SEC and NASAA Statements on ICOs and More Enforcement Proceedings
Posted by Securities Attorney Laura Anthony | January 16, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The message from the SEC is very clear: participants in initial coin offerings (ICO’s) and cryptocurrencies in general need to comply with the federal securities laws or they will be the subject of enforcement proceedings. This message spreads beyond companies and entities issuing cryptocurrencies, also including securities lawyers, accountants, consultants and secondary trading platforms. Moreover, the SEC is not the only watchdog. State securities regulators and the plaintiffs’ bar are both taking aim at the crypto marketplace. Several class actions have been filed recently against companies that have completed ICO’s.

After a period of silence, on July 25, 2017, the SEC issued a Section 21(a) Report on an investigation and related activities by the DAO, with concurrent statements by both the Divisions of Corporation Finance and Enforcement. On the same day, the SEC issued an Investor Bulletin related to ICO’s. For more on the Section 21(a) Report, statements and investor bulletin, see HERE. Since that time, the SEC has engaged in a steady flow of enforcement proceedings and statements on the subject.

The DAO report centered on a traditional analysis to determine whether a token is a security and thus whether an ICO is a securities offering. In particular, the nature of a digital asset (“coin” or “token”) must be examined to determine if it meets the definition of a security using established principles, including the Howey Test. See HERE for a discussion on the Howey Test. The report also pointed out that participants in ICO’s are subject to federal securities laws to the same extent they are in other securities offerings, including broker-dealer registration requirements, and that securities exchanges providing for trading must register unless an exemption applies.

On November 1, 2017, the SEC issued a warning to the public about the improper marketing of certain ICO’s, token offerings and investments, including promotions and endorsements by celebrities. Celebrities, like any other promoter, are subject to the provisions of Section 17(b) of the Securities Act, including the requirement to disclose the nature, scope, and amount of compensation received in exchange for the promotion. For more on Section 17(b) and securities promotion in general, see HERE.

On December 11, 2017, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton issued a statement on cryptocurrencies and initial coin offerings. In that statement, Clayton drilled down on the sudden rise of “non-security” ICO’s, now being referred to as “utility tokens,” clearly conveying the message that if a token has attributes of a security, it will be governed as a security. To make the message even clearer, also on December 11, 2017, the SEC halted the ICO by Munchee, Inc., disagreeing with Munchee’s statements and conclusions that its token was a “utility token” and not a security.

This was not the first ICO halt.  On December 4, 2017, the SEC halted the ICO by PlexCorps, including outright fraud with the claims of an unregistered offering. The SEC has also taken aim at companies that are in the crypto space in general, having halting the trading of The Crypto Company on December 19, 2017 after a 2,700% stock price increase. This was not the first trading halt, either. Others include American Security Resources Corp, halted on August 24, 2017; First Bitcoin Capital, halted on August 23, 2017; CIAO Group, halted on August 9, 2017; and Sunshine Capital on June 7, 2017.

More recently, on January 5, 2018, the SEC halted the trading of UBI Blockchain Internet, Ltd. citing questions regarding the accuracy of information in SEC filings and concerns about market activity, which was the epitome of an unexplained stock surge.

On August 28, 2017, the SEC issued an investor alert warning about public companies making ICO-related claims. The alert specifically mentioned the trading suspensions and warned that ICO claims could be a sign of a pump-and-dump scheme.

On January 4, 2018, Chair Clayton issued another statement, this time joined by Commissioners Kara Stein and Michael Piwowar, commenting on the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) statement made the same day. The NASAA is a group comprised of state securities regulators, which, among other functions, acts as a communication arm for the individual state regulators on important marketplace topics.

Jay Clayton’s December 11, 2017 Statement

Jay Clayton begins his December 11, 2017 statement with an acknowledgement of the “tales of fortunes made and dreamed to be made,” which is a perfect description of ICO mania.  Keeping with the SEC theme under Clayton, he then addresses ICO considerations for Main Street investors. In addition to warning of fraud and misrepresentations, ICO’s and cryptocurrency trading is a national marketplace; invested funds may quickly move overseas. Furthermore, the SEC may not be able to gain jurisdiction or pursue bad actors or lost funds in other countries.

The fact is that as of today, no cryptocurrency offerings have been registered with the SEC.  Although Jay Clayton doesn’t talk about what registration will really mean for an ICO, I note that, since registration is the process of ferreting out disclosures, it will force an entity issuing an ICO to be clear about the usefulness of its token, if any, and the risk factors not only associated with its token, but the marketplace as a whole. My firm is currently working on registration statements as well as private offering documents for ICO’s and blockchain technology entities and the complexity of this new industry and technology, and uncertainty associated with legalities (including not only securities matters, but the implication of swap and commodity transactions, tax ramifications, intellectual property matters, etc.) is confounding to even the best and brightest.

The importance of the involvement and efforts by market professionals is not lost on the SEC.  In the beginning, many ICO’s, believing that this new investment vehicle was somehow not a security and therefore outside the parameters of the securities laws and SEC jurisdiction, forewent the advice of legal counsel and other professionals. Now that this belief has been rectified, in his statement, Jay Clayton reminds market professionals of their gatekeeping duties. Chair Clayton states, “[I] urge market professionals, including securities lawyers, accountants and consultants, to read closely the investigative report we released earlier this year (the “21(a) Report”) and review our subsequent enforcement actions.”

He continues: “[F]ollowing the issuance of the 21(a) Report, certain market professionals have attempted to highlight utility characteristics of their proposed initial coin offerings in an effort to claim that their proposed tokens or coins are not securities. Many of these assertions appear to elevate form over substance.  Merely calling a token a ‘utility’ token or structuring it to provide some utility does not prevent the token from being a security….. On this and other points where the application of expertise and judgment is expected, I believe that gatekeepers and others, including securities lawyers, accountants and consultants, need to focus on their responsibilities. I urge you to be guided by the principal motivation for our registration, offering process and disclosure requirements:  investor protection and, in particular, the protection of our Main Street investors.” The bold emphasis was from the SEC, not added by me.  The message could not be clearer.

Attorneys and other professionals are not the only groups that the SEC is taxing with gatekeeper responsibilities.  Jay Clayton adds: “[I] also caution market participants against promoting or touting the offer and sale of coins without first determining whether the securities laws apply to those actions. Selling securities generally requires a license, and experience shows that excessive touting in thinly traded and volatile markets can be an indicator of ‘scalping,’  ‘pump and dump’ and other manipulations and frauds.  Similarly, I also caution those who operate systems and platforms that effect or facilitate transactions in these products that they may be operating unregistered exchanges or broker-dealers that are in violation of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.” Again, the bold emphasis is not mine.  Although Jay Clayton does not indicate so, I am unaware of any properly licensed secondary market or exchange for the trading of cryptocurrencies at this time.  TZero is properly licensed, but not up and functioning as of the date of this blog.

Jay Clayton’s statement is not all negative. He recognizes that ICO’s can be an effective method to raise capital and fund projects. He also recognizes that not all cryptocurrencies are securities. A specific example would be an in-app game with token purchases that can only be used to reach another level. However, Clayton points out that “[B]y and large, the structures of initial coin offerings that I have seen promoted involve the offer and sale of securities and directly implicate the securities registration requirements and other investor protection provisions of our federal securities laws.”

The Division of Enforcement has been instructed to vigorously police the ICO marketplace. Finally, the SEC encourages investors to conduct thorough due diligence before making an ICO investment. In that regard, he provides a list of basic questions that should be asked and considered before making any investment.

January 4, 2018 Statements by Chair Clayton and Commissioners Kara Stein and Michael Piwowar

On January 4, 2018, Chair Clayton, Commissioners Kara Stein and Michael Piwowar issued a statement commending the North American Securities Administrators Association’s (NASAA) own statement made the same day addressing concerns with ICO’s and cryptocurrencies. The NASAA is a group comprised of state securities regulators.

The SEC’s top brass specifically point out that cryptocurrencies are not, in fact, currencies in that they are not backed or regulated by sovereign governments and seem to be focused on a method of capital raising as opposed to mediums of exchange. Reiterating its other messaging, the SEC reminds the public that offerings and their participants must comply with the state and federal securities.

NASAA Statement on Cryptocurrencies and ICO’s

NASAA begins its statement with a consistent theme to the SEC, warning Main Street investors to be cautious about investments involving cryptocurrencies. NASAA, also like the SEC, encourages potential investors to conduct due diligence and ask questions before making an ICO (or any) investment.

NASAA includes a laundry list of risks and issues with ICO’s and crypto-related investments. NASAA points out that unlike FIAT or traditional currencies, cryptocurrencies have no physical form and typically are not backed by tangible assets (though I note that this is a void that is quickly being addressed by new tokens backed by physical assets and commodities).

Furthermore, cryptocurrencies are not insured, not controlled by a central bank or other governmental authority, are subject to very little if any regulation, and cannot be easily exchanged for other commodities. Cryptocurrencies are susceptible to breaches, hacking and other cybersecurity risks, including on both the ICO issuer side and the investor side through direct breaches into a wallet or other digital storage. ICO’s are a global investment vehicle and, as such, US regulators may have no ability to recover lost funds or pursue bad actors.  Likewise, private civil proceedings could prove futile.

Moreover, the high volatility and high risk of cryptocurrency investments make them unsuitable for most investors. In both its statement and a very simple investor-directed animated video on the subject, NASAA clearly states that investors could lose all of their money in a crypto-related investment.

Regulators almost unanimously believe that cryptocurrencies involve a high risk of fraud. NASAA includes a list of obvious red flags, including guaranteed high returns, unsolicited offers, sounds too good to be true, pressure to buy immediately, and unlicensed sellers.

NASAA now lists ICO’s and cryptocurrency-related investment products as an emerging investor threat for 2018.

