirements. Moreover, OTC Markets have the discretionary authority to allow quotation to substantially capitalized acquisition entities that are analogous to SPAC’s.

OTCQX – Requirements for Admission

To be eligible to be quoted on the OTCQX U.S., companies must:

Have $2 million in total assets as of the most recent annual or quarter end;

As of the most recent fiscal year end, have at least one of the following: (i) $2 million in revenues; (ii) $1 million in net tangible assets; (iii) $500,000 in net income; or (iv) $5 million in market value of publicly traded securities;

Have a market capitalization of at least $10 million on each of the 30 consecutive calendar days immediately preceding the company’s application;

Meet one of the following penny stock exemptions under Rule 3a51-1 of the Exchange Act: (i) have a bid price of $5 or more as of the close of business on each of the 30 consecutive calendar days immediately preceding the company’s application and as of the most recent fiscal year end have at least one of the following: (w) net income of $500,000; (x) net tangible assets of $1,000,000; (y) revenues of $2,000,000; or (z) total assets of $5,000,000; or (ii) have net tangible assets of $2 million if the company has been in continuous operation for at least three years, or $5,000,000 if the company has been in continuous operation for less than three years which qualification can be satisfied as of the end of a fiscal period or as a result of an interim capital raise; or (iii) have average revenue of at least $6,000,000 for the last three years;

Not be a blank check or shell company as defined by the Securities Act of 1933 (“Securities Act”);

Not be in bankruptcy or reorganization proceedings;

Be in good standing in its state of incorporation and in each state in which it conducts business;

Have a minimum of 50 beneficial shareholders owning at least one round lot (100 shares) each;

Be quoted by at least one market maker on the OTC Link;

Have a minimum bid price of $0.25 per share for its common stock as of the close of business on each of the 30 consecutive calendar days immediately preceding the company’s application for OTCQX. If (i) there has been no prior public market for the company’s securities in the U.S. and (ii) FINRA has approved a Form 211, then the company may apply to OTC Markets for an exemption from the minimum bid price requirements, which exemption is at the sole discretion of OTC Markets. In the event that the company is a Seasoned Public Issuer (i.e., has been in operation and quoted on either OTC Link, the OTCBB or an exchange for at least one year) that completed a reverse stock split within 6 months prior to applying for admission to OTCQX U.S., the company must have a minimum bid price of $0.25 per share for its common stock as of the close of business on each of the 5 consecutive trading days immediately preceding the company’s application for OTCQX, after the reverse split;

Have GAAP compliant (i) audited balance sheets as of the end of each of the two most recent fiscal years, or as of a date within 135 days if the company has been in existence for less than two fiscal years, and audited statements of income, cash flows and changes in stockholders’ equity for each of the fiscal years immediately preceding the date of each such audited balance sheet (or such shorter period as the company has been in existence), and must include all going concern disclosures including plans for mitigation; and GAAP compliant (ii) unaudited interim financial reports, including a balance sheet as of the end of the company’s most recent fiscal quarter, and income statements, statements of changes in stockholders’ equity and statements of cash flows for the interim period up to the date of such balance sheet and the comparable period of the preceding fiscal year;

Be included in a Recognized Securities Manual or be subject to the reporting requirements of the Exchange Act; and

Have an OTCQX Advisor.

To be eligible to be quoted on the OTCQX U.S. Premier, companies must:

Satisfy all of the eligibility requirements for OTCQX U.S. set forth above;

Meet one of the following: (i) Market Value Standard – have at least (a) $15 million in public float and (b) a market capitalization of at least $50 million, each as of the close of business on each of the 30 consecutive days immediately preceding the company’s application; or (ii) Net Income Standard – have at least (a) $1 million in public float; and (b) a market capitalization of at least $10 million, each as of the close of business on each of the 30 consecutive days immediately preceding the company’s application; and (c) $750,000 in net income as of the company’s most recent fiscal year end;

Have at least 500,000 publicly held shares;

Have a minimum of 50 beneficial shareholders owning at least one round lot (100 shares) each;

Have a minimum of 100 beneficial shareholders owning at least one round lot (100 shares) each;

Have a minimum bid price of $4.00 per share for its common stock as of the close of business on each of the 30 consecutive calendar days immediately preceding the company’s application for OTCQX. If (i) there has been no prior public market for the company’s securities in the U.S. and (ii) FINRA has approved a Form 211 and (iii) the bid price is equal to or greater than $1.00, then the company may apply to OTC Markets for an exemption from the 30-day minimum bid price requirements, which exemption is at the sole discretion of OTC Markets. In the event that the company is a Seasoned Public Issuer (i.e., has been in operation and quoted on either OTC Link, the OTCBB or an exchange for at least one year) that completed a reverse stock split within 6 months prior to applying for admission to OTCQX U.S., the company must have a minimum bid price of $4.00 per share for its common stock as of the close of business on each of the 5 consecutive trading days immediately preceding the company’s application for OTCQX, after the reverse split;

Have at least $4 million in stockholder’s equity;

Have a 3-year operating history; and

Conduct annual shareholders’ meetings and submit annual financial reports to its shareholders at least 15 calendar days prior to such meetings.

 To be eligible to be quoted as an OTCQX U.S. Acquisition Company, companies must: 

Satisfy all of the eligibility requirements for OTCQX U.S. set forth above;

Have a minimum bid price of $5.00 per share for its common stock as of the close of business on each of the 30 consecutive calendar days immediately preceding the company’s application for OTCQX; and

Be subject to the reporting requirements of the Exchange Act. 

