The SEC Has Proposed The Use Of Universal Proxy Cards
Posted by Securities Attorney Laura Anthony | February 28, 2017 Tags: , , , , , ,

The SEC has seen a huge exodus of key officials and employees since the recent change in administration, and the ultimate effect of these changes on pending or proposed rule making remains to be seen. However, some proposed rules, whether published or still in drafting process, will remain largely unaffected by the political changes. This could be one of them. In particular, on October 16, 2016, the SEC proposed amendments to the federal proxy rules to require the use of universal proxy cards in connection with contested elections of directors. The proposed card would include the names of both the company and opposed nominees. The SEC also proposed amendments to the rules related to the disclosure of voting options and standards for the election of directors.

Currently where there is a contested election of directors, shareholders likely receive two separate and competing proxy cards from the company and the opposition. Each card generally only contains the directors supported by the sender of the proxy – i.e. all the company’s director picks on one card and all the opposition’s director picks on the other card. A shareholder that wants to vote for some directors on each of the cards, cannot currently do so using a proxy card. The voting process would only allow the shareholder to return one of the cards as valid.  If both were returned the second would cancel out and replace the first under state corporate law.

Shareholders can always appear in person and vote for any directors, whether company or opposition supported, but such appearance is rare and adds an unfair expense to those shareholders. In an effort to provide the same voting rights to shareholders utilizing a proxy card instead of in person appearance, the proposed new rule would require the use of a universal proxy card with all nominees listed on a single card.

Opposition to the proposed rule is concerned that it will give more power to shareholder activists groups and encourage additional proxy contests ultimately damaging the corporation that pays the price, both directly and indirectly, by such adversarial processes.

In an era of strong shareholder activism, the regulation of a company’s obligation in the face of a shareholder proposal has been complex, populated with a slew of no-action letters, SEC guidance through C&DI, and court rulings. In October 2015, the SEC issued its first updated Staff Legal Bulletin on shareholder proposals in years (see my blog HERE) and on the same day the SEC issued specific guidance related to merger and acquisition transactions (see my blog HERE).

SEC Proposed Rule

Introduction and Background

Each state’s corporate law provides for the election of directors by shareholders and the holding of an annual meeting for such purpose.  Company’s subject to the reporting requirements of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”), must comply with Section 14 of the Exchange Act, which sets forth the federal proxy rules and regulations. Private companies, and companies that voluntarily file reports with the SEC (called ’33 Act companies) are not subject to the Section 14 proxy requirements. The SEC views its regulatory authority over the proxy process as “preventing the recurrence of abuses which have frustrated the free exercise of the voting right of stockholders.”

Currently shareholders that appear in person for a meeting, can vote from any of the choices for a director. However, shareholders voting by proxy, which is the vast majority (as high as 99.9%) can only choose from the candidates on the proxy card provided by the party soliciting such vote. In a contested election a shareholder will receive two separate proxy cards and solicitations, one from the company and one from the opposition. Under state law, a shareholder cannot submit two separate proxy cards as the second cancels out and replaces the first.

Although the current proxy rules do allow for all candidates to be listed on a single card, such candidate must agree. Generally in a contested election the opposing candidates will not agree presuming it will impede the process for the opposition or have the appearance of an affiliation or support that does not exist. Moreover, neither party is required to include the other’s nominees, and accordingly, even if the director nominees would consent, they are not included for strategic purposes.

As mentioned, shareholders appearing in person can vote for any duly nominated directors, regardless of whether supported by a company or the opposition. However, in today’s world shareholders rarely appear in person. Besides the time and expense of traveling to and appearing at a meeting, where shares are held in a brokerage account in street name, a shareholder desiring to appear in person needs to go through an added process of having a proxy changed from the brokerage firm to their individual name before they will be on the list and allowed to appear and vote in person. Over the years some large shareholders have taken to sending a representative to meetings so that they could split a vote among directors nominated by a company and those nominated by opposition.

In 1992 the SEC adopted Rule 14a-4(d)(4), called the “short slate rule,” which allows an opposing group that is only seeking to nominate a minority of the board, to use their returned proxy card, and proxy power, to also vote for the company nominees. The short slate rule has limitations. First it is granting voting authority to the opposition group who can then use that authority to vote for some or all of company nominees, at their discretion. Second, although a shareholder can give specific instruction on the short slate card as to who of the company nominees they will not vote for, they will still need to review a second set of proxies (i.e. those prepared by the company) to get those names.

In 2013 the SEC Investor Advisory Committee recommended the use of a universal proxy card and in 2014 the SEC received a rulemaking petition from the Council of Institutional Investors making the same request. As a response, the SEC issued the new rule proposal which would require the use of a “universal proxy” card that includes the names of all nominated director candidates.

In its rule release the SEC discusses the rule oppositions fear that a universal proxy card will give strength to an already bold shareholder activist sector, but notes that “a universal proxy card would better enable shareholders to have their shares voted by proxy for their preferred candidates and eliminate the need for special accommodations to be made for shareholders outside the federal proxy process in order to be able to make such selections.”

Companies have a concern that dissident board representation can be counter-productive and lead to a less effective board of directors due to dissension, loss of collegiality and fewer qualified persons willing to serve. The SEC rule release solicits comments on this point.

Moreover, there is a concern that shareholders could be confused as to which candidates are endorsed by who, and the effect of the voting process itself. In order to avoid any confusion as to which candidates are endorsed by the company and which by opposition, the SEC is also including amendments that would require a clear distinguishing disclosure on the proxy card. Additional amendments require clear disclosure on the voting options and standards for the election of directors.

Proposed Amendments

In order to provide for the use of universal proxy cards, the SEC has proposed amendments to the proxy rules related to the solicitation of proxies, the preparation and use of proxy cards and the dissemination of information about all director nominees in a contested election. In particular the proposed rules:

  • Revise the consent required of a bona fide nominee such that a consent for nomination with include the consent to be included in all proxy statements and proxy cards. Clear disclosure distinguishing company and dissident nominees will be required in all proxy statements;
  • Eliminates the short slate rule for companies other than funds and BDC’s as the rule would no longer have an effect or be necessary;
  • Requires the use of universal proxy cards in all non-exempt solicitations in connection with contested elections. The universal proxy card would not be required where the election of directors is uncontested.  There may be cases where shareholder proposals are contested by a company in which case a shareholder would still receive two proxy cards, however, in such case, all director nominees must be included in each groups proxy cards.
  • Requires dissidents to provide companies with notice of intent to solicit proxies in support of nominees other than the company’s nominees, and to provide the names of those nominees. The rule changes specify timing and notice requirements;
  • Requires companies to provide dissidents with notice of the names of the company’s nominees;
  • Provides for a filing deadline for the dissidents’ definitive proxy statement;
  • Requires dissidents to solicit the holders of shares representing at least a majority of the voting power of shares entitled to vote on the election of directors;
  • Prescribes requirements for the universal proxy cards, including form, content and disclosures;
  • Makes changes to the form of proxy including requiring an “against” and “abstain” voting option; and
  • Makes changes to the proxy statement disclosure to require a better explanation of the effect of a “withhold” vote in an election.