Further Reading on DLT/Blockchain and ICO’s

For an introduction on distributed ledger technology, including a summary of FINRA’s Report on Distributed Ledger Technology and Implication of Blockchain for the Securities Industry, see HERE.

For a discussion on the Section 21(a) Report on the DAO investigation, statements by the Divisions of Corporation Finance and Enforcement related to the investigative report and the SEC’s Investor Bulletin on ICO’s, see HERE.

For a summary of SEC Chief Accountant Wesley R. Bricker’s statements on ICO’s and accounting implications, see HERE.

For an update on state distributed ledger technology and blockchain regulations, see HERE.

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 2018

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The SEC’s 2017 Enforcement Priorities And Results
Posted by Securities Attorney Laura Anthony | January 9, 2018 Tags: , ,

No more broken windows!  In a series of speeches by various top brass at the SEC followed by the publication of the SEC Enforcement Division 2017 Report on results and priorities, the SEC has confirmed both directly and through its actions that the era of “broken windows” enforcement is over. The broken windows policy was first shepherded by Mary Jo White in 2013 and was one in which the SEC committed to pursue infractions big and small and to investigate, review and monitor all activities. The idea was that small infractions lead to bigger infractions, and the securities markets have had the reputation that minor violations are overlooked, creating a culture where laws were treated as meaningless guidelines.

Michael Piwowar has been a critic of broken windows since its inception. In a speech to the Securities Enforcement Forum in 2014, Mr. Piwowar stated, “[I]f every rule is a priority, then no rule is a priority.” He continued, “[I]f you create an environment in which regulatory compliance is the most important objective for market participants, then we will have lost sight of the underlying purpose for having regulation in the first place. Rather than enabling vital and important economic activity, we will have unnecessarily shackled it – and our country will be far worse off from the absence of such activity.”

Given the power to make a change, Commissioner Michael Piwowar and Chair Jay Clayton have signaled an adjustment in enforcement priorities throughout the year. In February 2017, then acting Chair Michael Piwowar revoked the subpoena authority from SEC staff, leaving the Division of Enforcement with the sole authority to approve a formal order of investigation and issue subpoenas. Mr. Piwowar had been a vocal critic of both the staff subpoena power and the manner in which the power was created since its inception. He has also been a vocal critic of the SEC’s investigative power, believing it has too much power and too little oversight. For more on the SEC subpoena power, Mr. Piwowar’s views, and the early stage setting for the current enforcement priorities, see HERE.

In his October 4, 2017 testimony on the SEC’s Agenda, Operations and Budget before the Committee on Financial Services, Chair Jay Clayton reiterated his commitment to rooting out bad actors and fraud, including pump-and-dump schemes, insider trading, and serious reporting and disclosure violations. Certainly, a review of published enforcement proceedings has illustrated that commitment. Mr. Clayton also laid the groundwork for more focused enforcement, stating, “I have asked the Division of Enforcement to evaluate regularly whether we are focusing appropriately on retail investor fraud and investment professional misconduct, insider trading, market manipulation, accounting fraud and cyber matters. I believe our Main Street investors would want us to focus on these areas.”

In July 2017, Chair Clayton announced a top priority and philosophy of protecting “Main Street investors,” which buzzwords are now repeated often in SEC communications, including press releases and speeches.

On October 26, 2017, Steven Peikin, co-director of the SEC Division of Enforcement, confirmed the death knell for the broken windows policy. In a speech, Mr. Peiken told conference attendees that the SEC would “have to be selective and bring a few cases to send a broader message rather than seep the entire field.” Mr. Peiken also suggested stronger communication between the Division of Enforcement and investigative targets, and an environment that fosters cooperation. In that regard, the SEC should communicate the benefits of cooperation and specifically how a company can merit cooperation credit. In that regard, the SEC will again encourage self-reporting and remediation, a prior policy that lost its wind in the 2001 Enron crisis.

Clearly, the change is driven by more than philosophy. The SEC budget has effectively been frozen, and more money needs to be spent on cybersecurity matters than ever before. See HERE. The SEC Division of Enforcement could have at least 100 fewer investigators and supervisors over the next year, as those lost to attrition will not be replaced.

Mary Jo White’s policy of forcing admissions of guilt in enforcement settlements may also have reached its pinnacle. In June 2013, the SEC announced that it would require that a settling party admit wrongdoing as part of a settlement to act as a further deterrent and bolster public accountability. In addition to reputational damage, this policy had legal evidentiary significance that could be used in civil matters, including shareholder lawsuits. For more on this, see HERE.

In his October 2017 speech, Mr. Piekin talked about the admissions policy, stating, “I think when people resolve cases with the commission [and] neither admit nor deny but agree to all the points of relief, I don’t think most people in the world say, ‘Boy, they really got away with that.’” That doesn’t mean the policy will disappear, but it may revert to its prior reiteration, where only those with related criminal cases will be asked for a guilt admission.

Division of Enforcement Annual Report on Results and Priorities

On November 15, 2017, the Division of Enforcement issued its annual report (Annual Report) on results and priorities, reiterating the mission and focus on the protection of Main Street investors. The Annual Report cites five core principles, including: (i) focus on Main Street (retail) investors, including accounting fraud, sales of unsuitable products, pursuit of unsuitable trading strategies, pump-and-dump schemes and Ponzi schemes; (ii) focus on individual accountability to maximize deterrence and prevent recidivists from continuing improper activities; (iii) keeping pace with technological changes, including all cybersecurity matters; (iv) imposing sanctions that support enforcement goals; and (v) constantly assessing the allocation of resources.

The Annual Report reiterates initiatives announced earlier this year, including the new Cyber Unit and Retail Strategy Task Force (see HERE), while confirming its commitment to long-standing enforcement goals. The top current goals include risks posed by cyber-related misconduct; issues raised by the activities of investment advisers, broker-dealers, and other registrants; financial reporting and disclosure issues involving public companies; and insider trading and market abuse.

During fiscal year ended (FYE) September 2017, the SEC brought 754 enforcement proceedings,  returned $1.07 billion to harmed investors and obtained judgment and orders for more than $3.789 billion in disgorgement and penalties. During FYE ended September 2016, the SEC brought 868 actions and obtained judgements and orders for more than $4 billion in disgorgement and penalties. For more on the 2016 report, see HERE.

Broken down by type of case, the most cases were brought related to issuer reporting violations including audit and accounting problems, followed by securities offerings, then investment advisor or investment company violations, then broker-dealer violations, followed by insider trading, then market manipulation. A number of cases were also brought for public finance abuse, FCPA violations and transfer agent issues.

Interestingly, the SEC suspended trading in 309 companies in FYE 2017, a 55% increase from 2016. Trading suspensions are generally related to market manipulation and microcap fraud, and are a very successful tool to stop these problems in their tracks. Asset freezes were pretty even in both years, with 35 court-ordered asset freezes in 2017 and 33 in 2017. Likewise, the imposition of bars and suspensions has remained a constant, with 625 in 2017 and 650 in 2016.

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 2018

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Guidance On New Exhibit Rules In SEC Filings
Posted by Securities Attorney Laura Anthony | November 14, 2017 Tags: , , , , , , ,

On March 1, 2017, the SEC passed a final rule requiring companies to include hyperlinks to exhibits in filings made with the SEC. The amendments require any company filing registration statements or reports with the SEC to include a hyperlink to all exhibits listed on the exhibit list. In addition, because ASCII cannot support hyperlinks, the amendment also requires that all exhibits be filed in HTML format.  The rule change was made to make it easier for investors and other market participants to find and access exhibits listed in current reports, but that were originally provided in previous filings. A summary of the rule can be read HERE.

The new Rule went into effect on September 1, 2017, provided however that non-accelerated filers and smaller reporting companies that submit filings in ASCII may delay compliance through September 1, 2018.

In addition to the filing of exhibits and schedules, Item 601 of Regulation S-K requires each company to include an exhibit index list that lists each exhibit included as part of the filing. The list is cumulative. For example, the company’s articles of incorporation are required to be included as an exhibit with every 10-Q and 10-K filing. Once an exhibit has been filed once, the company could historically incorporate by reference by including a footnote as to which filing the original exhibit can be found in. Unfortunately, I find that companies often will indicate that an exhibit has been previously filed, without giving a specific reference as to which filing or when, leaving an investor or reviewer to go fish. The SEC rightfully asserts that requiring companies to include hyperlinks from the exhibit index to the actual exhibits filed would allow much easier access to these filings.

The new rule requires companies to include a hyperlink to each filed exhibit on the exhibit index as required by Item 601 of Regulation S-K, for virtually all filings made with the SEC, including XBRL exhibits. An active hyperlink will now be required in all filings made under the Securities Act or Exchange Act, provided however that if the filing is a registration statement, the active hyperlinks need only be included in the version that becomes effective.

The new rule also amends Rule 102(d) of Regulation S-T and Rule 601(a)(2) of Regulation S-K to require the exhibit index to “appear before the required signatures in the registration statement or report.” Previously, an exhibit index was to “precede immediately the exhibits filed with such registration statement.” This requirement has raised a question as to whether a historical exhibit index would need to appear twice, both combined with the full cumulative list before the required signatures and before the exhibits themselves. In practice, many companies have indeed included two lists.

As learned from a blog written by the excellent CorporateCounsel.Net, a fellow practitioner has contacted the SEC, who in turn informally confirmed that it is permissible to combine the exhibit table with the exhibit index and only present one list of exhibits with hyperlinks. A separate exhibit index is not required.

Further Background on the New Exhibit Rule

On April 15, 2016, the SEC issued a 341-page concept release and request for public comment on sweeping changes to certain business and financial disclosure requirements in Regulation S-K (“S-K Concept Release”). The S-K Concept Release contained a discussion and request for comment on exhibit filing requirements. Item 601 of Regulation S-K specifies the exhibits that must be filed with registration statements and SEC reports. Item 601 requires the filing of certain material contracts, corporate documents, and other information as exhibits to registration statements and reports.