Corporate Governance Requirements for all OTCQX U.S., U.S. Premier and U.S. Acquisition Companies:

Have at least 2 independent board members on the board of directors;

Have an audit committee comprised of a majority of independent directors; and

Conduct annual shareholders’ meetings and submit annual financial reports to its shareholders at least 15 calendar days prior to such meetings.

To be eligible to be quoted on the OTCQX International, companies must:

Have U.S. $2 million in total assets as of the most recent annual or quarter end;

As of the most recent fiscal year end, have at least one of the following: (i) U.S. $2 million in revenues; (ii) U.S. $1 million in net tangible assets; (iii) U.S. $500,000 in net income; or (iv) U.S. $5 million in global market capitalization;

Meet one of the following penny stock exemptions under Rule 3a51-1 of the Exchange Act: (i) have a bid price of $5 or more as of the close of business on each of the 30 consecutive calendar days immediately preceding the company’s application and as of the most recent fiscal year end have at least one of the following (w) net income of $500,000; (x) net tangible assets of $1,000,000; (y) revenues of $2,000,000 or (z) total assets of $5,000,000; or (ii) have net tangible assets of U.S. $2 million if the company has been in continuous operation for at least three years, or U.S. $5,000,000 if the company has been in continuous operation for less than three years; or (iii) have average revenue of at least U.S. $6,000,000 for the last three years;

Be quoted by at least one market maker on the OTC Link (which requires a 15c2-11 application if the company is not already quoted on a lower tier of OTC Markets);

Not be a shell company or blank check company;

Not be in bankruptcy or reorganization proceedings;

Have a minimum of 50 beneficial shareholders owning at least one round lot (100 shares) each;

Have a minimum bid price of $0.25 per share for its common stock as of the close of business on each of the 30 consecutive calendar days immediately preceding the company’s application for OTCQX. If there has been no prior public market for the company’s securities in the U.S., FINRA must have approved a Form 211 with a minimum bid price of $0.25 or greater. If the company is applying to the OTCQX immediately following a delisting from a national securities exchange, it must have a minimum bid price of at least $0.10.

Be included in a Recognized Securities Manual or be subject to the reporting requirements of the Exchange Act;

Have its securities listed on a Qualifying Foreign Stock Exchange for a minimum of the preceding 40 calendar days – provided, however, that in the event the company’s securities are listed on a non-U.S. exchange that is not a Qualified Foreign Stock Exchange, then at the company’s request and subsequent to the company providing OTC Markets Group with personal information forms for each executive officer, director, and beneficial owner of 10% or more of a class of the company’s securities and such other materials as OTC Markets Group deems necessary to make an informed determination of eligibility, OTC Markets Group may, upon its sole and absolute discretion, consider the company’s eligibility for OTCQX International;

Have a global market capitalization of at least $10 million on each of the 30 consecutive calendar days immediately preceding its application day;

Meet one of the following conditions: (i) be eligible to rely on the registration exemption found in Exchange Act Rule 12g-2(b) and be current and compliant in such requirements; or (ii) have a class of securities registered under Section 12(g) of the Exchange Act and be current in its SEC reporting requirements; or (iii) if such company is not eligible to rely on the exemption from registration provided by Exchange Act Rule 12g3-2(b) because it does not (A) meet the definition of “foreign private issuer” as that term is used in Exchange Act Rule 12g3-2(b) or (B) maintain a primary trading market in a foreign jurisdiction as set forth in Exchange Act Rule 12g3-2(b)(ii), and is not otherwise required to register under Section 12(g), be otherwise current and fully compliant with the obligations of a company relying on the exemption from registration provided by Exchange Act Rule 12g3-2(b); and

Have Principal American Liaison (PAL).

Explanation of Exchange Act Rule 12g3-2(b):

Exchange Act Rule 12g3-2(b) permits foreign private issuers to have their equity securities traded on the U.S. over-the-counter market without registration under Section 12 of the Exchange Act (and therefore without being subject to the Exchange Act reporting requirements). The rule is automatic for foreign issuers that meet its requirements. A foreign issuer may not rely on the rule if it is otherwise subject to the Exchange Act reporting requirements.

The rule provides that an issuer is not required to be subject to the Exchange Act reporting requirements if: (i) the issuer currently maintains a listing of its securities on one or more exchanges in a foreign jurisdiction which is the primary trading market for such securities; and (ii) the issuer has published, in English, on its website or through an electronic information delivery system generally available to the public in its primary trading market (such as the OTC Market Group website), information that, since the first day of its most recently completed fiscal year, it (a) has made public or been required to make public pursuant to the laws of its country of domicile; (b) has filed or been required to file with the principal stock exchange in its primary trading market and which has been made public by that exchange; and (c) has distributed or been required to distribute to its security holders.

Primary Trading Market means that at least 55 percent of the trading in the subject class of securities on a worldwide basis took place in, on or through the facilities of a securities market or markets in a single foreign jurisdiction or in no more than two foreign jurisdictions during the issuer’s most recently completed fiscal year.

In order to maintain the Rule 12g3-2(b) exemption, the issuer must continue to publish the required information on an ongoing basis and for each fiscal year.

The information required to be published electronically under paragraph (b) of this section is information that is material to an investment decision regarding the subject securities, such as information concerning: (i) Results of operations or financial condition; (ii) Changes in business; (iii) Acquisitions or dispositions of assets; (iv) The issuance, redemption or acquisition of securities; (v) Changes in management or control; (vi) The granting of options or the payment of other remuneration to directors or officers; and (vii) Transactions with directors, officers or principal security holders.

At a minimum, a foreign private issuer shall electronically publish English translations of the following documents: (i) Its annual report, including or accompanied by annual financial statements; (ii) Interim reports that include financial statements; (iii) Press releases; and (iv) All other communications and documents distributed directly to security holders of each class of securities to which the exemption relates.