The SEC rule release has a useful chart on the timing of soliciting universal proxy cards:

Due Date Action Required
 

No later than 60 calendar days before the anniversary of the previous year’s annual meeting date or, if the registrant did not hold an annual meeting during the previous year, or if the date of the meeting has changed by more than 30 calendar days from the previous year, by the later of 60 calendar days prior to the date of the annual meeting or the tenth calendar day following the day on which public announcement of the date of the annual meeting is first made by the registrant. [proposed Rule 14a-19(b)(1)]

 

Dissident must provide notice to the registrant of its intent to solicit the holders of at least a majority of the voting power of shares entitled to vote on the election of directors in support of director nominees other than the registrant’s nominees and include the names of those nominees.

No later than 50 calendar days before the anniversary of the previous year’s annual meeting date or, if the registrant did not hold an annual meeting during the previous year, or if the date of the meeting has changed by more than 30 calendar days from the previous year, no later than 50 calendar days prior to the date of the annual meeting. [proposed Rule 14a- 19(d)] Registrant must notify the dissident of the names of the registrant’s nominees.
No later than 20 business days before the record date for the meeting.  [current Rule 14a-13] Registrant must conduct broker searches to determine the number of copies of proxy materials necessary to supply such material to beneficial owners.
By the later of 25 calendar days before the meeting date or five calendar days after the registrant files its definitive proxy statement. [proposed Rule 14a-19(a)(2)] Dissident must file its definitive proxy statement with the Commission.

The proposed new rules will not apply to companies registered under the Investment Company Act of 1940 or BDC’s but would apply to all other entities subject to the Exchange Act proxy rules, including smaller reporting companies and emerging growth companies.

The Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Legal & Compliance, LLC 2017

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

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

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SEC White Paper

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

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

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

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

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

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

OTC Market Structure and Size

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

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

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

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

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

Literature Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Data Analysis and Investor Demographics

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

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

The Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Legal & Compliance, LLC 2017


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What Does The SEC Do And What Is Its Purpose?
Posted by Securities Attorney Laura Anthony | February 14, 2017 Tags: , , , , ,

As I write about the myriad of constantly changing and progressing securities law-related policies, rules, regulations, guidance and issues, I am reminded that sometimes it is important to go back and explain certain key facts to lay a proper foundation for an understanding of the topics which layer on this foundation. In this blog, I am doing just that by explaining what the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is and its purpose. Most of information in this blog comes from the SEC website, which is an extremely useful resource for practitioners, issuers, investors and all market participants.

Introduction

The mission of the SEC is to protect investors, maintain fair, orderly and efficient markets and facilitate capital formation.  Although each mission should be a priority, the reality is that the focus of the SEC changes based on its Chair and Commissioners and political pressure. Outgoing Chair Mary Jo White viewed the SEC enforcement division and task of investor protection as her top priority. Jay Clayton will likely shift the top priority to capital formation.

In addition to regulating and overseeing the processes involved in capital formation (registration and exemptions), the SEC regulates the market participants themselves, including securities exchanges, brokers and dealers, investment advisors, investment companies, issuers and investors, and civilly enforces the law as to each of these participants.  Related to securities exchanges, brokers and dealers and investment advisors, the SEC is primarily concerned with disclosure, fair dealing and protecting against fraud. The SEC brings hundreds of enforcement proceedings each year. For a review of the SEC 2016 enforcement results, see my blog HERE.

The federal securities laws are based on the premise that all investors, whether large institutions or private individuals, should have access to disclosure and information about an investment both before they buy it and during the time they hold the investment. The public company reporting requirements are designed to provide meaningful, comparable information and data about public companies so that investors can conduct due diligence and make an analysis as to whether to buy, sell or hold a particular security.

In order to be effective in its mission in an ever-changing global economy, the SEC must stay connected with market participants and their needs, and be abreast of, and utilize, technological advances. Moreover, the SEC considers the education of investors as a key component to its mission. Educated investors make better decisions. The majority of leads and ultimate evidence on wrongdoing come from investors themselves and, as such, better educated investors provide a more useful resource for enforcement.

History

The SEC was formed as a response to the stock market crash of October 1929 and the following period of the Great Depression. First, Congress passed the Securities Act of 1933, which was designed to regulate disclosure and truth in the purchase and sale of securities. Second, Congress passed the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, which created the SEC and was designed to regulate the people who sell and trade securities, including public companies, brokers, dealers and exchanges. Joseph Kennedy, John F. Kennedy’s father, was the first Chairman of the SEC.

Organization

The SEC is controlled by five commissioners appointed by the president. Each commissioner serves a five-year term and the terms are staggered as to the individual commissioners. One of the commissioners is designated as the chairman by the president. By law, and in an effort to ensure bipartisan policies, no more than three of the commissioners can belong to the same political party.

The SEC is divided into five divisions and 23 offices, all of which are headquartered in Washington, D.C., although there are 11 regional offices throughout the country. A brief summary of each division follows.

Divisions

Division of Corporation Finance

The Division of Corporation Finance (CorpFin) oversees disclosure documents filed by companies with the SEC, including, for example, registration statements on Form S-1, 1-A or Form 10, SEC reports on Forms 10-Q, 10-K and 8-K, and proxy materials related to annual and special shareholder meetings. CorpFin routinely reviews the documents filed with the SEC and may provide comments on the filings. For information on responding to SEC comments, see my blog HERE.

CorpFin provides administrative interpretations and guidance on the federal securities laws for the public and makes specific recommendations to the SEC for rule implementation and changes. In addition to the more formal written no-action letter process, CorpFin maintains staff that is available to answer calls by potential issuers and investors to provide guidance and interpretations on the federal securities laws, including related to whether a particular offering would qualify for an exemption from the registration requirements. CorpFin also works with the Office of Chief Accountant to monitor accounting activities, including the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), which formulates generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP).

Division of Enforcement

The Division of Enforcement conducts investigations and brings civil and administrative proceedings on behalf of the SEC to enforce the federal securities laws. The Division of Enforcement is not itself a criminal prosecutory authority but does work with law enforcement agencies such as the Department of Justice and Attorney General offices around the U.S. to recommend and assist with criminal cases.

All SEC investigations are private. Once an investigation is completed, the SEC will decide to take no action, pursue a civil complaint or pursue an administrative proceeding. Matters that may result in civil or administrative proceedings are often settled first. Although this firm does not represent clients in enforcement proceedings, I have written about the topic in general on numerous occasions. For further reading on enforcement penalties, see HERE. Related to the SEC Whistleblower program, see HERE. For reading related to the SEC’s efforts to prevent microcap fraud, see HERE.

Division of Trading and Markets

The Division of Trading and Markets is responsible for the SEC’s role of maintaining fair, orderly and efficient markets.  In executing its duties, the Division provides daily oversight of major market participants, including the securities exchanges, broker-dealers, self-regulatory organizations including FINRA and the MSRB, clearing agencies, transfer agents, securities information processors and credit rating agencies. This Division also oversees the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC), which provides insurance against loss in customer accounts due to the bankruptcy or other overall failure of brokerage firms. SIPC does not ensure against individual losses from market declines or negligent or fraudulent broker conduct.

The Division of Trading and Markets also assists with financial integrity programs for broker-dealers, reviewing rules proposed by self-regulatory organizations, drafting and proposing rules and interpretations related to market operations and surveilling the markets.

Division of Investment Management

The Division of Investment Management helps oversee the investment management industry, including mutual funds, fund managers, analysts and investment advisors. The Division of Investment Management is responsible for both investor protection and promoting capital formation in the industry balancing between disclosure by funds and limiting regulatory costs that ultimately reduce gains.