A particular area of discussion recently has been the need to file schedules to contracts. These schedules can be lengthy and lack materiality.  Likewise, a recent area of discussion has been the necessity of filing an immaterial amendment to a material exhibit. The S-K Concept Release contains a lengthy discussion on exhibits, including drilling down on specific filing requirements. Many of the exhibit filing requirements are principle-based, including, for example, quantitative thresholds for contracts. Consistent with the rest of the S-K Concept Release, the SEC discusses whether these standards should be changed to a straight materiality approach. The SEC also discusses eliminating some exhibit filing requirements altogether, such as where the information is otherwise fleshed out in financial statements or other disclosures (for example, a list of subsidiaries).

Currently companies are allowed to reference exhibits filed in prior filings as opposed to refiling the exhibit with the SEC.  The better practice has always been to include a specific reference to the filing, including the date of the filing, and where the original exhibit can be located. However, many companies do not do so, leaving the public to search through prior filings to find the listed exhibit. Moreover, as time goes by and companies switch counsel, some choose not to spend the time and funds to have new counsel update an exhibit list to include a full reference. The new rule will require them to do so. The rule amendment is limited to the presentation of the exhibit list and requires including a hyperlink to the actual filed exhibit.

Further Reading on the SEC Disclosure Effectiveness Initiative

I have been keeping an ongoing summary of the SEC ongoing Disclosure Effectiveness Initiative. The following is a recap of such initiative and proposed and actual changes.  Although the rate of changes has slowed down since the election and change in SEC control regime, I expect it to pick up again. In an upcoming blog, I will be writing about the SEC’s announced Regulatory Flex Agenda. The Agenda lists regulations the SEC expects to propose or finalize in the next 12 months. This year’s Agenda only incudes 33 rules (last year’s contained 62), at least 8 of which are related to disclosure requirements.

As discussed in this blog, on March 1, 2017, the SEC passed final rule amendments to Item 601 of Regulation S-K to require hyperlinks to exhibits in filings made with the SEC. The amendments require any company filing registration statements or reports with the SEC to include a hyperlink to all exhibits listed on the exhibit list. In addition, because ASCII cannot support hyperlinks, the amendment also requires that all exhibits be filed in HTML format.

On August 25, 2016, the SEC requested public comment on possible changes to the disclosure requirements in Subpart 400 of Regulation S-K.  Subpart 400 encompasses disclosures related to management, certain security holders and corporate governance.  See my blog on the request for comment HERE.

On July 13, 2016, the SEC issued a proposed rule change on Regulation S-K and Regulation S-X to amend disclosures that are redundant, duplicative, overlapping, outdated or superseded (S-K and S-X Amendments). See my blog on the proposed rule change HERE. This proposal is slated for action in this year’s SEC regulatory agenda.

That proposed rule change and request for comments followed the concept release and request for public comment on sweeping changes to certain business and financial disclosure requirements issued on April 15, 2016. See my two-part blog on the S-K Concept Release HERE and HERE.

As part of the same initiative, on June 27, 2016, the SEC issued proposed amendments to the definition of “Small Reporting Company” (see my blog HERE). The SEC also previously issued a release related to disclosure requirements for entities other than the reporting company itself, including subsidiaries, acquired businesses, issuers of guaranteed securities and affiliates. See my blog HERE. Both of these items are slated for action in this year’s SEC regulatory agenda.

As part of the ongoing Disclosure Effectiveness Initiative, in September 2015 the SEC Advisory Committee on Small and Emerging Companies met and finalized its recommendation to the SEC regarding changes to the disclosure requirements for smaller publicly traded companies. For more information on that topic and for a discussion of the Reporting Requirements in general, see my blog HERE.

In March 2015 the American Bar Association submitted its second comment letter to the SEC making recommendations for changes to Regulation S-K.  For more information on that topic, see my blog HERE.

In early December 2015 the FAST Act was passed into law. The FAST Act requires the SEC to adopt or amend rules to: (i) allow issuers to include a summary page to Form 10-K; and (ii) scale or eliminate duplicative, antiquated or unnecessary requirements for emerging-growth companies, accelerated filers, smaller reporting companies and other smaller issuers in Regulation S-K. The current Regulation S-K and S-X Amendments are part of this initiative. In addition, the SEC is required to conduct a study within one year on all Regulation S-K disclosure requirements to determine how best to amend and modernize the rules to reduce costs and burdens while still providing all material information. See my blog HERE. These items are all included in this year’s SEC regulatory agenda.

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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SEC Monitors Impact of Hurricanes On Capital Markets
Posted by Securities Attorney Laura Anthony | September 19, 2017 Tags: , , ,

As I wrote this blog I continued to have no power at my home after one week, though thankfully it has returned by publication date. Living in South Florida, our firm has felt and seen the devastating impact of Hurricane Irma on the state and send our thoughts and wishes to all affected by both Irma and Hurricane Harvey in Texas.

On September 13, 2017, the SEC issued a press release confirming that it is closely monitoring the effects of both Irma and Harvey on the capital markets. In particular, the SEC is working to make sure that investors have access to their securities accounts and evaluating the need for extending filing deadlines for reporting companies. Furthermore, the SEC is watching for and will keep investors updated via alerts on storm-related scams.

Despite the announcement that the SEC is monitoring the markets and considering extending filing deadlines, no specific broad-based relief has been granted. As has been done historically, I believe the SEC will grant filing deadline extensions to those companies that request such relief and demonstrate they are in an affected area and that the specific report cannot be completed in a timely manner without undue hardship.

Companies seeking an extension for a filing should contact the SEC Division of Corporation Finance at 202-551-3500 or via online submission at www.sec.gov/forms/corp_fin_interpretive.

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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SEC Announces Regulatory Agenda
Posted by Securities Attorney Laura Anthony | September 12, 2017 Tags: , , , ,

In July 2017 the SEC posted its latest version of its semi-annual regulatory agenda and plans for rulemaking with the U.S. Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. The agenda is as interesting for what’s on it, as for what isn’t. The semi-annual list only contains 33 legislative action items that the SEC intends to propose or finalize in the next 12 months. The fall 2016 list contained 62 items. As further discussed in this blog, the list does not include proposals on executive compensation, or many other Dodd-Frank mandated rules.

In the preamble to the list it indicates that it was completed in March, when Michael Piwowar was acting Chair of the SEC. Chair Jay Clayton and now Commissioner Michael Piwowar have been publicly like-minded, with a goal of directing the SEC towards assisting in small and emerging business growth and capital raise activities, while remaining tough on fraud. A summary of Chair Clayton’s first public speech as head of the SEC can be read HERE and a summary of Commissioner Piwowar’s words on the U.S. IPO market can be read HERE.

The Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions

The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which is an executive office of the President, publishes a Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions (“Agenda”) with actions that 60 departments, administrative agencies and commissions plan to issue in the near and long term. The Agenda is published twice a year, though the fall edition contains statements of regulatory priorities and additional information about the most significant regulatory activities planned for the coming year.

The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs states that the current Agenda “represents the beginning of fundamental regulatory reform and a reorientation toward reducing unnecessary regulatory burden on the American people.” Furthermore, the Office states, “[B]y amending and eliminating regulations that are ineffective, duplicative, and obsolete, the Administration can promote economic growth and innovation and protect individual liberty.”

Executive Orders 13771 and 13777 require agencies to reduce unnecessary regulatory burden and to enforce regulatory reform initiatives.  Each agency was requested to carefully consider the costs and benefits of each regulatory or deregulatory action and to prioritize to maximize the net benefits of any regulatory action. The SEC is not the only agency with a reduced Agenda. In total, agencies withdrew 469 actions that were initially proposed in the fall 2016 Agenda. Agencies moved 391 actions to either long-term or inactive. There are only 58 proposed economically significant regulations, about half from last year. Also, adding transparency for those of us who like to stay up on these matters, for the first time, the agencies will post and make public their list of “inactive” rules.

SEC Flex Regulatory Agenda

As mentioned, in the preamble to the list it indicates that it was completed in March, when Michael Piwowar was acting Chair of the SEC, and reflects his priorities. The preamble to the newest agenda is short. The fall 2017 agenda will reflect the priorities of Chair Jay Clayton and contains more information, including “The Regulatory Plan” of the SEC with a statement of regulatory priorities for the coming year.

The newest agenda is in line with the SEC’s new leader’s promise of support to small and emerging companies. It is also in line with the current administration’s lack of support for Dodd-Frank. The list does not include proposed regulatory actions related to pay for performance (see HERE), executive compensation clawback (see HERE), hedging (see HERE), universal proxies (see HERE), and clawbacks of incentive compensation at financial institutions, although many of these items remain on the “long-term actions” schedule.

The SEC rulemaking agenda may not include further rulemaking on many Dodd-Frank rules, but it also does not include specific rulemaking to repeal existing regulations, such as the pay ratio disclosure rules which were adopted in August 2015 and initially applies to companies for their first fiscal year beginning on or after January 1, 2017. See HERE for more information on this rule. The pay ratio rules do not apply to emerging-growth companies, smaller reporting companies, foreign private issuers, U.S-Canadian Multijurisdictional Disclosure System filers, and registered investment companies. All other reporting companies are subject to the new rules. In October 2016 the SEC published five new compliance and disclosure interpretations (C&DI’s) on certain aspects of the final rules. The C&DI’s covered two main topics: (i) the use of a consistently applied compensation measure in identifying a company’s median employee; and (ii) the application of the term “employee” to furloughed employees and independent contractors or “leased” workers.

Interesting items in the final rule stage include disclosure update and simplification (again see summary at end of this blog), simplification of disclosure requirements for emerging-growth companies and forward incorporation by reference on Form S-1 for smaller reporting companies (see HERE), Form 10-K summary, amendments to smaller reporting company definition (see HERE), and regulation of NMS Stock Alternative Trading Systems.