To be eligible to be quoted on the OTCQX International Premier, companies must:

Satisfy all of the eligibility requirements for OTCQX International set forth above;

Have a global market capitalization of at least $1 billion on each of the 30 consecutive calendar days immediately preceding its application day; and

Have one of the following over the prior 6 months: (i) average weekly trading volume of at least 200,000 shares; or (ii) average weekly trading volume of at least $1 million.

Application to the OTCQX

All U.S. companies that are quoted on the OTCQX must submit an application and pay an application fee. The application consists of (i) the application with information related to the company; (ii) the contractual agreement with OTCQX for quotation; (iii) personal information for each executive officer, director and beneficial owner of 5% or more of the securities, except for companies already traded on a foreign exchange or moving from a recognized U.S. exchange; (iv) designation of the OTCQX Advisor; (v) appointment form for the OTCQX Advisor; and (vi) a digital company logo.

All international companies that are quoted on the OTCQX must submit an application and pay an application fee. The application consists of (i) OTCQX application for international companies; (ii) the contractual agreement with OTCQX for international companies; (ii) the OTCQX application fee; (iv) the OTCQX Agreement for international companies; (v) an application for the international company’s desired PAL if such PAL is not already pre-qualified; (vi) an appointment form for the PAL; and (vii) a copy of the company’s logo in encapsulated postscript (EPS) format.

The application is subject to review and comment by OTC Markets. OTC Markets may require additional conditions or undertakings prior to admission. Moreover, the application may be denied if, in the opinion of OTC Markets, trading would be likely to impair the reputation or integrity of OTC Markets Group or be detrimental to the interests of investors.

Initial Disclosure Obligations

A company must post its initial disclosure documents on the OTC Markets website as a precondition to acceptance of an application for quotation, and such posting must be confirmed with a letter by the company OTCQX ADVISOR/PAL.

Initial disclosure documents include: (i) SEC reports if the company is subject to the Exchange Act reporting requirements; (ii) current information in accordance with OTC Markets disclosure guidelines including financial statements; (iii) if the company is a Regulation A reporting company, it must be current in such reporting requirements; (iii) if the company was an SEC Reporting Company immediately prior to joining OTCQX and has a current 10-K on file with the SEC, or was a Regulation A Reporting Company immediately prior to joining OTCQX and has a current 1-K on file with the SEC, the company is not required to post an information statement through the OTC Markets, but subsequent to joining OTCQX must post all annual, quarterly, interim and current reports required pursuant to the Disclosure Guidelines; and (iv) for international companies not subject to the SEC reporting requirements, all information required to be made public pursuant to Exchange Act Rule 12g3-2(b) for the preceding 24 months, which information must be posted in English.

A company must supplement and update any changes to the initial disclosure within 30 days of acceptance of its application for quotation. International companies must follow initial disclosure with a PAL Letter of Introduction.

Requirements for Ongoing Qualification for Quotation on the OTCQX

The following is a summary of the ongoing responsibilities for U.S. OTCQX quoted securities:

Compliance with Rules – OTCQX quoted companies must maintain compliance with the OTCQX rules including disclosure requirements. The company’s OTCQX ADVISOR/PAL is responsible for reporting their/its potential conflicts of interest;

Compliance with Laws – OTCQX quoted companies must maintain compliance with state and federal securities laws and must cooperate with any securities regulators, including self-regulatory organizations;

Blue Sky Manual Exemption – Companies must either properly qualify for a blue sky manual exemption or be subject to and current in their Exchange Act reporting requirements;

Retention and Advice of OTCQX ADVISOR – Companies must have an OTCQX ADVISOR at all times and are required to seek the advice of such OTCQX ADVISOR as to their OTCQX obligations;

Duty to Inform OTCQX ADVISOR – As part of its duty to seek advice from its OTCQX ADVISOR, a company has an obligation to provide disclosure and information to the OTCQX ADVISOR, including “complete access to information regarding the company, including confidential and propriety information”; access to personnel; updated personal information forms; and timely responses to requests for information or documents;

Notification of Resignation or Dismissal of OTCQX ADVISOR – A company must immediately notify OTC Markets in writing of the resignation or dismissal of the OTCQX ADVISOR for any reason;

Payment of Fees – a company must pay its annual fees to OTC Markets;

Sales of Company Securities by Affiliates – Prior to transacting in the company’s securities through a broker-dealer, each officer, director or other affiliate of the company shall make its status as an affiliate of the company known to the broker-dealer;

Distribution and Publication of Proxy Statements – The company shall solicit proxies for all meetings of shareholders. If the company is a Regulation A Reporting Company, the company shall publish, on EDGAR through SEC Form 1-U, copies of all proxies, proxy statements and all other material mailed by the company to its shareholders with respect thereto, within 15 days of the mailing of such material. If the company is not an SEC Reporting Company or a Regulation A Reporting Company, the company shall publish, through the OTC Markets, copies of all proxies, proxy statements and all other material mailed by the company to its shareholders with respect thereto, within 15 days of the mailing of such material;

Redemption Requirements – All redemptions must be either by lot or pro rata and require 15 days’ notice;Changes in Form or Nature of Securities – All changes in form, nature or rights associated with securities quoted on the OTCQX require 20 days’ advance notice to OTC Markets;

Transfer Agent – Companies are required to use the services of a registered transfer agent and authorize such transfer agent to share information with OTC Markets;

Accounting Methods – Any change in accounting methods requires advance notice of such change and its impact, to OTC Markets;

Change in Auditors – All changes in auditor requires prompt notification and a letter from such auditor analogous to Form 8-K requirements;