The Division of Investment Management assists the SEC in promulgating and interpreting laws and regulations in the investment management industry, responds to no-action letter and exemptive relief requests, reviews investment company and investment advisor filings with the SEC, and assists in enforcement proceedings.

Division of Economic and Risk Analysis

The Division of Economic and Risk Analysis helps with all aspects of the SEC’s mission through its economic analysis and data analytics. This Division interacts with all other divisions and offices of the SEC, providing economic and risk analyses related to policymaking, rulemaking, enforcement and examinations. The Division also provides advance risk assessments as to litigation, examinations, registrants reviews and general economic support.

Offices of the SEC

The SEC has several offices that perform functions related to the SEC’s overall mission, including, but not limited to, the Office of General Counsel, the Office of the Chief Accountant, the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations, the Office of Investor Education and Advocacy, the Office of Credit Ratings, the Office of International Affairs, the Office of Municipal Securities, the Office of Ethics Counsel, the Office of the Investor Advocate, the Office of Women and Minority Inclusion, the Office of the Chief Operating Officer, the Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs, the Office of Public Affairs, the Office of the Secretary, the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity, the Office of the Inspector General and the Office of Administrative Law Judges, a few of which deserve explanation.

The General Counsel, as part of the Office of the General Counsel, is appointed by the Chairman, is the chief legal officer of the SEC and provides legal advice and counsel to all divisions, other offices, commissioners and the Chairman on all matters within the SEC’s jurisdiction. The General Counsel office also represents the SEC in all civil and administrative litigation matters.

The Chief Accountant, as part of the Office of the Chief Accountant, is also appointed by the Chairman and advises the SEC on all accounting and auditing matters, including approving PCAOB auditing rules. In addition, the Office of the Chief Accountant assists the SEC in establishing accounting principles and overseeing the private sector accounting standards-setting process. The Chief Accountant liaises with FASB, which in turn establishes GAAP. It also liaises with the PCAOB, the International Accounting Standards Board and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

The Office of Investor Education and Advocacy responds to questions, complaints and suggestions from the public. The Office also publishes information and holds seminars and other outreach educational programs to educate the public on the securities laws and their rights.

The Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Legal & Compliance, LLC 2017


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SEC Issues New C&DI On Abbreviated Debt Tender And Debt Exchange Offers
Posted by Securities Attorney Laura Anthony | January 31, 2017 Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

ABA Journal’s 10th Annual Blawg 100

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The SEC has been issuing a slew of new Compliance and Disclosure Interpretations (“C&DI”) on numerous topics in the past few months. On November 18, 2016, the SEC issued seven new C&DI providing guidance on tender offers in general as well as on abbreviated debt tender and debt exchange offers, known as the Five-Day Tender Offer. The guidance related to the Five-Day Tender Offer clarifies a previously issued January 2015 no-action letter on the subject. As I have not written on the subject of tender offers previously, I include a very high-level summary of tender offers in general and together with specific discussion on the new C&DI.

What Is a Tender Offer?

A tender offer is not statutorily defined, but from a high level is a broad solicitation made by a company or a third party to purchase a substantial portion of the outstanding debt or equity of a company. A tender offer is set for a specific period of time and at a specific price. The purchase offer can be for cash or for equity in either the same or another company (an exchange offer). Where a tender offer is an exchange offer, the offeror must either register the securities being offered for exchange or there must be an available exemption from registration such as under Section 4(a)(2) or Rule 506 of Regulation D.

A tender offer must be made at a fixed price and can include conditions to a closing, such as receiving a certain minimum percentage of accepted tenders. If the person making the tender may own more than 5% of the company’s securities after the tender offer is completed, they must file a Schedule TO with the SEC, including certain delineated disclosures.

Where a tender offer is being made by a company or its management, it is often in association with a going private transaction. Where it is being made by a third party, it is generally for the purpose of acquiring control over the target company and can be either a friendly or hostile takeover attempt.

As mentioned, a tender offer is not statutorily defined but rather can be applied to a broad array of transactions that include the change of ownership of securities. Over the years, a judicially established eight-factor test is used to determine whether the tender offer rules have been implicated and need to be complied with. In particular, in Wellman v. Dickinson, 475 F. Supp. 783 (S.D,N.Y. 1979) the court listed the following eight factors in determining whether a transaction is a tender offer:

  1. An active and widespread solicitation of public shareholders for the shares of a company is made;
  2. A solicitation is made for a substantial percentage of the company’s securities;
  3. The offer to purchase is made at a premium to prevailing market price;
  4. The terms of the offer are firm rather than negotiable;
  5. The offer is contingent on the tender of a fixed number of minimum shares and may be subject to a fixed maximum;
  6. The offer is open for a limited period of time;
  7. The offeree is subjected to pressure to sell their securities; and
  8. Public announcements are made regarding the offer.

Not all factors need be present for a transaction to be considered a tender offer, but rather all facts and circumstances must be considered. The SEC has historically focused on whether an investor is being asked to make an investment decision and whether there is pressure to sell. Once it is determined that a transaction involves a tender offer, the tender offer rules and regulations must be complied with.

Tender offers are governed by the Williams Act, which added Sections 13(d), 13(e), 14(d) and 14(e) to the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The principle behind the regulatory framework is to ensure proper disclosures to, and equal treatment of, all offerees and to prevent unfair selling pressure. Section 14(d) and Regulation 14D govern tender offers by third parties. Section 14(d) and Regulation 14D set forth the SEC filing requirements and information that must be delivered to those being solicited in association with a tender offer, including the requirement to file a Schedule TO with the SEC.

As with any disclosure document relating to the solicitation or sale of securities, a Schedule TO is comprehensive and includes:

(i)  A summary term sheet;

(ii)  Information about the issuer;

(iii)  The identity and background of the filing persons;

(iv)  The terms of the transactions;

(v)  Any past contacts, transactions and negotiations involving the filing person and the target company and offerees;

(vi)  The purposes of the transactions and plans or proposals;

(vii)  The source and amount of funds or other consideration for the tender offer;

(viii)  Interests in the subject securities, including direct and indirect ownership;

(ix)  Persons/assets retained, employed, compensated or used in the tender process.  In its November 18, 2016 C&DI the SEC clarifies that the terms of employment and compensation to financial advisors engaged by an issuer’s board or independent committee to provide financial advice, would need to be disclosed in this section even if such financial advisor is not soliciting or making recommendations to shareholders.  In addition, another of the new C&DI clarifies the specificity needed related to compensatory disclosure for financial advisors that are active in soliciting or making recommendations to shareholders.  Such disclosure may not always need to include the exact dollar figure of the fees paid or payable to the financial advisor but must include a detailed discussion of the types of fees (such as independence fees, sale or success fees, advisory fees, discretionary fees, bonuses, etc.), when and how such fees will be paid, including any contingencies and any other information that would reasonably be material for a shareholder to judge the merits and objectivity of the financial advisor’s recommendations.

(x)  Financial Statements;

(xi)  Additional information as appropriate; and

(xii)  Exhibits.

Section 14(e) and Regulation 14E contain the antifraud provisions associated with tender offers and apply to all tender offers, whether by insiders or third parties, for cash or an exchange, and whether full or mini offers. Section 14(e) prohibits an offeror from making any untrue statement of a material fact, or omitting to state any material fact necessary in order to make the statements made, in light of the circumstances under which they were made, not misleading. Section 14(e) also prohibits any fraudulent, deceptive or manipulative acts in connection with a tender offer.