Items of interest in the proposed rule stage include amendments to the interactive data (XBRL) program, amendments to financial disclosures about entities other than the registrant (see HERE), business and financial disclosure required by Regulation S-K (see end of this blog for the most recent summary on Regulation S-K changes), reporting on proxy votes on executive compensation (i.e., say-on-pay – see  HERE), transfer agents (see HERE), implementation of FAST Act report recommendations (see HERE), and concept release on possible audit committee disclosures.

Also interesting is the many items that appeared on the proposed rule list in fall 2016 that have now been moved to “long-term actions.”  Items moved from proposed to long-term include registration of security-based swaps, universal proxy, corporate board diversity, investment company advertising, personalized investment advice standard of conduct, stress testing for large asset managers, prohibitions of conflicts of interest relating to certain securitizations, commission guidance on definitions of mortgage-related security and small-business-related security, standards for covered clearing agencies, and risk mitigation techniques.

Other items on the long-term action list include pay versus performance, amendments to Regulation D, Form D and Rule 156, hedging disclosures, several securities-based swaps regulatory actions, exchange traded products, and disclosures of payments by resource extraction issuers.

Further Reading on the SEC Disclosure Effectiveness Initiative

I have been keeping an ongoing summary of the SEC’s ongoing Disclosure Effectiveness Initiative. The following is a recap of such initiative and proposed and actual changes. Although the rate of changes has slowed down since the election and change in SEC control regime, I expect it to pick up again. In an upcoming blog, I will be writing about the SEC’s announced Regulatory Flexibility Agenda. The Agenda lists regulations the SEC expects to propose or finalize in the next 12 months. This year’s Agenda only incudes 33 rules (last year’s contained 62), at least 8 of which are related to disclosure requirements.

On March 1, 2017, the SEC passed final rule amendments to Item 601 of Regulation S-K to require hyperlinks to exhibits in filings made with the SEC. The amendments require any company filing registration statements or reports with the SEC to include a hyperlink to all exhibits listed on the exhibit list.  In addition, because ASCII cannot support hyperlinks, the amendment also requires that all exhibits be filed in HTML format. See my blog HERE on the Item 601 rule changes.

On August 25, 2016, the SEC requested public comment on possible changes to the disclosure requirements in Subpart 400 of Regulation S-K.  Subpart 400 encompasses disclosures related to management, certain security holders and corporate governance. See my blog on the request for comment HERE.

On July 13, 2016, the SEC issued a proposed rule change on Regulation S-K and Regulation S-X to amend disclosures that are redundant, duplicative, overlapping, outdated or superseded (S-K and S-X Amendments). See my blog on the proposed rule change HERE. This proposal is slated for action in this year’s SEC regulatory agenda.

That proposed rule change and request for comments followed the concept release and request for public comment on sweeping changes to certain business and financial disclosure requirements issued on April 15, 2016. See my two-part blog on the S-K Concept Release HERE and HERE.

As part of the same initiative, on June 27, 2016, the SEC issued proposed amendments to the definition of “Small Reporting Company” (see my blog HERE). The SEC also previously issued a release related to disclosure requirements for entities other than the reporting company itself, including subsidiaries, acquired businesses, issuers of guaranteed securities and affiliates. See my blog HERE. Both of these items are slated for action in this year’s SEC regulatory agenda.

As part of the ongoing Disclosure Effectiveness Initiative, in September 2015 the SEC Advisory Committee on Small and Emerging Companies met and finalized its recommendation to the SEC regarding changes to the disclosure requirements for smaller publicly traded companies. For more information on that topic and for a discussion of the Reporting Requirements in general, see my blog HERE.

In March 2015 the American Bar Association submitted its second comment letter to the SEC making recommendations for changes to Regulation S-K. For more information on that topic, see my blog HERE.

In early December 2015 the FAST Act was passed into law. The FAST Act requires the SEC to adopt or amend rules to: (i) allow issuers to include a summary page to Form 10-K; and (ii) scale or eliminate duplicative, antiquated or unnecessary requirements for emerging-growth companies, accelerated filers, smaller reporting companies and other smaller issuers in Regulation S-K. The current Regulation S-K and S-X Amendments are part of this initiative. In addition, the SEC is required to conduct a study within one year on all Regulation S-K disclosure requirements to determine how best to amend and modernize the rules to reduce costs and burdens while still providing all material information. See my blog HERE . These items are all included in this year’s SEC regulatory agenda.

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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SEC Issues Report on Initial Coin Offerings (ICO’s)
Posted by Securities Attorney Laura Anthony | August 15, 2017 Tags: , , , ,

On July 25, 2017, the SEC issued a report on an investigation related to an initial coin offering (ICO) by the DAO and statements by the Divisions of Corporation Finance and Enforcement related to the investigative report (the “Report”). On the same day, the SEC issued an Investor Bulletin related to ICO’s. Offers and sales of digital coins, cryptocurrencies or tokens using distributed ledger technology (DLT) or blockchain have become widely known as ICO’s. For an introduction on DLT and blockchain, see HERE.

The basis of the report is that offers and sales of digital assets, including cryptocurrencies, are subject to the federal (and state) securities laws. From the highest level, the nature of a digital asset must be examined to determine if it meets the definition of a security using established principles (see HERE). In addition, all offers and sales of securities must either be registered with the SEC or there must be an available exemption from such registration. This statement applies to cryptocurrency securities in the same manner it applies to all other securities. In addition, participants in ICO’s are subject to federal securities laws to the same extent they are in other securities offerings, including broker-dealer registration requirements. Securities exchanges providing for trading must register unless an exemption applies.

Despite the SEC findings, it declined to pursue an enforcement action but rather used the opportunity to inform the public on its views and, in particular, that “the federal securities laws apply to those who offer and sell securities in the United States, regardless whether the issuing entity is a traditional company or a decentralized autonomous organization, regardless whether those securities are purchased using U.S. dollars or virtual currencies, and regardless whether they are distributed in certificated form or through distributed ledger technology.”

In the press release announcing the investigative findings, SEC Chair Jay Clayton stated, “[T]he SEC is studying the effects of distributed ledger and other innovative technologies and encourages market participants to engage with us. We seek to foster innovative and beneficial ways to raise capital, while ensuring – first and foremost – that investors and our markets are protected.”

This is not the first time the SEC has addressed registration and exemption requirements associated with cryptocurrencies. There have been several other cases. For example, in December 2014 the SEC settled charges against BTC Virtual Stock Exchange and LTC Global Virtual Stock Exchange related to violations of both the broker-dealer registration requirements and the securities offer and sale registration requirements. For more information on that case, see HERE.

This blog will summarize the SEC Report of Investigation, statements by the Divisions of Corporation Finance and Enforcement and the Investor Bulletin on Initial Coin Offerings.

SEC Report of Investigation on an ICO

On July 25, 2017, the SEC issued its Report on an investigation into an ICO and related activities by the DAO, an unincorporated entity, Slock.it UG (“Slock.it”), a German corporation, and various principals and participants. As mentioned earlier, although the report provides a platform for which the SEC can educate the marketplace, it did not pursue enforcement actions against the targets of the investigation.

The “DAO” stands for a decentralized autonomous organization, or a virtual network embodied in computer code on a on a DLT or blockchain. The DAO was created by Slock.it to sell tokens to investors, which proceeds would be used to fund for-profit projects. The token holders would share in the profits and, as such, had an expectation of a return on investment. The DAO tokens were also transferable and available for secondary trading on different web-based platforms.  After the ICO, but before projects were funded, the DAO was hacked and approximately one-third of its assets stolen. Fortunately the DAO was able to come up with a plan that caused the return of ETGH raised from the DAO back to their original Ethereum address and thus return investments to the original investors.

The SEC opened an investigation as to whether the offer and sale of the DAO Tokens invoked federal securities laws, whether the DAO Tokens were securities and whether the platforms for the secondary trading of the Tokens required registration as a securities exchange.  The answer to each of these questions, under the facts and circumstances presented, was in the affirmative. Since the DAO had not yet commenced operations, the SEC did not review whether the DAO was acting as an “investment company” under the Investment Company Act of 1940, but noted that had they begun operations, such an analysis would have been appropriate.

The Report begins with the conclusion.  Whether or not a particular transaction involves the offer and sale of a security depends on an analysis of the facts and circumstances, regardless of terminology or technology used or employed. All persons or entities that use a Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO Entity), DLT or other blockchain-based technology as a means to raise capital in the U.S. are subject to the U.S. federal securities laws. All securities offered and sold in the U.S. must be registered or must qualify for an exemption from registration. Moreover, any entities or platforms that allow for the secondary trading of securities must either be registered as a national securities exchange or operate pursuant to a registration exemption. The automation of functions, computer code, smart contracts, and decentralization does not change the obligations under the federal securities laws.

Background and Facts

In a one-month period from April 30, 2016, through May 28, 2016, the DAO offered and sold 1.15 billion DAO Tokens in exchange for 12 million Ether (“ETH”) valued at approximately $150 million USD. ETH is a virtual currency. The Financial Action Task Force defines a “virtual currency” as:

a digital representation of value that can be digitally traded and functions as: (1) a medium of exchange; and/or (2) a unit of account; and/or (3) a store of value, but does not have legal tender status (i.e., when tendered to a creditor, is a valid and legal offer of payment) in any jurisdiction. It is not issued or guaranteed by any jurisdiction, and fulfils the above functions only by agreement within the community of users of the virtual currency. Virtual currency is distinguished from fiat currency (a.k.a. “real currency,” “real money,” or “national currency”), which is the coin and paper money of a country that is designated as its legal tender; circulates; and is customarily used and accepted as a medium of exchange in the issuing country. It is distinct from e-money, which is a digital representation of fiat currency used to electronically transfer value denominated in fiat currency.