Responding to OTC Markets Group Requests – OTCQX quoted companies are required to respond to OTC Markets comments and amend filings as necessary in response thereto;

Ongoing Disclosure Obligations – (i) Companies subject to the Exchange Act reporting requirements must remain current in such reports; (ii) Companies not subject to the Exchange Act reporting requirements must remain current with the annual, quarterly and current reporting requirements of OTC Markets, including posting annual audited financial statements prepared in accordance with GAAP and audited by a PCAOB auditor; (iii) Regulation A reporting companies shall maintain current compliance with their Regulation A reporting requirements and within 45 days of the end of the first and third fiscal quarters shall file quarterly disclosure including all information required in a semi-annual report (i.e., the company shall file quarterly and not just semi-annual reports); (iv) file a notification of late filing when necessary; (v) quickly release disclosure of material news and recent developments, whether positive or negative, through a press release on the OTC Markets website (in addition to SEC filings); (vi) an OTCQX company should also act promptly to dispel unfounded rumors which result in unusual market activity or price variations;

General requirements regarding integrity – OTCQX quoted companies are expected to act professionally and uphold the OTC Markets standards for “high quality,” and to release news and reports that are prepared factually and accurately with neither excessive puffery or conservatism; companies must not report or act in a way that could be misleading; must not inundate with non-material releases; and must not make misleading premature announcements;

Maintain Company Updated Profile – OTCQX quoted companies are required to maintain updated accurate information on their profile page and to verify same every six months;

OTCQX ADVISOR Letter – Within 120 days of each fiscal year end and after the posting of the company’s annual report, every company must submit an annual OTCQX ADVISOR letter;

To remain eligible for trading on the OTCQX U.S. tier, the company’s common stock must have a minimum bid price of $0.10 per share as of the close of business for at least one of every thirty consecutive calendar days. In the event that the minimum bid price for the company’s common stock falls below $0.10 per share at the close of business for thirty consecutive calendar days, a grace period of 180 calendar days to regain compliance shall begin, during which the minimum bid price for the company’s common stock at the close of business must be $0.10 for ten consecutive trading days;

To remain eligible for trading on the OTCQX U.S. tier, the company must maintain a market capitalization of at least $5 million for at least one of every 30 consecutive calendar days;

To remain eligible for trading on the OTCQX U.S. tier, the company must have at least 2 market makers quote the stock;

To remain eligible for trading on the OTCQX U.S. Premier tier, the company’s common stock must have a minimum bid price of $1.00 per share as of the close of business for at least one of every thirty consecutive calendar days. In the event that the minimum bid price for the company’s common stock falls below $1.00 per share at the close of business for thirty consecutive calendar days, a grace period of 180 calendar days to regain compliance shall begin, during which the minimum bid price for the company’s common stock at the close of business must be $1.00 for ten consecutive trading days. In the event that the company’s common stock does not regain compliance during the grace period, the company shall have a fast-track option to have its securities traded on the OTCQX U.S. tier.

To remain eligible for trading on the OTCQX U.S. Premier tier, the company must meet one of the following standards: (i) Market Value Standard – have at least (a) $15 million in public float and (b) a market capitalization of at least $35 million, each as of the close of business on each of the 30 consecutive days immediately preceding the company’s application; or (ii) Net Income Standard – have at least (a) $1 million in public float; and (b) a market capitalization of at least $5 million, each as of the close of business on each of the 30 consecutive days immediately preceding the company’s application; and (c) $500,000 in net income as of the company’s most recent fiscal year end;

To remain eligible for trading on the OTCQX U.S. Premier tier, the company must have at least $1 million in stockholders’ equity;

To remain eligible for trading on the OTCQX U.S. Premier tier, the company must have at least 4 market makers quoting the stock;

All U.S. companies, whether U.S. standard or U.S. Premier, must maintain corporate governance standards including independent director and audit committee requirements. A company must notify OTC Markets immediately of a disqualification and must regain compliance by its next annual shareholder meeting or one year from the date of non-compliance.

The following is a summary of the ongoing responsibilities for OTCQX International quoted securities:

Eligibility Criteria – The international company must meet the above eligibility requirements as of the end of each most recent fiscal year;

Compliance with Rules – OTCQX quoted companies must maintain compliance with the OTCQX rules, including disclosure requirements. Officers and directors of the company are responsible for compliance and are solely responsible for the content of information;

Compliance with Laws – OTCQX quoted companies must maintain compliance with applicable securities laws of their country of domicile and applicable U.S. federal and state securities laws. The company must comply with Exchange Act Rule 10b-17 and FINRA rule 6490 regarding notification and processing of corporate actions (such as name changes, splits and dividends). The company must cooperate with any securities regulators, whether in their country of domicile or in the U.S., including self-regulatory organizations;

Blue Sky Manual Exemption – Companies must either properly qualify for a blue sky manual exemption or be subject to and current in their Exchange Act reporting requirements;

Retention and Advice of PAL – Companies must have a PAL at all times and are required to seek the advice of such PAL as to their OTCQX obligations;

Notification of Resignation or Dismissal of PAL – A company must immediately notify OTC Markets in writing of the resignation or dismissal of the PAL for any reason;

Payment of Fees – A company must pay its annual fees to OTC Markets;

Responding to OTC Markets Group Requests – OTCQX quoted companies are required to respond to OTC Markets comments and amend filings as necessary in response thereto;

To remain eligible for OTCQX International, the company must maintain a minimum bid price of $0.10 as of the close of business for at least one of every 30 consecutive calendar days. In the event that the minimum bid price for the company’s common stock falls below $0.10 per share at the close of business for thirty consecutive calendar days, a grace period of 180 calendar days to regain compliance shall begin, during which the minimum bid price for the company’s common stock at the close of business must be $0.10 for ten consecutive trading days;