Regulation 14E contains certain requirements designed to prevent fraudulent conduct and must be complied with in all tender offers. Regulation 14E requires:

(i) A tender offer must be open for at least 20 days;

(ii) The percentage of the class of securities being sought and the consideration offered cannot change unless the offer remains open for at least an additional 10 business days following notice of such change;

(iii) The offeror must promptly make full payment, or return the tendered securities, upon the termination, withdrawal or closing of the offering.  Prompt payment is generally considered to be within 3 days;

(iv)  Public notice must be made of any extension of an offer, and such notice must disclose the amount of any securities already tendered.  Public notice is usually made via a press release in a widely disseminated publication such as the Wall Street Journal;

(v)  The company subject to a tender offer must disclose its position on the tender offer (for, against, or expresses no opinion) to its shareholders. The disclosure must be made within 10 days of notice of the tender offer being provided to the target shareholders;

(vi)  All parties must be mindful of insider trading rules and avoid trading when in possession of information related to the launch of a tender offer.  Where the company is tendering for its own shares, it must be extra careful and cannot conduct a tender while in possession of insider information;

(vii)  Tendering persons must have a net long position in the subject security at the time of tendering and at the end of the proration period in connection with partial tender offers (and not engage in short-tendering and hedged tendering in connection with their tenders); and

(viii)  Subject to certain exceptions, no covered person can purchase or arrange to purchase any of the subject securities from the time of announcement of the tender until its completion through closing, termination or expiration.  A covered person is broadly defined to include the offeror and its affiliates, including its dealer-manager and advisors.

Section 13(e) governs the information delivery requirements for the repurchase of equity securities by an issuer company and its affiliates. Rule 13e-4 sets forth disclosure, filing and procedural requirements for a company tendering for its own equity securities, including the filing of a Schedule TO with the SEC. An equity security is broadly defined and includes securities convertible into equity securities such as options, warrants and convertible debt but does not include non-convertible debt. Companies often use the SEC no-action letter process for relief as to whether a particular security is an equity security invoking Rule 13e-4 or similar enough to debt as to not require compliance with the rule.

In addition to an initial Schedule TO, which must be filed with the SEC on the commencement date of the offer, under Rule 13e-4, a company must file any of its written communications related to the tender offer, an amendment to the Schedule TO reporting any material changes, and a final amendment to the Schedule TO reporting the results of the tender offer. Moreover, a company must further disseminate information through either mail or widely distributed newspaper publications or both.

Where a company or affiliate is the offeror, Rule 13e-4 requires that such offeror allow a tendering shareholder the right to withdraw their tender at any time while the tender offer remains open. The tender offer must be made to all holders of the subject class of securities and where an offer is oversubscribed, the company must accept tenders up to its disclosed limit on a pro rata basis.

There are several exemptions from the Section 13(e) and Rule 13e-4 requirements. Also, careful consideration should be given when a company embarks on a stock repurchase program under Rule 10b-18 to ensure that such program does not actually result in a tender offer necessitating compliance with the tender offer rules. For a summary of Rule 10b-18, see my blog HERE.

Where the target company remains public, upon acquiring 5% or more of the outstanding securities, Section 13(d) requires that a Schedule 13D must be filed by the acquirer. For more information on Schedule 13D disclosure requirements, see my blog HERE.

Mini-tenders

Many provisions of the Williams Act, including Sections 13(d), 13(e), 14(d) and Regulation 14D do not have to be complied with for a tender offer that will result in less than 5% ownership (“mini-tender”); however, the antifraud provisions still apply. Mini-tenders are really just a bid for the purchase of stock, usually through a purchase order with a broker, which bid must remain open for a minimum of 20 days. A mini-tender bidder must make payment in full promptly upon a closing. Bidders in a mini-tender do not have to file documents with the SEC or provide the delineated disclosures required by a full tender offer.

Key differences between a mini-tender and full tender offer include: (i) a mini-tender is not required to file a Schedule TO with the SEC, and thus a target company is not given the opportunity to file a responsive Schedule 14d-9; (ii) a mini-tender bidder is not required to treat all offerees equally; (iii) a mini-tender bidder is not required to carve back offerees on a pro rata basis if oversubscribed; (iv) a mini-tender is not required to allow investors to change their minds and withdraw shares prior to a full closing; (v) a mini-tender deadline can be extended indefinitely.

Mini-tenders tend to be at or below market price, whereas full tenders tend to be at a premium to market price, reflecting the increased value in obtaining a control position over the target company. As a result of the lack of investor protections, and that mini-tenders are generally below market price, they are considered predatory and have a high level of negative stigma. The primary criticism against a mini-tender is that target shareholders are likely confused about the distinctions between the mini and full tender and do not realize that the offer is below market, irrevocable, and does not require equal and fair treatment for all shareholders, although all of this information would be required to be disclosed under the still applicable tender offer antifraud provisions.

There does not appear to be a rational reason as to why an investor in a liquid market would choose to sell to a bidder below market price unless there is confusion as to the terms of the offer being presented. The SEC even has a warning page on mini-tenders urging investors to carefully review all terms and conditions. Where a market is not liquid, a mini-tender could be a viable exit strategy, though in practice, mini-tenders are largely launched for the purchase of larger, highly liquid securities.

Abbreviated Debt Tender Offers (Five Business Day Tender Offer)

As discussed above, Section 14(e) of the Exchange Act and Regulation 14E set forth certain requirements for all tender offers designed to prevent fraud and manipulative acts and practices. One of those requirements is that a tender offer be open for a minimum of 20 business days and remain open for at least an additional 10 business days after notice of any change in the consideration offered.

Beginning in 1986, the SEC began issuing a series of no-action letters providing relief from the 20-day rule for certain non-convertible, investment-grade debt tender offers. The SEC recognized that tender offers in a straight debt transaction are often effectuated to refinance debt at a lower interest rate or to extend looming maturity dates. The tender is often at a small premium to the prevailing market or pay-off price and does not include any equity upside or kicker considerations. All parties to a debt tender offer are motivated to move quickly and without the equity considerations; the SEC recognized that the same investor protections are not necessary as in an equity tender offer.

The SEC relief generally required that the debt tender remain open for 7-10 days. In January 2015, in response to a request from numerous top industry law firms, the SEC granted further no-action relief establishing a Five Business Day Tender Offer for non-convertible debt securities, which meets certain delineated terms and conditions.

The conditions to a Five Business Day Tender Offer include:

(i)  Immediate Widespread Dissemination – the debt tender must begin with immediate (prior to 12:00 noon on the first day of the offer) widespread dissemination of the offer including by press release and Form 8-K containing certain disclosures and including a hyperlink to an Internet address where the offeree can effectuate the tender.  The November 18, 2016 C&DI clarifies that a foreign private issuer may satisfy this requirement by filing a Form 6-K instead of Form 8-K.

(ii) Be made for non-convertible debt securities only;

(iii) Only be initiated by the issuer of the debt securities or a direct or indirect wholly owned subsidiary or parent company;

(iv) Be made solely for cash consideration or an exchange for Qualified Debt Securities.  Qualified Debt Securities means non-convertible debt securities that are identical in all material respects (including issuer, guarantor, collateral, priority, and terms and covenants) to the debt securities that are the subject of the tender offer except for the maturity date, interest payment and record dates, redemption provisions and interest rate, and provided further that to be Qualified Debt Securities, all interest payments must be solely in cash (no equity) and the weighted average life to maturity must be longer than the debt that is subject to the offer.