The DAO itself was created by the founders of Slock.it as a type of alternative corporation with all corporate functions and governance automated using blockchain and smart contracts. The DAO was the “first generation” of its kind. Participants sent in ETH in exchange for DAO Tokens. DAO Token holders could vote on projects to be used with the DAO assets (ETH, which could be exchanged for fiat currency and other physical or digital assets) and participate in rewards such as profit distributions and dividends. The entire DAO was intended to be autonomous such that project proposals were in the form of smart contracts and voting administered by computer code. The DAO code was launched on the Ethereum blockchain.

The DAO promoted itself through a website which described its purpose (“[T]o blaze a new path in business for the betterment of its members, existing simultaneously nowhere and everywhere and operating solely with the steadfast iron will of unstoppable code”), how it operated, its source code, and a link to buy the DAO Tokens. The DAO was also promoted through media attention and numerous social media channels.

Anyone was eligible to purchase DAO Tokens as long as they paid in ETH and there were no limitations on the number of DAO Tokens offered for sale or the number that could be purchased by any purchaser. There were no parameters set on the accreditation or sophistication level of a purchaser. Anyone with ETH and an ETH blockchain address could participate. All ETH from DAO Token sales were aggregated in the DAO’s Ethereum blockchain address.

Only DAO Token holders could submit proposed projects in which the DAO might participate, and each proposal would have to involve a smart contract and comply with the preset DAO Token holders voting code. Projects would be approved by a majority vote of DAO Token holders. Before being submitted for a vote, projects were to be reviewed by human curators. Although beyond the scope of this blog, there appeared to be many issues with the system, including the programming for voting.

The DAO Tokens were unrestricted and there were several platforms that allowed for the immediate secondary trading of the DAO Tokens.  The secondary market trading platforms were registered with the Federal Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) as Money Services Businesses. For more on FinCEN, see HERE. The DAO Tokens were in fact actively traded on various platforms.

SEC Regulatory Analysis

Section 5 of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended (“Securities Act”) requires the registration of all offers and sales of securities unless there is an available exemption. The registration provisions are based on “full and fair disclosure” of all material information for an investor to make an informed investment decision, including detailed information about the issuer’s financial condition, identity and background of management and the price and amount of securities to be offered.

Section 5 of the Securities Act, like many provisions in the securities laws, is written in the inclusive, such that all offers and sales are covered unless an exemption is available pursuant to statute or case law. Section 5 states that “unless a registration statement is in effect as to a security, it is unlawful for any person, directly or indirectly, to engage in the offer or sale of securities in interstate commerce.” A violation of Section 5 does not require intent.

The SEC begins its analysis of the DAO Tokens by reference to the definitions of a security found in both Section 2(a)(1) of the Securities Act and Section 3(a)(10) of the Securities Exchange Act. Both definitions include the term “investment contract,” which has been famously defined by the U.S. Supreme Court as an investment of money in a common enterprise with a reasonable expectation of profits to be derived from the entrepreneurial or managerial efforts of others. For an in-depth discussion on the definition of a security in SEC v. W. J. Howey Co., 328 U.S. 293 (1946) (the “Howey Test”), see HERE.

Under the Howey Test, whether an investment instrument is a security requires a substance-over-form analysis. The Howey Test defines an investment contract as follows:

“… an investment contract for purposes of the Securities Act means a contract, transaction or scheme whereby a person invests his money in a common enterprise and is led to expect profits solely from the efforts of the promoter or a third party…. Such a definition… permits the fulfillment of the statutory purpose of compelling full and fair disclosure relative to the issuance of the many types of instruments that in our commercial world fall within the ordinary concept of a security…. It embodies a flexible rather than a static principle, one that is capable of adaptation to meet the countless and variable schemes devised by those who seek the use of the money of others on the promise of profits.”

Applying the Howey Test, courts have interpreted a security to include such diverse items as citrus groves, warehouse receipts, chinchillas, minks, diamonds, bullion, pay phones, real estate and equipment, and condominium units, when they were offered or sold under circumstances involving the investment of money and an expectation of a return through the efforts of others.

Applying the Howey Test to the DAO Tokens, the SEC notes that “money” need not include cash, but rather can be anything of value. A contribution of ETH is an investment as considered by the Howey Test. Investors in the DAO were investing in a common enterprise with the expectation of profits, including dividends and increased value. The SEC also found that the profits were to be derived from the efforts of others, including Slock.it, its founders and the DAO curators.

In its analysis of whether the DAO was a security, the SEC spent the most discussion on the “from the efforts of others” factor. Presumably this is because the DAO was established as an autonomous organization with participants voting on all projects. However, the Slock.it team, through its curators, and management of the DAO website and participation in online forums, “led investors to believe that they could be relied on to provide the significant managerial efforts required to make the DAO a success.” Moreover, in fact, the curators and Slock.it team did exercise significant control over proposals and operations of the DAO and were responsible for stopping the hacking attack and coming up with a plan to rectify the situation.

The SEC also noted that the DAO Token holders voting rights were limited. The DAO Token holders could only vote within the rules (code) established by the Slock.it management team. The SEC points to case law related to multi-level marketing schemes which were securities despite the labor put forth by the investors because the promoter dictated the terms and controlled the scheme itself. The SEC stated that “[T]he voting rights afforded DAO Token holders did not provide them with meaningful control over the enterprise, because (1) DAO Token holders’ ability to vote for contracts was a largely perfunctory one; and (2) DAO Token holders were widely dispersed and limited in their ability to communicate with one another.” Furthermore, the SEC questioned the level of disclosure on projects, believing that such disclosure was not “full and fair” such as to allow an informed investment decision.

Upon concluding that the DAO Tokens were securities, the SEC also concluded that the DAO needed to register their issuance, or satisfy a registration exemption, regardless of whether the DAO was incorporated or an unincorporated organization. Issuers, like securities, are broadly defined to include any sponsor or organization that is primarily responsible for the success or failure of the venture. Participants in an offering are also subject to Section 5 obligations and liability. Accordingly, this included the Slock.it founders and principals.

The secondary trading platforms also required registration, or the availability of an exemption, under the federal securities laws. Section 5 of the Exchange Act makes it unlawful for any broker, dealer or exchange to directly or indirectly affect any transaction in a security or report such transaction unless the exchange is registered as a national exchange or exempted from such registration. Section 3(a)(1) of the Exchange Act defines an “exchange” as “any organization, association, or group of persons, whether incorporated or unincorporated, which constitutes, maintains, or provides a market place or facilities for bringing together purchasers and sellers of securities or for otherwise performing with respect to securities the functions commonly performed by a stock exchange as that term is generally understood …”

The functions of a stock exchange generally include: (i) bringing together orders for securities of multiple buyers and sellers; and (ii) using established, non-discretionary methods under which such orders interact with each other, and the buyers and sellers entering such orders agree to the terms of the trade. A frequent exemption to the definition of an exchange is an Alternative Trading System (ATS) that complies with Regulation ATS. Regulation ATS requires, among others, registration as a broker-dealer. The OTC Markets is an ATS, as is t0 Technologies. The platforms that traded the DAO Tokens fit within the definition of an exchange and did not satisfy any available registration exemptions.

Statement by the Divisions of Corporation Finance and Enforcement on the Report of Investigation on the DAO

On the same day that the SEC issued its investigative Report, the Divisions of Corporation Finance and Enforcement issued a statement on the Report. Off the top I notice that the SEC, under Chair Jay Clayton, Commissioner Michael Piwowar and the numerous new executive members, has a decidedly more positive attitude towards business and capital raising overall, than the prior regime. I also notice, through review of enforcement proceedings, that the new regime has not been deterred at all from its mission to detect and prosecute fraud, including micro-cap and penny-stock-related schemes.

To begin its statement, the Divisions noted that DLT, blockchain and other emerging technologies have the potential to influence and improve capital markets and the financial services industry. The Divisions “welcome and encourage the appropriate use of technology to facilitate capital formation and provide investors with new investment opportunities,” and are “hopeful that innovation in this area will facilitate fair and efficient capital raisings for small businesses.” However, new technologies also offer new opportunities for misconduct and abuse.

The Divisions reiterate the SEC Report’s assertion that an offer and sale of securities must comply with the federal securities laws and that determining whether a particular investment opportunity involves a security involves a facts and circumstances analysis, including economic realities and underlying structure, regardless of the terminology or technology used.

Noting that the SEC Report had found that the DAO Tokens were securities, the Divisions caution sponsors and other participants in offerings of digital or other novel forms of value to consider whether they involve a security and thus their obligations under the federal securities laws, including registration or meeting the qualifications for a registration exemption. Market participants that operate a web or other platform that facilitates transactions in securities must also consider whether they need to be registered as a broker-dealer or an exchange, or if there is an available exemption.

Although the Divisions statement does not mention it, keeping in line with the fundamental view that basic securities laws apply, a web platform that meets the criteria set out in Section 4(b) of the Securities Act, as created by the JOBS Act, should qualify for a broker-dealer exemption when hosting digital coin or token offerings. See HERE for details on this exemption.

Furthermore, the Divisions caution that sponsors and other market participants should consider whether their business model results in an entity that needs to be registered as an investment company and whether anyone providing advice about an investment in the security could be an investment advisor.

The Divisions also caution against bad actors and fraud, again using the same principles and tenets that have always applied to economies.  Investors should watch for red flags, including deals that sound too good to be true, promises of high returns with little or no risk, high-pressure sales tactics, and working with unregistered or unlicensed persons.

A fundamental message that I always try to deliver is that anyone engaging in any activity that could invoke the securities laws, should consult with competent securities counsel. The Divisions statement relays the same message, and in particular, that “market participants who are employing new technologies to form investment vehicles or distribute investment opportunities to consult with securities counsel to aid in their analysis of these issues.” The SEC staff also encourages direct communication with the SEC and has set up an email address for communications related to these matters.