To remain eligible for OTCQX International, the company must maintain a market capitalization of at least $5 million for at least one of every 30 consecutive calendar days;

To remain eligible for OTCQX International, the company must maintain at least 2 market makers;

Ongoing Disclosure Obligations – (i) Companies subject to the Exchange Act reporting requirements must remain current in such reports; (ii) A company that is not an SEC Reporting Company must remain current and fully compliant in its obligations under Exchange Act Rule 12g3-2(b), if applicable, and in any event shall, on an ongoing basis, post in English through the OTC Disclosure & News Service or an Integrated Newswire, the information required to be made publicly available pursuant to Exchange Act Rule 12g3-2(b); (iii) provide a letter to its PAL at least once a year, no later than 210 days after the fiscal year end, which states that the company (y) continues to satisfy the OTCQX quotation requirements; and (z) is current and compliant in its obligations under Exchange Act Rule 12g3-2(b) and that the information required under such rule is posted, in English, on the OTC Markets website or that the company is subject to the SEC reporting requirements and is current in such reporting requirements;

PAL Letter – Within 225 days of each fiscal year end and after the posting of the company’s annual report, every company must submit an annual PAL letter; and

To remain eligible for the OTCQX International Premier, the company must have (i) a global market capitalization of at least $500 million for at least one of every 30 consecutive calendar days; (ii) of one following over the prior 6 months (a) an average weekly trading volume of at least 100,000 shares or (b) an average weekly trading dollar volume of at least $500,000; and (iii) at least 4 market makers.

Removal from OTCQX International

A company may be removed from the OTCQX if, at any time, it fails to meet the eligibility and continued quotation requirements subject to a 30-day notice and opportunity to address them. In addition, OTC Markets Group may remove the company’s securities from trading on OTCQX immediately and at any time, without notice, if OTC Markets Group, upon its sole and absolute discretion, believes the continued inclusion of the company’s securities would impair the reputation or integrity of OTC Markets Group or be detrimental to the interests of investors. In addition, OTC Markets can temporarily suspend trading on the OTCQX pending investigation or further due diligence review.

A company may voluntarily withdraw from the OTCQX with 24 hours’ notice.

Fees

Upon application for quotation on the OTCQX, companies must pay an initial non-refundable fee of $5,000. In addition, companies must pay an annual non-refundable fee of $20,000. The annual fee is based on the calendar year and is due by December 1st each year.

OTCQX Advisor (formerly known as Designated Advisors for Disclosure (“DAD”)) and Principal American Liaison (“PAL”) Requirements

As part of the rule changes, OTC Markets has renamed its U.S. Designated Advisor for Disclosure (DAD) to an OTCQX Advisor. All U.S. companies that are quoted on the OTCQX must have either an attorney or an Investment Bank OTCQX Advisor. A company may appoint a new OTCQX Advisor at any time, provided that the company retains an approved OTCQX Advisor at all times.

All International companies that are quoted on the OTCQX must have either an Attorney Principal American Liaison (“PAL”) or an Investment Bank PAL – provided however, if the company’s OTCQX traded security is an ADR, the international company may have an ADR PAL. All PAL’s must be approved by OTC Markets Group. A company may appoint a new PAL at any time provided they maintain a PAL at all times.

All OTCQX Advisors and PALs must be approved by OTCQX after submitting an application. Eligibility to act as an OTCQX Advisor or PAL is limited to experienced and qualified securities attorneys or qualified FINRA member investment banking firms. I am an approved OTCQX Advisor and PAL.

The primary roles of an OTCQX Advisor and PAL include (i) to provide advice and guidance to a company in meeting its OTCQX obligations; (ii) to provide professional guidance to the issuer on creating investor demand as they build long-term relationships with management; (iii) to assist companies in discerning the information that is material to the market and should be disclosed to investors; and (iv) to provide a professional review of the company’s disclosure. The OTCQX puts a great deal of onus on the OTCQX Advisor/PAL to be responsible for the company which it sponsors, emphasizing the negative impact on the OTCQX Advisor’s reputation for sponsoring companies that are not of acceptable quality. In addition to providing advice and counsel to a company, an OTCQX Advisor/PAL is required to conduct investigations to confirm disclosures. An OTCQX Advisor/PAL must submit a Letter of Introduction and subsequent annual letters confirming their duties and the attesting to the disclosures made by the company.

The Author

Laura Anthony, Esq.
Founding Partner
Legal & Compliance, LLC
Corporate, Securities and Going Public Attorneys
LAnthony@LegalAndCompliance.com

Securities attorney Laura Anthony and her experienced legal team provides ongoing corporate counsel to small and mid-size private companies, OTC and exchange traded issuers as well as private companies going public on the NASDAQ, NYSE MKT or over-the-counter market, such as the OTCQB and OTCQX. For nearly two decades Legal & Compliance, LLC has served clients providing fast, personalized, cutting-edge legal service. The firm’s reputation and relationships provide invaluable resources to clients including introductions to investment bankers, broker dealers, institutional investors and other strategic alliances. The firm’s focus includes, but is not limited to, compliance with the Securities Act of 1933 offer sale and registration requirements, including private placement transactions under Regulation D and Regulation S and PIPE Transactions as well as registration statements on Forms S-1, S-8 and S-4; compliance with the reporting requirements of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, including registration on Form 10, reporting on Forms 10-Q, 10-K and 8-K, and 14C Information and 14A Proxy Statements; Regulation A/A+ offerings; all forms of going public transactions; mergers and acquisitions including both reverse mergers and forward mergers, ; applications to and compliance with the corporate governance requirements of securities exchanges including NASDAQ and NYSE MKT; crowdfunding; corporate; and general contract and business transactions. Moreover, Ms. Anthony and her firm represents both target and acquiring companies in reverse mergers and forward mergers, including the preparation of transaction documents such as merger agreements, share exchange agreements, stock purchase agreements, asset purchase agreements and reorganization agreements. Ms. Anthony’s legal team prepares the necessary documentation and assists in completing the requirements of federal and state securities laws and SROs such as FINRA and DTC for 15c2-11 applications, corporate name changes, reverse and forward splits and changes of domicile. Ms. Anthony is also the author of SecuritiesLawBlog.com, the OTC Market’s top source for industry news, and the producer and host of LawCast.com, the securities law network. In addition to many other major metropolitan areas, the firm currently represents clients in New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, Atlanta, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., Denver, Tampa, Detroit and Dallas.