(v) Be open to all record and beneficial holders of the debt securities, provided that in an exchange offer, the exchange offer can be limited to Qualified Institutional Buyers as defined in Rule 144A and/or non-U.S. persons as defined in Regulation S under the Securities Act, and as long as all other record and beneficial holders are offered cash with a value reasonably equal to the value of the exchange securities being offered to those qualified to receive such exchange.  The November 18, 2016 C&DI clarifies that although the offer has to be made equally to all holders, like other tender offers, it can have conditions to closing such as that a minimum number of debt holders accept the tender.

(vi) The November 18, 2016 C&DI clarifies that where the offer includes an exchange of Qualified Debt Securities to Qualified Institutional Buyers as defined in Rule 144A of the Securities Act, the cash consideration to the other record holders can be calculated by reference to a benchmark as long as it is the same benchmark used to calculate the value of the Qualified Debt Securities.

(vii) Not be made in connection with the solicitation of consents to amend the outstanding debt securities;

(viii) Not be made if a default exists with respect to the subject tender, or any other, material credit agreement to which the company is a party;

(ix) Not be made if at the time of the offer the company is in bankruptcy or insolvency proceedings;

(x) Not be financed with the proceeds of a Senior Indebtedness;

(xi) Permits tender procedures through a certificate as long as the actual debt security is delivered within 2 business days of closing;

(xii) Provide for certain withdrawal rights until the expiration of the offer or any extension;

(xiii) Provide that consideration will be promptly paid for the tendered debt securities; and

(xiv) Not be made in connection with a change of control, merger or other extraordinary transaction involving the company and not be commenced within ten business days of an announcement of the purchase, sale or transfer of a material subsidiary or amount of assets.  The November 18, 2016 C&DI clarifies that a company could announce a plan to conduct a Five Business Day Tender Offer but could not commence the offer until the ten-business-day period had passed.

The Author

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

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

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

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

Download our mobile app at iTunes.

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

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

© Legal & Compliance, LLC 2017


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SEC Issues Guidance On Integration With A 506(c) Offering
Posted by Securities Attorney Laura Anthony | January 10, 2017 Tags: , ,

ABA Journal’s 10th Annual Blawg 100

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On November 17, 2016, the SEC Division of Corporation Finance issued a new Compliance and Disclosure Interpretations (C&DI) related to the integration of a completed 506(b) offering with a new 506(c) offering. The new C&DI confirms that 506(c) offering will not integrate with a previously completed 506(b) offering.

Effective September, 2013, the SEC adopted final rules eliminating the prohibition against general solicitation and advertising in Rules 506 and 144A offerings as required by Title II of the JOBS Act. The enactment of new 506(c) resulting in the elimination of the prohibition against general solicitation and advertising in private offerings to accredited investors has been a slow but sure success. Trailblazers such as startenging.com, realtymogul.com, circleup.com, wefunder.com and seedinvest.com proved that the model can work, and the rest of the capital marketplace has taken notice.  Recently, more established broker-dealers have begun their foray into the 506(c) marketplace with accredited investor-only crowdfunding websites accompanied by the use of marketing and solicitation to draw investors.

The historical Rule 506 was renumbered to Rule 506(b) and issuers have the option of completing offerings under either Rule 506(b) or 506(c). Rule 506(b) allows offers and sales to an unlimited number of accredited investors and up to 35 unaccredited investors, provided however that if any unaccredited investors are included in the offering, certain delineated disclosures, including an audited balance sheet and financial statements, are provided to potential investors. Rule 506(b) prohibits the use of any general solicitation or advertising in association with the offering.

The new Rule 506(c) requires that all sales be strictly made to accredited investors and adds a burden of verifying such accredited status to the issuing company. In a 506(c) offering, it is not enough for the investor to check a box confirming that they are accredited, as it is with a 506(b) offering. Accordingly the issue of integration, or when the 506(c) offering could be deemed to taint the previously completed 506(b) offering, is extremely important for companies utilizing these types of corporate finance transactions.

Integration and the New C&DI

In general the concept of integration is whether two offerings integrate such that either offering fails to comply with the exemption or registration rules being relied upon. The new C&DI effectively treats a 506(c) offering as a public offering and provides in total:

Question: An issuer has been conducting a private offering in which it has made offers and sales in reliance on Rule 506(b). Less than six months after the most recent sale in that offering, the issuer decides to generally solicit investors in reliance on Rule 506(c). Are the factors listed in the Note to Rule 502(a) the sole means by which the issuer determines whether all of the offers and sales constitute a single offering?

Answer: No. Under Securities Act Rule 152, a securities transaction that at the time involves a private offering will not lose that status even if the issuer subsequently decides to make a public offering. Therefore, we believe under these circumstances that offers and sales of securities made in reliance on Rule 506(b) prior to the general solicitation would not be integrated with subsequent offers and sales of securities pursuant to Rule 506(c). So long as all of the applicable requirements of Rule 506(b) were met for offers and sales that occurred prior to the general solicitation, they would be exempt from registration and the issuer would be able to make offers and sales pursuant to Rule 506(c). Of course, the issuer would have to then satisfy all of the applicable requirements of Rule 506(c) for the subsequent offers and sales, including that it take reasonable steps to verify the accredited investor status of all subsequent purchasers.

Rule 502(a) of Regulation D provides a five-factor test to determine whether separate offerings should be integrated (and thus whether an exemption is available for the private offering and there have been no violations of Section 5 for the registered offering). The five factors are: (1) whether the offerings are part of a single plan of financing; (2) whether the offerings involve issuance of the same class of security; (3) whether the offerings are made at or about the same time; (4) whether the same type of consideration is to be received; and (5) whether the offerings are for the same general purpose. The five-factor test is subjective, and the SEC staff has not provided definitive guidance as to what weight to give to the various factors or, indeed, how many of them have to be met.

Rule 502(a) also provides for a six-month safe harbor wherein multiple private offerings that are conducted at least six (6) months apart will not be integrated.  A private offering that is conducted at least six (6) months before or after a registered or exempt public offering will not be integrated with the public offering.

Rule 152 is a safe harbor for issuers undertaking a registered public offering after conducting a private offering. As interpreted by the SEC, a completed private offering will not be integrated with a subsequently commenced registered public offering. Clearly as a result of the ability to publicly solicit, the SEC is treating a Rule 506(c) offering as a public offering in making an integration analysis.

Brief Summary of 506(c)

Effective September 23, 2013, the SEC adopted final rules eliminating the prohibition against general solicitation and advertising in Rules 506 and 144A offerings as required by Title II of the JOBS Act. For a complete discussion of the final rules, please see my blog HERE. For a discussion on the use of general solicitation and advertising, including when a solicitation may not be considered “general solicitation” for purposes of the 506 Rules, see my blog HERE.

Title II of the JOBS Act required the SEC to amend Rule 506 of Regulation D to permit general solicitation and advertising in offerings under Rule 506, provided that all purchasers of the securities are accredited investors. The JOBS Act required that the rules necessitate that the issuer take reasonable steps to verify that purchasers of the securities are accredited investors using such methods as determined by the SEC. Rule 506 is a safe harbor promulgated under Section 4(a)(2) (formerly Section 4(2)) of the Securities Act of 1933, exempting transactions by an issuer not involving a public offering. In a Rule 506 offering, an issuer can sell an unlimited amount of securities to accredited investors and up to 35 unaccredited sophisticated investors. The standard to determine whether an investor is accredited has historically been the reasonable belief of the issuer.