Investor Bulletin on Initial Coin Offerings

In addition to its Report and statement of the Divisions of Corporation Finance and Enforcement, on July 25, 2017, the SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy issued an Investor Bulletin on Initial Coin Offerings (ICO’s). The Investor Bulletin is written in a simple format and helps to inform the public on the basics of ICO’s.

As noted throughout this blog, virtual coins or tokens are created using DLT or blockchain and can be sold in exchange for other virtual coins (such as Bitcoin or Ethereum) or for fiat currency such as U.S. dollars. Generally tokens sold entitle the purchaser to some return on investment or participation in a project and also may be resold or traded on secondary markets, such as virtual currency exchanges. The Investor Bulletin informs the public that these virtual coin or token offerings can invoke the federal securities laws.

The Investor Bulletin provides some basic information on blockchain and virtual currencies. In particular, taken from the Investor Bulletin:

What is a blockchain?

A blockchain is an electronic distributed ledger or list of entries – much like a stock ledger – that is maintained by various participants in a network of computers. Blockchains use cryptography to process and verify transactions on the ledger, providing comfort to users and potential users of the blockchain that entries are secure. Some examples of blockchain are the Bitcoin and Ethereum blockchains, which are used to create and track transactions in Bitcoin and Ether, respectively.

What is a virtual currency or virtual token or coin?

A virtual currency is a digital representation of value that can be digitally traded and functions as a medium of exchange, unit of account, or store of value.  Virtual tokens or coins may represent other rights, as well. Accordingly, in certain cases, the tokens or coins will be securities and may not be lawfully sold without registration with the SEC or pursuant to an exemption from registration.

What is a virtual currency exchange?

A virtual currency exchange is a person or entity that exchanges virtual currency for fiat currency, funds, or other forms of virtual currency. Virtual currency exchanges typically charge fees for these services. Secondary market trading of virtual tokens or coins may also occur on an exchange. These exchanges may not be registered securities exchanges or alternative trading systems regulated under the federal securities laws. Accordingly, in purchasing and selling virtual coins and tokens, you may not have the same protections that would apply in the case of stocks listed on an exchange.

Who issues virtual tokens or coins?

Virtual tokens or coins may be issued by a virtual organization or other capital-raising entity. A virtual organization is an organization embodied in computer code and executed on a distributed ledger or blockchain. The code, often called a “smart contract,” serves to automate certain functions of the organization, which may include the issuance of certain virtual coins or tokens. The DAO, which was a decentralized autonomous organization, is an example of a virtual organization.

The Investor Bulletin continues with warnings to potential investors, including to be aware that the federal securities laws require either registration or an exemption from registration for an offer and sale of securities. The Investor Bulletin points potential investors to the EDGAR database to find registration statements, and reminds investors that exemptions usually are limited to accredited investors.

Further, the Investor Bulletin discusses disclosure obligations and sets forth key information that an investor should be informed of, such as use of proceeds, management and business plans.

The Investor Bulletin points out that even if there has been a fraud or theft, their rights may be limited do to the nature of ICO’s in general, including that they can be autonomous, the inability to trace money, the international scope of offerings, that there is no central controlling authority and that there is no method to freeze or secure virtual currency.  Finally, the Investor Bulletin points to the usual red flags, including “guaranteed” high returns or low risk, unsolicited offers, sounds too good to be true, buying pressure, no net worth or other investor requirements and unlicensed sellers.

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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SEC Chair Jay Clayton Discusses Direction Of SEC
Posted by Securities Attorney Laura Anthony | August 1, 2017 Tags: , , , ,

In a much talked about speech to the Economic Club of New York on July 12, 2017, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton set forth his thoughts on SEC policy, including a list of guiding principles for his tenure. Chair Clayton’s underlying theme is the furtherance of opportunities and protection of Main Street investors, a welcome viewpoint from the securities markets’ top regulator. This was Chair Clayton’s first public speech in his new role and follows Commissioner Michael Piwowar’s recent remarks to the SEC-NYU Dialogue on Securities Market Regulation largely related to the U.S. IPO market. For a summary of Commissioner Piwowar’s speech, read HERE.

Guiding Principles

Chair Clayton outlined a list of eight guiding principles for the SEC.

#1: The SEC’s Mission is its touchstone

As described by Chair Clayton, the SEC has a three part mission: (i) to protect investors; (ii) to maintain fair, orderly and efficient markets, and (iii) to facilitate capital formation. Chair Clayton stresses that it is important to give each part of the three-part mission equal priority.  For more information on the role and purpose of the SEC, see HERE.

#2: SEC Analysis Starts and ends with the long-term interests of the Main Street investor

According to Clayton, an assessment of whether the SEC is being true to its three-part mission requires an analysis of the long-term interests of the Main Street investors, including individual retirement accounts. This involves reviewing actions in light of the impact on investment opportunities, benefits and disclosure information for “Mr. and Mrs. 401(k).”

#3: The SEC’s historic approach to regulation is sound

As I’ve written about many times, disclosure and materiality have been at the center of the SEC’s historic regulatory approach. Chair Clayton reiterates that point. The SEC does not conduct merit reviews of filings and registration statements but rather focuses on whether the disclosures provided by a company provide potential investors and the marketplace with the information necessary to make an informed investment decision. For more information on disclosure requirements and recent initiatives, see HERE and HERE.

In addition to disclosure rules, the SEC places heightened responsibility on the individuals and people that actively participate in the securities markets. The SEC has made it a priority to review and pursue enforcement actions, where appropriate, against securities exchanges, clearing agencies, broker-dealers and investment advisors. In that regard, the SEC has historically and will continue to enforce antifraud provisions. Clayton states that “wholesale changes to the Commissions’ fundamental regulatory approach would not make sense.”

#4: Regulatory actions drive change, and change can have lasting effects

Under the fourth principle, Clayton continues to speak of the benefits of the disclosure-based system for public company capital markets.  However, he does note that over time, new disclosure rules have been added on to the old, based on determinations beyond materiality, and that the SEC now needs to conduct a cumulative and not just incremental view of the disclosure rules and regulations.

Clayton specifically points to the much talked about decline in the number of IPO’s over the last two decades. He also points out that the median word count for SEC filings has more than doubled in over the same period, and that reports lack readability. Clayton points out, and I agree, that fewer small and medium-sized public companies affects the liquidity and trading for all public companies in that size range. A reduction of U.S. listed public companies is a serious issue for the U.S. economy and an improvement in this regard is a clear priority to the SEC.

For more on the SEC’s ongoing Disclosure Effectiveness program, see the further reading section at the end of this blog.

#5:  As markets evolve, so must the SEC

Technology and innovation are constantly disrupting the way in which markets work and investors transact. Chair Clayton is well aware that the SEC must keep up with these changes and “strive to ensure that our rules and operations reflect the realities of our capital markets.”  Clayton sees this as an opportunity to make improvements and efficiencies.

The SEC itself has utilized technology to improve its own systems, including through the use of algorithms and analytics to detect companies and individuals engaged in suspicious behavior. The SEC is adapting machine learning and artificial intelligence to new functions, including analyzing regulatory filings. On the other side, the SEC has to be aware of the costs involved with implementing these changes, versus the benefits derived.

#6:  Effective rulemaking does not end with rule adoption

The SEC has developed robust processes for obtaining public input (comments) and performing economic analysis related to its rulemaking. Clayton is committed to ensuring that the SEC perform rigorous economic analysis in both the proposed and adoption stages of new rules. Clayton is aware of the principle of unintended consequences in rulemaking and is committed to ensuring that rules be reviewed retrospectively as well. Clayton states, “[W]e should listen to investors and others about where rules are, or are not, functioning as intended.”

Although Clayton does not get into specifics, certainly changes are necessary in the disclosure requirements, fiduciary rule, Dodd-Frank rollbacks (see HERE on the Financial Choice Act 2.0); finders’ fees (see HERE for more), eligibility for Regulation A+ (see HERE for more), and small business-venture capital marketplace.

#7: The costs of a rule now often include the cost of demonstrating compliance

Clayton states, “[R]ules are meant to be followed, and the public depends on regulators to make sure that happens. It is incumbent on the Commission to write rules so that those subject to them can ascertain how to comply and — now more than ever — how to demonstrate that compliance.” Vaguely worded rules end up with subpar compliance and enforcement. Clayton refers to the officer and director certifications required by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the need to create a system of internal controls to support the ultimate words on the paper – which system can be hugely expensive.

I note that understanding rules and their application is one of the biggest hurdles in the small-cap industry, including where responsibility lies vis-à-vis different participants in the marketplace. For example, the responsibility of a company, transfer agent, introducing broker, and clearing broker in the chain of the issuance and ultimate trading of a security, continues to provide challenges for all participants. Often participants are left with an education and interpretation by enforcement process, rather than what would be a much more efficient system providing participants with the knowledge and tools to create compliance systems that prevent fraud and related issues and reduce the need for retrospective enforcement.

#8:  Coordination is key

Clayton notes that “the SEC shares the financial services space with many other regulatory players charged with overseeing related or overlapping industries and market participants.” There are more than 15 U.S. federal regulatory bodies and over 50 state and territory regulators, plus the Department of Justice, state attorneys general, self-regulatory organizations (SRO – such as FINRA) and non-SRO standard-setting entities (for example, DTC) in the financial services sector. In addition, the SEC works with international regulators and markets cooperating with over 115 foreign jurisdictions.

Clayton specifically points to the regulations of over-the-counter derivatives – including security-based swaps for which the SEC shares regulatory functions with the CFTC (for more on this, see HERE). Clayton is committed to working with the CFTC to improve this particular area of financial regulation and reduce unnecessary complexity and costs.