Contact Legal & Compliance LLC. Technical inquiries are always encouraged.

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Legal & Compliance, LLC makes this general information available for educational purposes only. The information is general in nature and does not constitute legal advice. Furthermore, the use of this information, and the sending or receipt of this information, does not create or constitute an attorney-client relationship between us. Therefore, your communication with us via this information in any form will not be considered as privileged or confidential.

This information is not intended to be advertising, and Legal & Compliance, LLC does not desire to represent anyone desiring representation based upon viewing this information in a jurisdiction where this information fails to comply with all laws and ethical rules of that jurisdiction. This information may only be reproduced in its entirety (without modification) for the individual reader’s personal and/or educational use and must include this notice.

© Legal & Compliance, LLC 2015


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FINRA Seeks to Eliminate the OTCBB and Impose Regulations on the OTC Markets
Posted by Securities Attorney Laura Anthony | March 11, 2015 Tags: , , , , , ,

On October 7, 2014, the SEC published a release instituting proceedings to determine whether to approve FINRA’s request to delete the rules related to, and the operations of, the OTC Bulletin Board quotation service.  On June 27, 2014, FINRA quietly filed a proposed rule change with the SEC seeking to adopt rules relating to the quotation requirements for OTC equity services and to delete the rules relating to the OTCBB and thus cease its operations.  Although the rule filing was published in the Federal Register, it garnered no attention in the small cap marketplace.  Only one comment letter, from OTC Market Group, Inc. (“OTC Markets”) (i.e., the entity that owns and operates the inter-dealer quotation system known by its OTC Pink, OTCQB and OTCQX quotation tiers) was submitted in response to the filing.

The OTCBB has become increasingly irrelevant in the OTC marketplace for years.  In October 2010, I wrote a blog titled “Has the OTCBB been replaced by the OTCQX and OTCQB”; at the time and up until May 16, 2013, my opinion was “yes” with one caveat.   Prior to May 16, 2013, the OTCBB was considered “an established market” but the OTCQB and OTCQX were not.  On May 16, 2013, that caveat was removed (see the blog detailing the changes Here) In particular, on May 16, 2013, the SEC updated their Compliance and Disclosure Interpretations confirming that the OTCQB and OTCQX marketplaces are now considered public marketplaces for purposes of establishing a public market price when registering securities for resale in equity line financings.

Since that time, the OTCBB has been largely irrelevant, and worse, a cause of confusion in the OTC marketplace.  The OTC market is comprised of publicly traded securities that are not listed on a national securities exchange.  The trading platforms for OTC securities are referred to as “inter-dealer quotation systems.”  Today there are two main inter-dealer quotation systems: (i) the OTC Markets comprised of OTCQX, OTCQB, and pinksheets (www.otcmarkets.com); and (ii) the FINRA owed OTCBB (www.otcbb.com).   Many small cap participants believe that the OTC marketplace is comprised of a single marketplace, and are confused by the actual existence of two such marketplaces.

The regulatory framework related to inter-dealer quotation services and OTC securities in general is widely centered on ensuring compliance with Section 17B of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (the “Exchange Act”).  Section 17B of the Exchange Act is the Securities Enforcement Remedies and Penny Stock Reform Act of 1990 (the “Penny Stock Act”).  Although a complete discussion of the Penny Stock Act is beyond the scope of this blog, the goal of the Act is to ensure the widespread dissemination of reliable and accurate quotation information on penny stocks.  Over time, the OTC Markets has become much more efficient in meeting the goals of the Penny Stock Act while at the same time, the OTCBB has become much less efficient at meeting those same goals.

As set forth in the SEC Release, “FINRA proposed to adopt rules: (1) governing the treatment of quotations in OTC equity securities by member inter-dealer quotation systems and addressing fair and non-discriminatory access to such systems; (2) requiring member inter-dealer quotation systems to provide FINRA with a written description of quotation-related data products offered and related pricing information, including fees, rebates, discounts and cross-product pricing incentives; (3) expanding the reporting requirements related to quotation information in OTC equity securities; and (4) deleting the Rule 6500 Series and related rules and thereby ceasing operation of the OTCBB.”

The FINRA rule release seeks to eliminate the OTCBB and impose governing regulations on the remaining inter-dealer quotation system—to wit, the OTC Markets comprised of the OTCQX, OTCQB, and pinksheets (www.otcmarkets.com).

Proposed Deletion of the OTCBB Related Rules and OTCBB Marketplace

FINRA is proposing to delete the FINRA Rule 6500 Series, which governs the operation of the OTCBB, and cease operation of the OTCBB. In its request, FINRA states that the level of transparency in OTC equity securities facilitated by the OTCBB has been declining significantly for years such that the amount of information widely available to investors relying on the OTCBB bid and offer data has become negligible.  FINRA further expressed its belief that “the remaining OTCBB information being disseminated to investors is so incomplete as to be potentially misleading with respect to the current pricing in these securities.”