Rule 506(c) permits the use of general solicitation and advertising to offer and sell securities under Rule 506, provided that the following conditions are met:

  1. the issuer takes reasonable steps to verify that the purchasers are accredited;
  2. all purchasers of securities must be accredited investors, either because they come within one of the categories in the definition of accredited investor, or the issuer reasonably believes that they do, at the time of the sale; and
  3. all terms and conditions of Rule 501 and Rules 502(a) and (d) must be satisfied.

Rule 506(c) includes a non-exclusive list of methods that issuers may use to verify that investors are accredited. An issuer that does not wish to engage in general solicitation and advertising can rely on the old Rule 506 and offer and sell to up to 35 unaccredited sophisticated investors. An issuer opting to rely on the old Rule 506 does not have to take any additional steps to verify that a purchaser is accredited.

The Author

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

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

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

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

Download our mobile app at iTunes.

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

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

© Legal & Compliance, LLC 2017


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SEC Proposes Shortening Trade Settlement
Posted by Securities Attorney Laura Anthony | December 27, 2016 Tags: , , ,

On September 28, 2016, the SEC proposed a rule amendment to shorten the standard broker-initiated trade settlement cycle from three business days from the trade date (T+3) to two business days (T+2). The change is designed to help reduce risks, including credit, market and liquidity risks, associated with unsettled transactions in the marketplace. Outgoing SEC Chair, Mary Jo White was quoted as saying that the change “is an important step to the SEC’s ongoing efforts to enhance the resiliency and efficiency of the U.S. clearance and settlement system.” I have previously written about the clearance and settlement process for U.S. capital markets, which can be reviewed HERE.

Background

DTC provides the depository and book entry settlement services for substantially all equity trading in the US. Over $600 billion in transactions are completed at DTC each day. Although all similar, the exact clearance and settlement process depends on the type of security being traded (stock, bond, etc.), the form the security takes (paper or electronic), how the security is owned (registered or beneficial), the market or exchange traded on (OTC Markets, NASDAQ…) and the entities and institutions involved.

All securities trades involve a legally binding contract. In general, the “clearing” of those trades involves implementing the terms of the contract, including ensuring processing to the correct buyer and seller in the correct security and correct amount and at the correct price and date. This process is effectuated electronically.

“Settlement” refers to the fulfillment of the contract through the exchanging of funds and delivery of the securities. In 1993, Exchange Act Rule 15c6-1 was adopted requiring that settlement occur three business days after the trade date, commonly referred to as “T+3.” Delivery occurs electronically by making an adjusting book entry as to entitlement. One brokerage account is debited and another is credited at the DTC level and a corresponding entry is made at each brokerage firm involved in the transaction. DTC only tracks the securities entitlement of its participating members, while the individual brokerage firms track the holdings in their customer accounts. Technology, of course, plays an important role in the process and ability to efficiently manage settlements.

There may be two brokerage firms between DTC and the customer account holder. Brokerage firms that are direct members with DTC are referred to as “clearing brokers.” Many brokerage firms make arrangements with these DTC members (clearing brokers) to clear the securities on their behalf. Those firms are referred to as “introducing brokers.” A clearing broker will directly route an order through the national exchange or OTC Market, whereas an introducing broker will route the order to a clearing broker, who then routes the order through the exchange or OTC Market.

The Dodd-Frank Act added a definition of, and responsibilities associated with, a “financial market utility” or FMU. Clearing brokers are FMU’s. FMU’s provide the actual functions associated with clearing trades through the DTC system. As part of that process, a division of DTC, the National Securities Clearing Corporation (“NSCC”), becomes the buyer and seller of each contract, netting out and settling all brokerage transactions each day, making one adjusting entry per day. The net entry debits or credits the brokerage firm’s account as necessary. When one of the counterparties in the process does not fulfill its settlement obligations by delivering the securities, there is a “failure to deliver.” Overall, failures to deliver are less than 1% of all transactions.

Likewise, a cash account is maintained for each brokerage firm, which is netted and debited and/or credited each day. These accounts can be in the billions. Clearing firms can either settle each day or carry their open account forward until the next business day. Because all transactions are netted out, 99% of all trade obligations do not require the exchange of money, which helps reduce some risk. NSCC’s role in this process is referred to as a central counterparty or CCP. This process is continuous.

Looking at the process from the top down, the CCP carries the risk that the clearing firm (or FMU) will not have the financial resources to perform its obligations. In turn, the clearing firms have risks from their customers, including introducing brokers, who in turn ultimately have risks from the individual account holders. The risks are compounded by changing values of the securities being traded, during the settlement process. The faster a trade settles, the lower the cumulative risk at each level of the process.

This is a very simplified high-level description of the process. Technically, the roles of DTC and its subsidiaries, CEDE and NSCC, as well as clearing agencies and introducing brokers involve a complex set of regulations, with different definitions, obligations and roles for the different hats the entities wear depending on the type of security being traded (stock, bond, etc.), how the security is owned (registered or beneficial), the form the security takes (paper or electronic), the market or exchange traded on (OTC Markets, NASDAQ…) and the entities and institutions involved (retail or institutional). For those interested, the SEC rule release provides an excellent in-depth review of the settlement and clearing process.

Exchange Act Rule 15c6-1

Exchange Act Rule 15c6-1 prohibits a broker-dealer from effecting or entering into a contract for the purchase or sale of a security, subject to certain exemptions, that provides for the payment of the funds or delivery of the securities later than the third business day after the contract (i.e., trade) date unless expressly agreed upon by both parties at the time of the transaction. Exempted securities include government and municipal securities, commercial paper, limited partnership units that are not listed on an exchange or automated quotations system (OTC Markets), and sales in a firm commitment underwritten offering that are priced after market close.

Firm commitment offerings can rely on an extended T+4 settlement cycle. It is unclear what impact the proposed rule change will have on this exception. The SEC rule release has sought comment on the question.

One of the SEC’s roles is to enhance the resilience and efficiency of the clearance and settlement process such that the system itself does not add to, but rather subtracts from, the risks associated with trading in securities. The SEC is proposing to amend Rule 15a6-1(a) to shorten the settlement cycle to T+2. The SEC believes this change will reduce various risks in the marketplace, including: (i) the credit risk that one party will be unable to fulfill its delivery obligations (of either cash or the securities) on the settlement date; and (ii) the market risk that the value of the securities will change between the trade and settlement such as to result in a loss to one of the parties.

To drill down further on the summary of the settlement and clearing process described in the background section of this blog, the following is a high-level description of what happens following the execution of a trade. First, when the trade is submitted to an exchange or alternative trading system (such as OTC Markets), it is matched with a counterparty. That is, a buy order is electronically matched to a sell order. As long as there is a match, the trade is locked in and sent to NSCC.

On the trade date (T), NSCC validates the trade data and communicates receipt of the transaction. At that moment the parties are legally committed to complete the trade. At midnight on the first day (T+1), NSCC substitutes itself as the legal buyer and legal seller. Technically, the first buy/sell contract is replaced by two new contracts, one between NSCC and the buyer and the other between NSCC and the seller. On the second day (T+2), NSCC issues a trade summary report to its members which summarizes all securities and cash to be settled that day, and shows the net positions for each. NSCC also sends an electronic instruction to DTC to process the net security and cash settlements. Finally, on the third day (T+3), DTC process the electronic settlement by transferring cash and securities between the broker-dealer accounts and the broker-dealers, in turn, put the securities and/or cash in their customer accounts.