In addition, cybersecurity is an important area requiring regulatory coordination. Information sharing is essential to address potential and respond to actual cyber threats.

Putting Principles into Practice

After laying out his eight principles for the SEC, Chair Clayton addressed some specific areas of SEC policy.

Enforcement and Examinations

Clayton is committed to deploying significant resources to enforcement against fraud and shady practices in areas where Main Street investors are most exposed, including affinity and micro-cap fraud. He indicates that the SEC is taking further steps to find and eliminate pump-and-dump scammers, those that victimize retirees, and cyber criminals. As a practitioner in the small- and micro-cap market space, I welcome and look forward to initiatives that work to reduce fraud, while still supporting the honest participants and the necessary small-business ecosystem.

Clayton also recognizes that the markets also have more sophisticated issues requiring enforcement attention related to market participants. The SEC is “committed to making our markets s fair, orderly, and efficient – and as liquid – as possible.” Although prior Commissioners and Chairs have made similar statements, the addition of “and as liquid” by this regime continues to illustrate a commitment to supporting business growth and not just enforcement.

Finally on this topic, Clayton stresses the importance of cybersecurity in today’s marketplace. Public companies have an obligation to disclose material information about cyber risks and cyber events (see HERE for more on this topic). However, cyber criminals, including entire nations, can have resources far beyond a single company, and companies should not be punished for being a victim where they are being responsible in face of cyber threats. To bring proportionality to the topic, Clayton points out that cyber threats go beyond capital markets but affect national security as well.

Capital Formation

Consistent with his pro-business attitude, Jay Clayton advocates enhancing the ability of “every American to participate in investment opportunities, including through public markets.” Of course, the flip side is the ability for businesses to raise money to grow and create jobs. Clayton is also consistent with the message that he and other Commissioners have been relaying that the U.S. public markets need to grow and become more attractive to businesses (without damaging the private marketplace).

As a first step, the SEC recently expanded the ability to file confidential registration statements for all Section 12(b) Exchange Act registration statements, initial public offerings (IPO’s) and for secondary or follow-on offerings made in the first year after a company becomes publicly reporting, to all companies. Previously only emerging growth companies (EGC’s) were allowed to file registration statements confidentially. For more on this, see my blog HERE. Clayton believes that allowing companies to submit sensitive information on a non-public basis for initial staff review, will make the going public process more attractive to earlier-stage entities.

As a last point on capital formation, Chair Clayton encourages companies to request waivers or modifications to the financial reporting requirements under Regulation S-X, where the particular disclosure or reporting is overly burdensome and not material to the total mix of information presented to investors.

Market Structure

Clayton suggests shifting the focus of the conversation on market structure to actions. He recommends proceeding with a pilot program to test how adjustments to the access fee cap under Rule 610 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 would affect equities trading. The pilot would provide the SEC with more data to assess the effects of access fees and rebates on market makers, pricing and liquidity. Clayton is open to that and further suggestions from the SEC’s Equity Market Structure Advisory Committee.

Clayton believes the SEC should broaden its review of market structure to also include the fixed-income markets, to provide stable investment options for retirees. In that regard the SEC is creating a Fixed Income Market Structure Advisory Committee.

Investment Advice and Disclosure to Investors

Chair Clayton addresses both the fiduciary rule and improving disclosures to investors. Related to the fiduciary rule, Clayton states that it is important for the SEC to bring clarity and consistency to the area. In that regard, in June the SEC issued a statement seeking public input and comment on standards of conduct for investment advisers and broker-dealers.

Related to disclosures, as with all other areas of disclosure, investment advisors must provide potential investors with easily accessible and meaningful information. Clayton refers to the SEC’s ongoing Disclosure Effectiveness initiative, the progress in which is summarized at the end of this blog.

Resources to Educate Investors

A priority for the SEC is to provide more information to investors through technology and other means.

Further Reading on Disclosure Effectiveness Initiative

I have been keeping an ongoing summary of the SEC’s ongoing Disclosure Effectiveness Initiative. The following is a recap of such initiative and proposed and actual changes. I note that we have not seen any regulatory changes since the election and new regime at the SEC, but certainly significant changes are expected in light of Chair Clayton’s, and the Commissioners’, publicly disclosed priorities.

On August 31, 2016, the SEC issued proposed amendments to Item 601 of Regulation S-K to require hyperlinks to exhibits in filings made with the SEC. The proposed amendments would require any company filing registration statements or reports with the SEC to include a hyperlink to all exhibits listed on the exhibit list. In addition, because ASCII cannot support hyperlinks, the proposed amendment would also require that all exhibits be filed in HTML format. See my blog HERE on the Item 601 proposed changes.

On August 25, 2016, the SEC requested public comment on possible changes to the disclosure requirements in Subpart 400 of Regulation S-K. Subpart 400 encompasses disclosures related to management, certain security holders and corporate governance. See my blog on the request for comment HERE.

On July 13, 2016, the SEC issued a proposed rule change on Regulation S-K and Regulation S-X to amend disclosures that are redundant, duplicative, overlapping, outdated or superseded (S-K and S-X Amendments). See my blog on the proposed rule change HERE.

That proposed rule change and request for comments followed the concept release and request for public comment on sweeping changes to certain business and financial disclosure requirements issued on April 15, 2016. See my two-part blog on the S-K Concept Release HERE and HERE.

As part of the same initiative, on June 27, 2016, the SEC issued proposed amendments to the definition of “Small Reporting Company” (see my blog HERE). The SEC also previously issued a release related to disclosure requirements for entities other than the reporting company itself, including subsidiaries, acquired businesses, issuers of guaranteed securities and affiliates. See my blog HERE.

As part of the ongoing Disclosure Effectiveness Initiative, in September 2015 the SEC Advisory Committee on Small and Emerging Companies met and finalized its recommendation to the SEC regarding changes to the disclosure requirements for smaller publicly traded companies. For more information on that topic and for a discussion of the reporting requirements in general, see my blog HERE.

In March 2015 the American Bar Association submitted its second comment letter to the SEC making recommendations for changes to Regulation S-K. For more information on that topic, see my blog HERE.

In early December 2015 the FAST Act was passed into law.  The FAST Act requires the SEC to adopt or amend rules to: (i) allow issuers to include a summary page to Form 10-K; and (ii) scale or eliminate duplicative, antiquated or unnecessary requirements for emerging-growth companies, accelerated filers, smaller reporting companies and other smaller issuers in Regulation S-K. The current Regulation S-K and S-X Amendments are part of this initiative. In addition, the SEC is required to conduct a study within one year on all Regulation S-K disclosure requirements to determine how best to amend and modernize the rules to reduce costs and burdens while still providing all material information. See my blog HERE.

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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Road Shows
Posted by Securities Attorney Laura Anthony | May 16, 2017 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Introduction; Definitions

We often hear the words “road show” associated with a securities offering. A road show is simply a series of presentations made by company management to key members of buy-side market participants such as broker-dealers that may participate in the syndication of an offering, and institutional investor groups and money managers that may invest into an offering. A road show is designed to provide these market participants with more information about the issuer and the offering and a chance to meet and assess management, including their presentation skills and competence in a Q&A setting. Investors often place a high level of importance on road show meetings and as such, a well-run road show can make the difference as to the level of success of an offering.

A road show usually involves an intensive period of multiple meetings and presentations in a number of different cities over a one-to-two-week period. Although road shows are generally live, they can be by teleconference, or electronic using prepared written presentation materials. In today’s Internet world, road shows are often recorded from a live presentation and made available publicly for a period of time. The meetings and presentations can vary in length and depth depending on the size and importance of the particular audience. During the road show, the underwriters are building a book of interest which will help determine the pricing for the offering.

A company can also conduct a “non-deal road show” for the purpose of driving interest in the company and its stock, where no particular offering is planned.

Unless it is a non-deal road show, the road show involves an offer of securities. “Offers” of securities are very broadly defined.  Section 2(a)(3) of the Securities Act defines “offer to sell,” “offer for sale,” or “offer” to include “every attempt or offer to dispose of, or solicitation of an offer to buy, a security or interest in a security, for value.”

The timing and manner of all offers of securities are regulated, and especially so in registered offerings. All issuers that have filed a registration statement are permitted to make oral offers of their securities, but only certain types of written offers are allowed. Written offers must comply with Section 10 of the Securities Act, including a requirement that a prospectus meeting the information requirements in Section 10(a) be delivered at the time of or prior to the offer.  In addition, certain eligible issuers may provide supplemental written information and graphic communications not otherwise included in the prospectus filed with the SEC (i.e., a free writing prospectus) as part of an offer of securities.  All of these oral and written communication rules are implicated in the road show process and must be considered when planning and completing the road show.

A road show is generally timed to be completed in the last few weeks before a registration statement goes effective or a Regulation A offering circular becomes qualified.  In a registered offering, Section 5(c) prohibits offers prior to the filing of the registration statement and as such, the road show would never commence pre-filing.  Regulation A is not a registered offering for purposes of Section 5(c), but for practical purposes, a Regulation A road show also commences right before SEC qualification.  Rule 163 provides an exception to the pre-filing offer rules only available to well-known seasoned issuers (very big companies), which is not discussed in this blog.

For a private offering, the road show occurs once the offering documents are completed. An Emerging Growth Company (EGC) that has filed its registration statement on a confidential basis must make the initial filing and all confidentially submitted amendments public a minimum of 15 days prior to starting the road show.

A road show is subject to the test-the-waters and pre-effective communication rules.  For a review of testing the waters in a registered offering, see HERE and for Regulation A offerings, see HERE.

A road show is specifically regulated under Rule 433 of the Securities Act and the free writing prospectus rules.  Securities Act Rule 433(h)(4) defines a road show as an offer, other than a statutory prospectus, that “contains a presentation regarding an offering by one or more of the members of the issuer’s management ….. and includes discussion of one or more of the issuer, such management, and the securities being offered.”