There are approximately 10,000 OTC equity securities quoted on the OTC Markets, of which less than 10% are duly quoted on the OTC Markets and OTCBB and fewer than twelve (yes, 12) are solely quoted on the OTCBB.  Moreover, it is widely known in the industry that the technology used to facilitate quotation on the OTCBB is antiquated and unreliable such that broker-dealers are derisive of using the system.    Accordingly, FINRA notes that the discontinuance of the OTCBB will not have an impact on issuers, investors or member firms.  FINRA has also committed to take steps to ensure a smooth transition for those few issuers still using the OTCBB system, including by directly contacting these issuers and assisting with a transition to OTC Markets.

Finally, FINRA believes that the requirements related to the Penny Stock Act, and in particular widely disseminated information regarding penny stocks, better lay with the issuers, broker-dealers, and FINRA members (such as OTC Markets) rather than with FINRA itself, which is an SRO (self-regulatory organization).  In other words, FINRA does not believe it needs to own and operate an inter-dealer quotation system.  However, presumably to address the SEC concerns in this regard, if the availability of quotation information to investors significantly declines, FINRA has committed to revisit and, if necessary, file a proposed rule change to establish an SRO-operated inter-dealer quotation system (or other measure) to ensure that compliance with the Penny Stock Act is met.

In response to FINRA’s request to eliminate the OTCBB, the SEC received a single comment letter and it was from OTC Markets.  Needless to say, OTC Markets strongly supports the proposal as well as the proposed amendments to Rule 6431 discussed below.  OTC Markets welcomes the enhanced responsibility and regulations imposed upon it and FINRA’s oversight as a regulator, and it agreed with all aspects of FINRA’s proposals.  OTC Markets stated that the discontinuation of FINRA’s OTCBB, together with FINRA’s expanded oversight of OTC Markets, would help eliminate investor and issuer confusion while promoting compliance with the Penny Stock Act.

OTC Markets points out that “FINRA’s OTCBB no longer provides broker-dealers with an effective service for pricing securities, and market participants will be better served by FINRA regulating Qualifying IQSs [inter-dealer quotation services] instead of expending resources trying to operate the OTCBB.”

The Proposed Regulatory Rule Changes Related to Inter-Dealer Quotation Systems

Pursuant to Section 15A of the Exchange Act, FINRA is tasked with adopting and implementing regulations designed “to produce fair and informative quotations, to prevent fictitious or misleading quotations, and to promote orderly procedures for collecting, distributing, and publishing quotations.”  In that regard, FINRA has developed a regulatory framework including FINRA’s Rule 6400 series (Quoting and Trading in OTC Equity Securities) and Rule 5200 Series (Quotation and Trading Obligations and Practices) and the Rule 6500 series, governing the OTCBB.  FINRA also owns and operates the OTCBB.

The current regulatory framework governs the FINRA member firm’s quotation activity and not the inter-dealer quotation service itself.  That is, the current regulatory framework governs the broker-dealers/FINRA member firms’ activities in entering quotes on the inter-dealer quotation system, but does not impose rules or regulations on the inter-dealer quotation system itself.

For example, there are rules that require FINRA members to either file a Form 211 with FINRA including due diligence and disclosure on the company whose securities are being quoted, or be able to rely on another firm’s 211 filing (piggyback qualified) prior to initiating a quote; rules related to minimum bid price increments ($0.0001 for OTC equity securities priced under $1.00 and $.01 for those priced over $1.00); rules prohibiting cross-quotation; rules requiring the display of customer limit orders; and a requirement that any quoted bid or asked price represent a bona fide bid for or offer of such security (i.e., the “fictitious quotation” prohibition).

FINRA is now proposing to adopt rules that regulate the inter-dealer quotation service itself, which after elimination of the OTCBB will be comprised of the OTC Markets, including the OTCQX, OTCQB, and pinksheets.

Proposed Rule 6431 Amendment

FINRA is proposing to implement new regulations by amending Rule 6431 to require OTC Markets (or any inter-dealer quotation service) to: “(1) adopt and provide to FINRA written policies and procedures relating to the collection and dissemination of quotation information in OTC equity securities, (2) establish and provide to FINRA fair and non-discriminatory written standards for granting access to quoting and trading on its system, and (3) provide to FINRA for regulatory purposes a written description of each quotation-related data product offered by such member inter-dealer quotation system and related pricing information, including fees, rebates, discounts and cross-product pricing incentives.”

Rule 6431 (Recording of Quotation Information) was originally implemented in 2003 to provide FINRA with access to quotation information on the OTC marketplace.  When implemented, FINRA member broker-dealers had the duty to independently report to FINRA when quoting on the OTC Markets, because at the time OTC Markets was not, in and of itself, a FINRA member.  Since that time, OTC Markets has become a licensed ATS (Alternative Trading System) and FINRA member.  The proposed Rule 6431 amendment includes an adjustment such that now OTC Markets will be required to provide the quotation information and the broker-dealer will not.  In practice, OTC Markets has been submitting the information on behalf of member firms already, and the rule change will codify this practice and officially relieve the broker-dealer member firm from the obligation.

As the vast majority of securities quoted on the OTC markets are also penny stocks, the new rules will also bolster the Exchange Act requirements related to ensuring the availability and dissemination of reliable and accurate information on penny stocks.