Although institutional trading is similar, there are unique aspects and there can be additional participants. For example, an institution may have a custodian of its securities in addition to its broker, may use a matching provider and may avail itself of different netting and settling processes within the brokerage and DTC systems. Although the detailed process may differ, ultimately both retail and institutional trades currently fully settle in the T+3 timeline.

As mentioned, the length of the settlement cycle impacts the exposure to credit, market and liquidity risks for the participants. The participants, including NSCC, take measures to reduce these risks, including by requiring funds to be kept on deposit by clearing and brokerage firms effecting such participants’ liquidity. Even then, however, all participants are exposed to market risk during the settlement process, including a decline in value of the traded securities and the risk that such decline could exceed the broker’s capital deposit or result in a failure to deliver.

A reduction in risks would reduce the necessity to mitigate such risk, including reducing the funds that must be kept on deposit by participants. It is undisputed that reducing the settlement cycle reduces these risks.

Also, obviously if funds are tied up for three days pending a settlement of a transaction, whether you are the retail investor or clearing agency, there is a lack of available liquidity to participate in other transactions during that time.

The reduction of the settlement cycle to T+2 will also assist in aligning global clearing of securities as many markets including the United Kingdom and many European countries are already on the T+2 schedule.

The Author

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

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

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

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

Download our mobile app at iTunes.

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

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

© Legal & Compliance, LLC 2016

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SEC Announces Enforcement Results For Fiscal Year-End 2016
Posted by Securities Attorney Laura Anthony | October 18, 2016 Tags: , ,

On October 11, 2016, the SEC announced its enforcement results for fiscal year-end September 30, 2016 (FYE 2016).  In FYE 2016 the SEC filed a record 868 enforcement actions, including against companies and executives for reporting violations, misconduct by companies and gatekeepers, fraud actions and more resulting in judgments and orders totaling more than $4 billion in disgorgement and penalties.

The actions also included a record number of enforcement proceedings against investment advisors and investment companies, a trend I expect to continue in the coming year as the SEC continues to crack down on the failure to adequately disclose all fees associated with investments into and operations of funds, as well as related party transactions.

Consistent with prior speeches and messaging, SEC Chair Mary Jo White made the following quote in the release announcing the enforcement results: “By every measure the enforcement program continues to be a resounding success holding executives, companies and market participants accountable for their illegal actions. Over the last three years, we have changed the way we do business on the enforcement front by using new data analytics to uncover fraud, enhancing our ability to litigate tough cases, and expanding the playbook bringing novel and significant actions to better protect investors and our markets.”

In a speech in February of this year, Chair White focused on enforcement, stating that the SEC “needs to go beyond disclosure” in carrying out its mission. That mission, as articulated by Chair White, is the protection of investors, maintaining fair, orderly and efficient markets, and facilitating capital formation. In 2015 the SEC brought a record number of enforcement proceedings and secured an all-time high for penalty and disgorgement orders, which record has been bested in FYE 2016. The primary areas of focus included cybersecurity, market structure requirements, dark pools, micro-cap fraud, financial reporting failures, insider trading, disclosure deficiencies in municipal offerings and protection of retail investors and retiree savings.

The SEC Division of Enforcement likewise is pleased with their results. Andrew J. Ceresney, Director of the Division of Enforcement, stated, “Through their hard work and steadfast dedication to our mission, the Division’s committed staff have helped protect investors and made our markets fairer and more reliable.”

Highlights of FYE 2016 SEC Enforcement

The SEC notes that in FYE 2016 it brought several first-of-its-kind actions, including: (i) against a firm solely for failing to file Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) (see my blogs HERE and HERE for more on SARs); (ii) against an audit firm for auditor independence failures based on personal relationships with audit clients; (iii) municipal advisors for violations of fiduciary and antifraud provisions created by Dodd-Frank; (iv) against a private equity advisor for acting as an unlicensed broker-dealer; (v) against an issuer for misstatements and omissions related to the issuance of structured notes.

In addition, in FYE 2016 the SEC won a jury trial against a municipality and one of its officers for violations of the federal securities laws.  The SEC also continued its use of data and analytics to uncover market manipulation and insider trading violations. In FYE 2016, the SEC brought 78 insider trading cases.

Moreover, the SEC continues to crack down on attorneys, accountants and other gatekeepers. This is an extremely important aspect of the enforcement ecosystem, especially in the small- and micro-cap space. Attorneys, accountants, transfer agents, and broker-dealers that are active in the OTC Markets environment play an important role in improving and protecting the OTC Marketplace to the extent that they are reasonably capable in any given fact situation. In December 2015 the SEC issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking and concept release on proposed new requirements for transfer agents. The proposal would add significant obligations on transfer agents, some of which I agreed with and others I did not. See my blogHERE on the subject. The SEC has not taken further action on this notice as of yet.

In its publication on FYE 2016 enforcement results, the SEC noted that it brought actions against gatekeepers for “failures to comply with professional standards.” A common theme in these actions is missing or ignoring clear indications of fraud or red flags. Examples of such actions include: (i) against auditors for ignoring red flags and fraud risks in conducting audits for annual reports to be filed with the SEC; (ii) violations of auditor independence rules; (iii) against a private fund administrator who missed or ignored clear indications of fraud in preparing and maintaining fund accounting records; (iv) against a consultant for improperly evaluating internal control deficiencies (this was a first-of-its-kind action as well); and (v) against EB-5 lawyers for acting as unregistered brokers.

In addition to enforcement matters I have written about such as HERE, micro-cap fraud and market manipulation continued to be a significant area of enforcement, as it always will. The SEC suspended tradingin 199 micro-cap issuers in FYE 2016. The SEC’s use of technology and data also helped uncover elaborate foreign market manipulation and trading schemes, including such as against a United Kingdom resident for intruding into online brokerage accounts of U.S. investors and making unauthorized trades.

Private offering fraud matters were also the target of multiple enforcement actions. Multiple private offering fraud actions were brought by the SEC in FYE 2016, including actions targeting certain population sectors such as seniors.

The SEC also brought action and collected record fines against market participants, including a $35 million penalty against Barclay’s and a $54 million penalty against Credit Suisse for violations in the operations of each of their alternative trading systems (ATSs). Merrill Lynch faced a $12.5 million fine for failure to have adequate risk controls in place before providing customers with access to the market, and Morgan Stanley was charged $1 million for inadequate written policies and procedures related to the protection of customer records and information.

Investment advisers and investment companies faced an unprecedented level of scrutiny in FYE 2016. In addition to many highly publicized cases related to hidden fees and undisclosed related party transactions, the SEC brought actions for fraud, such as against Aequitas Management for hiding its rapidly deteriorating financing condition after raising $350 million from investors. Thirteen investment advisory firms were charged with repeating false claims made by an investment manager firm highlighting the importance of independent due diligence and responsibilities. Investment funds also faced violations related to improper trading activity, including prearranged trades favoring certain clients.

Other areas that the SEC specifically continued to target for enforcement proceedings include Whistleblower protections (see HERE) and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations.

The Author

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

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

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

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

Download our mobile app at iTunes.

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

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

© Legal & Compliance, LLC 2016


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SEC Issues Proposed Amendments To Item 601 Of Regulation S-K Related To Exhibits
Posted by Securities Attorney Laura Anthony | September 20, 2016 Tags: , ,

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.