The SEC definition of road show includes the language “other than a statutory prospectus.”  The statutory prospectus is one that meets the requirements of Section 10(a) of the Securities Act and is generally the filed final prospectus that contains the disclosures outlined in the particular offering form being used (for example, Form S-1 or 1-A) and including disclosures delineated in Regulations S-K and S-X.

In general, if the information being presented in a road show is nothing more than what is already included in the prospectus filed with the SEC, there are no particular SEC filing requirements.  On the other hand, if the information is written and goes beyond the statutory prospectus, it may be considered a “free writing prospectus” and be subject to specific eligibility requirements for use, form and content and SEC filing requirements all as set forth in Rule 433 and discussed herein.

Rule 405 of the Securities Act defines a free writing prospectus (“FWP”) as “any written communication as defined in this section that constitutes an offer to sell or a solicitation of an offer to buy the securities relating to a registered offering that is used after the registration statement in respect of the offering is filed… and is made by means other than (i) a prospectus satisfying the requirements of Section 10(a) of the Act…; (2) a written communication used in reliance on Rule 167 and Rule 426 (note that both rules relate to offerings by asset backed issuers); or (3) a written communication that constitutes an offer to sell or solicitation of an offer to buy such securities that falls within the exception from the definition of prospectus in clause (a) of Section 2(a)(10) of the Act.”  Section 2(a)(10)(a) in turn exempts written communications that are provided after a registration statement goes effective with the SEC as long as the effective registration statement is provided to the recipient prior to or at the same time.

Types of Road Shows; Oral/Live vs. Written; Free Writing Prospectus (FWP) Requirements

The rules distinguish between a “live” vs. a “written” road show communication, with one being an “oral offer” and more freely allowed and the other being a “written offer” and more strictly regulated.  In addition, the rules differentiate requirements based on whether a road show is for a registered or private offering and, if a registered offering, whether such offering is an initial public offering (IPO) involving common or convertible equity.

Where a road show communication is purely oral, it is not an FWP and thus there are no specific SEC filing requirements (though see the discussion on Regulation FD below).  Where an oral communication implicates Regulation FD, a Form 8-K would need to be filed regardless of whether the communication is during a road show or in any other forum.

Although road shows are generally live and specifically designed to constitute oral offers, they can also be electronic using prepared written presentation materials.  Both live and electronic road shows may be available for replay electronically over the Internet.

Live road shows include: (i) a live, in-person presentation to a live, in-person audience; (ii) a live, real-time presentation to a live audience or simultaneous multiple audiences transmitted electronically; (iii) a concurrent live presentation and real-time electronic transmittal of such presentation; (iv) a webcast or video conference that originates live and is transmitted in real time; (v) a live telephone conversation, even if it is recorded; and (vi) the slide deck or other presentation materials used during the road show unless investors are allowed to print or take copies of the information.

The explanatory note to Rule 433(d)(8) states: “A communication that is provided or transmitted simultaneously with a road show and is provided or transmitted in a manner designed to make the communication available only as part of the road show and not separately is deemed to be part of the road show. Therefore, if the road show is not a written communication, such a simultaneous communication (even if it would otherwise be a graphic communication or other written communication) is also deemed not to be written.”

Accordingly, road show slides and video clips are not considered to be written offers as long as copies are not left behind. Even handouts are not written offers so long as they are collected at the end of the presentation. If they are left behind, however, they become a free writing prospectus (FWP) and are subject to Securities Act Rules 164 and 433, including a requirement that the materials be filed with the SEC.

A video recording of the road show meeting will not need to be filed as an FWP so long as it is available on the Internet to everyone and covers the same ground as the live road show.  Such video road shows are considered a “bona fide electronic road show.”  Rule 433(h)(5) defines a “bona fide electronic road show” as a road show “that is a written communication transmitted by graphic means that contains a presentation by one or more officers of an issuer or other persons in an issuer’s management….”  It is permissible to have multiple versions of a bona fide electronic road show as long as all versions are available to an unrestricted audience.  For example, different members of management may record different presentations and, although access must be unrestricted, management may record versions that are more retail investor facing or institutional investor facing.

On the other hand, a FWP would include any written communication that could constitute an offer to sell or a solicitation of an offer to buy securities subject to a registration statement that is used after the filing of a registration statement and before its effectiveness.  A FWP is a supplemental writing that is not part of the filed registration statement.  If the writing is simply a repetition of information contained in the filed registration statement, it may be used without regard to the separate FWP rule.

Rule 405 of the Securities Act defines a written communication as any communication that is “written, printed, a radio or television broadcast or a graphic communication.”  A graphic communication includes “all forms of electronic media, including but not limited to, audiotapes, videotapes, facsimiles, CD Rom, electronic mail, internet websites, substantially similar messages widely distributed (rather than individually distributed) on telephone answering or voice mail systems, computers, computer networks and other forms of computer data compilation.”  Basically, for purposes of rules related to FWP’s, all communications that can be reduced to writing are considered a written communication.  Accordingly, radio and TV interviews, other than those published by unaffiliated and uncompensated media, would be considered a FWP and subject to the SEC use and filing rules.

Electronic road shows that do not originate live and in real time are considered written communications and FWP’s.   Once it is determined that a road show includes a FWP, unless an exemption applies, an SEC filing is required.  As mentioned, bona fide electronic road shows, although technically a FWP, are not required to be filed with the SEC.  In addition, Rule 433 only requires the filing of a FWP for an IPO of common or convertible equity.

A non-exempted FWP must be filed with the SEC, using Form 8-K, no later than the date of first use.  An after-hours filing will satisfy this requirement as long as it is on the same calendar day.  Moreover, all FWP’s must be filed with the SEC, whether distributed by the registrant or another offering participant and whether such distribution was intentional or unintentional.

The use of a FWP has specific eligibility requirements.  A FWP may not be used by any issuer that is “ineligible” for such use.  The following entities are ineligible to use a free writing prospectus: (i) companies that are or were in the past three years a blank-check company; (ii) companies that are or were in the past three years a shell company; (iii) penny-stock issuers; (iv) companies that conducted a penny-stock offering within the past three years; (v) business development companies; (vi) companies that are delinquent in their Exchange Act reporting requirements; (vii) limited partnerships that are engaged in an offering that is not a firm commitment offering; and (viii) companies that have filed or have been forced into bankruptcy in the last three years.

Small- and micro-cap issuers will rarely be eligible to use a free writing prospectus. Accordingly, small and micro-cap companies generally are limited to live road shows involving oral offers not constituting a FWP.

Moreover, underwriters generally require specific representations and warranties and indemnification related to FWP’s regardless of whether they are required to be filed with the SEC.

Content

The road show presentation usually covers key aspects of the offering itself, including the reasons for the offering and use of proceeds.  In addition, management will also cover important aspects of their business and growth plans, industry trends, competition and the market for their products or services.  An important aspect of the road show is the question-and-answer period or Q&A, though obviously this is only included in live interactive road shows.  It is common for materials to include drilled-down information that is provided on a higher level in the prospectus as well as theory and thoughts behind business plans and management goals.

The preparation of the road show content is usually a collaborative effort between the company, underwriters and legal counsel.  Although the road show begins much later in the process, since its content is derived from the registration statement, ideally the planning begins at the same time as the registration statement drafting.  Also, slides, PowerPoint presentations and other presentation materials should be carefully prepared to get the most out of their effectiveness.

The lawyer generally reviews all materials for compliance with the rules related to offering communications as well as potential liability for the representations themselves.  Part of the compliance review is ensuring that no statements conflict with or provide a material change to the information in the filed offering prospectus; that could be deemed materially misleading by content or omission; and compliance with Regulation FD if applicable.

Also from a technical legal perspective, all road show materials should contain a disclaimer for forward-looking statements, and that disclaimer should be read in live or prerecorded road show presentations.  Where the road show content includes a FWP, it is required to contain a legend indicating that a prospectus has been filed, where it can be read (a hyperlink can satisfy this requirement), and advising prospectus investors to read the prospectus.

Under Rule 433(b)(2), the FWP for a non-reporting or unseasoned company must be accompanied with or preceded by the prospectus filed with the SEC.  The delivery requirement can be satisfied by providing a hyperlink to the filed prospectus on the EDGAR database.

Road show materials, even those that are also a FWP, generally are not subject to liability under Section 11 of the Securities Act.  Section 11 provides a private cause of action in favor of purchasers of securities, against those involved in filing a false or misleading public offering registration statement.  Road-show materials, including FWPs, are not a part of the registration statement, but rather are supplemental materials.   Section 12 liability, however, does apply to road-show materials.  Section 12 provides liability against the seller of securities for material misstatements or omissions in connection with that sale, whether oral or in writing.

Follow-on Offerings and Regulation FD

Regulation FD requires that companies subject to the SEC reporting requirements take steps to ensure that material information is disclosed to the general public in a fair and fully accessible manner such that the public as a whole has simultaneous access to the information.  Consequently, Regulation FD would be implicated in connection with communications in a road show for a follow-on offering by a company already subject to the Exchange Act reporting requirements.  Regulation FD excludes communications (i) to a person who owes the issuer a duty of trust or confidence, such as legal counsel and financial advisors; (ii) communications to any person who expressly agrees to maintain the information in confidence; and (iii) communications in connection with certain offerings of securities registered under the Securities Act of 1933 (this exemption does not include registered shelf offerings).

Where a road show is being conducted by a company subject to the Exchange Act reporting requirements, counsel should ensure that that the presentation either does not include material non-public information or that the information is simultaneously disclosed to the public in a Form 8-K.  As a backstop where Regulation FD applies, the company should also consider having all road-show attendees sign a confidentiality agreement.

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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    Laura Anthony, Attorney
    Legal & Compliance, LLC
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