(1)   Written policies and procedures relating to the collection and dissemination of quotation information

The amended Rule 6431 would require OTC Markets (or any inter-dealer quotation service) to establish, maintain and enforce fair and reasonable written policies and procedures relating to the collection and dissemination of quotation information in OTC equity securities.  Such policies and procedures must ensure that quotations received are treated fairly and consistently and include methods for prioritizing and displaying such quotations.  In simple terms, if an investor enters a buy or sell order with a broker, or a market maker enters such buy or sell order for their own account, there must be systems in place to ensure that that order is treated fairly vis-a-vis competing buy and sell orders on behalf of other investors through other brokerage firms and market makers.

In that regard, under amended Rule 6431, the OTC Markets will be required to address its method for ranking quotations, including factors such as price, size, time, capacity and type of quotation and any other factors used or considered in ranking and displaying quotations.  OTC Markets will also be required to provide FINRA with a copy of its written policies and procedures relating to the collection and dissemination of quotation information, and any material updates, modifications and revisions thereto, upon enactment of the Rule change and thereafter within five business days following the establishment or material change in such written policy or procedure.

(2)   Written standards for granting access to quoting and trading on its system

The amended Rule 6431 would require OTC Markets to establish “fair and non-discriminatory written standards for granting access to quoting and trading on the system that do not unreasonably prohibit or limit any person in respect to access to services offered by such inter-dealer quotation system.” In addition, OTC Markets will be required to keep records of all grants of access and denials or limitations of access, including the reasons for denying or limiting access.  OTC Markets must provide FINRA with a copy of these written standards upon enactment of the Rule change and thereafter within five business days following the establishment or material change in such written standards.

(3)   Written description of each quotation-related data product and related pricing information

The amended Rule 6431 would require OTC Markets to prepare a written description of each quotation-related product offered and related pricing information, including fees, rebates, discounts and cross-product pricing incentives—for example, the listing requirements for the OTCQB including application and annual fees (see Here); the OTC Disclosure and News Service; and the various other products and services offered by OTC Markets.  OTC Markets must provide FINRA with a copy of the written product descriptions upon enactment of the Rule change and thereafter within five business days following the establishment or material change in such products or pricing.

SEC Proceedings Related to Approval of the Proposals

The SEC has instituted proceedings to determine whether the proposed rule changes, including elimination of the OTCBB, should be approved.  The SEC is requesting comments from interested persons in support or opposition to the change.  The SEC notes that in considering the proposal, it must (i) determine whether the changes are “designed to prevent fraudulent and manipulative acts and practices, to promote just and equitable principles of trade, and, in general, to protect investors and the public interest”; (ii) the rules include provisions governing the form and content of quotations on the OTC marketplace; and (iii) whether the rules support the Penny Stock Act.

The SEC has opened a 21-day total period to submit comments and a 35-day total comment period including time for rebuttals to submitted comments.

Brief Commentary

First, like OTC Markets, I am proponent of the rule changes all around.  The discontinuation of the OTCBB is a natural and necessary progression of the reality of the marketplace.

However, neither the legal publications by FINRA or the SEC nor the comment letter from OTC Markets address some basic market realities.  That is, with the elimination of the OTCBB and the implementation of listing standards and fees associated with quotation on the OTCQB, a new regime has been established for OTC market securities.  Penny Stock issuers that are subject to the reporting requirements of the Exchange Act will no longer have the ability to achieve the turnkey credibility associated with not being a pinksheet.

Although pinksheets will now include a large class of entities that are subject to the Exchange Act reporting requirements, in order to achieve a level of credibility and prestige, such issuers will be required to meet the quotation standards and pay the fees associated with listing on the OTCQB or OTCQX.  I wonder if issuers that do not meet the standards for the OTCQB will opt to cease being subject to the Exchange Act reporting requirements in a sort of acquiescence to the new regime – i.e., if we are going to be a pinksheet anyway, why report, resulting in an overall reduced level of disclosure in the OTC marketplace.

The Author

Attorney Laura Anthony

LAnthony@LegalAndCompliance.com

Founding Partner, Legal & Compliance, LLC

Securities, Reverse Merger and Corporate Attorneys

Securities attorney Laura Anthony and her experienced legal team provides ongoing corporate counsel to small and mid-size OTC issuers as well as private companies going public on the over-the-counter market, such as the OTCBB, OTCQB and OTCQX. For nearly two decades Ms. Anthony has structured her securities law practice as the “Big Firm Alternative.” Clients receive fast, personalized, cutting-edge legal service without the inherent delays and unnecessary expenses associated with “partner-heavy” securities law firms. Ms. Anthony’s focus includes, but is not limited to, registration statements, including Forms 10, S-1, S-8 and S-4, compliance with the reporting requirements of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, including Forms 10-Q, 10-K and 8-K, 14C Information Statements and 14A Proxy Statements, going public transactions, mergers and acquisitions including both reverse mergers and forward mergers, private placements, PIPE transactions, Regulation A offerings, and crowdfunding. Moreover, Ms. Anthony represents both target and acquiring companies in reverse mergers and forward mergers, including the preparation of transaction documents such as Merger Agreements, Share Exchange Agreements, Stock Purchase Agreements, Asset Purchase Agreements and Reorganization Agreements. Ms. Anthony prepares the necessary documentation and assists in completing the requirements of federal and state securities laws and SROs such as FINRA and DTC for 15c2-11 applications, corporate name changes, reverse and forward splits and changes of domicile.

Contact Legal & Compliance LLC. Technical inquiries are always encouraged.

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© Legal & Compliance, LLC 2014

 


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  • Contact Information

    Laura Anthony, Attorney
    Legal & Compliance, LLC
    330 Clematis Street, Ste. 217
    West Palm Beach, FL 33401

    Toll Free: 1.800.341.2684
    Phone: 561.514.0936
    Fax: 561.514.0832