This newest proposed rule change to Regulation S-K is part of the SEC Division of Corporation Finance’s Disclosure Effectiveness Initiative.  At the end of this blog, I include an up-to-date summary of the proposals and request for comment related to the ongoing Disclosure Effectiveness Initiative.

Background

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).

Companies are allowed to reference exhibits filed in prior filings as opposed to refiling the exhibit with the SEC. The current proposed rule amendment is limited to the presentation of such information and, in particular, including a hyperlink to the actual filed exhibit. I suspect the SEC shall issue further amendments related to exhibits as it continues its initiative and rule changes related to Regulation S-K.

Proposed Amendments

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.  Once an exhibit has been filed once, the company can 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 proposed rule change would require companies to include a hyperlink to each filed exhibit on the exhibit index for virtually all filings made with the SEC, including XBRL exhibits. An active hyperlink would 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.

Currently exhibits may be filed in the EDGAR system in either ASCII or HTML format. HTML format allows for hyperlinks to another place within the same document or to a separate document. ASCII does not support such hyperlinks. Over the years HTML has become the standard used for EDGAR filings, with 99% of filings in 2015 using HTML. The current proposed rule would prohibit the use of ASCII for exhibits and require onlyHTML with the newly required hyperlinks.

In addition, the proposed rule changes would include conforming changes to Rule 105 of Regulation S-T. Rule 105 sets forth the limitations and liabilities for the use of hyperlinks. Rule 105 allows hyperlinks to other documents within the same filing or previously filed documents on EDGAR but prohibits hyperlinks to sites, locations, or documents outside the EDGAR system.

Further Background

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 changes 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
LAnthony@LegalAndCompliance.com

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

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

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

Download our mobile app at iTunes.

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

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

© Legal & Compliance, LLC 2016


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SEC Requests Comment On Changes To Subpart 400 To Regulation S-K
Posted by Securities Attorney Laura Anthony | September 13, 2016 Tags: , , , , , ,

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. The request for comment is part of the ongoing SEC Division of Corporation Finance’s Disclosure Effectiveness Initiative and as required by Section 72003 of the FAST Act.

Background

The topic of disclosure requirements under Regulations S-K and S-X as pertains to financial statements and disclosures made in reports and registration statements filed under the Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”) and Securities Act of 1933 (“Securities Act”) has come to the forefront over the past couple of years. The purpose of the Disclosure Effectiveness Initiative is to assess whether the business and financial disclosure requirements continue to provide the information investors need to make informed investment and voting decisions.

Regulation S-K, as amended over the years, was adopted as part of a uniform disclosure initiative to provide a single regulatory source related to non-financial statement disclosures and information required to be included in registration statements and reports filed under the Exchange Act and the Securities Act. Regulation S-X contains specific financial statement preparation and disclosure requirements.

In addition to affecting companies filing registration statements (including on Form 1-A in a Regulation A/A+ offering) and those filing reports with the SEC, any changes to Regulations S-K or S-X will affect acquired entities, acquirees, investment advisers, investment companies, broker-dealers and nationally recognized statistical rating organizations.

In accordance with its mandate under Section 72003 of the FAST Act, the SEC is studying and seeking comment to:

Determine how to modernize and simplify disclosure requirements to reduce the costs and burdens to the company while still providing all material and necessary information to investors;

Further a principles-based approach whereby companies and their management can determine the relevancy and materiality of information provided instead of just including boilerplate language or filling space to meet a static requirement. Of course, this needs to be balanced with the need to ensure completeness and comparability of information among different companies; and

Evaluate information delivery methods and explore ways to eliminate repetition and the disclosure of immaterial information.

Request for Comment

Subpart 400 of Regulation S-K, including Items 401 through 407, require disclosures on directors, executive officers, control persons and promoters; executive compensation; security ownership of certain beneficial owners and management; transactions with related persons, promoters and control persons; ethics and corporate governance.

The SEC’s request for comment does not provide any commentary about particular concerns, thoughts, or questions by the SEC, but is a short general request on “existing requirements in these rules as well as on potential disclosure issues that commenters believe the rules should address.”

Overview of Subpart 400

Item 401 – Directors, Executive Officers, Promoters and Control Persons

Item 401 of Regulation S-K requires the disclosure of the identity and ages of all directors and persons nominated to become a director. In addition, Item 401 requires disclosure of all positions held at the company by that director or nominee, their term of office, and any arrangement or understanding between that person and another person “pursuant to which he was or is to be selected as a director or nominee.” The instructions provide some clarity.  Compensation for service as a director is not included in arrangements with other persons. A person must consent to being included as a nominee.  No information need be provided on an outgoing director.

Item 401 requires the disclosure of the identity and ages of all executive officers.  In addition, Item 401 requires disclosure of all positions held at the company by that executive officer, their term of office, and any arrangement or understanding between that person and another person pursuant to which he was or is to be selected as an officer. A person must consent to being included as an executive officer.

For a first-time registration statement or a registration statement by a company not subject to the reporting requirements under the Securities Exchange Act, Item 401 requires the identification of certain significant employees – in particular, where a person is not an executive officer but otherwise makes a significant contribution to the company’s business. The same information required for executive officers is required for significant employees. Similarly, for a first-time registration statement or registration statement by a company that has not been subject to the reporting requirements for at least 12 months, the same information must be provided for promoters and control persons.

In addition, family relationships, business experience for the past five years, and disclosures of certain legal proceedings must be made for each director and executive officer. The legal proceeding disclosure is a scaled-down version of the bad-actor requirements found elsewhere in the rules, such as Rule 506 and Regulation A. Also, Item 401 requires disclosure of bankruptcy proceedings involving the person or a company for which they were an executive officer during the past five years.

Item 402 – Executive Compensation

An entire treatise could be written on Item 402. From a high level, Item 402 requires disclosure of all compensation awarded to, earned by, or paid to a company’s executive officers and directors. Item 402 also requires disclosures related to pay ratio and require “say on pay” advisory votes. See my blog HERE.

Compensation must be disclosed in tabular form and is meant to encompass any and all benefits received by an executive officer or director, including salary, bonuses, stock awards (including under a plan or not, qualified or non-qualified), option awards, non-equity incentive plans, pension value, benefits, perquisites and all other forms of compensation. Moreover, Item 402 requires a compensation discussion and analysis explaining the presented information.

Item 402 requires details of outstanding stock awards and options, including exercise dates and prices, the market value of underlying securities and vesting schedules. Detailed information is also required regarding pension benefits.

Emerging-growth and smaller reporting companies provide a scaled-down disclosure under Item 402. For details on the Item 402 scaled-down requirements related to emerging growth and smaller reporting companies, see my blog HERE.

Item 403 – Security Ownership of Certain Beneficial Owners and Management

Item 403 requires disclosure of the security ownership of officers, directors and 5% or greater shareholders, including the beneficial owner or natural person behind any entity ownership. Ownership is disclosed in tabular form and includes name, address, number of securities owned and percentage owned of that class. Item 403 requires disclosure of all classes of outstanding equity regardless of whether such class is registered or publicly trades.

Item 404 – Transactions with Related Persons, Promoters, and Certain Control Persons

Item 404 requires the disclosure of material related party transactions. For purposes of Item 404, related parties include officers or officer nominees, directors or director nominees, a family member of a director or executive office, 5% or greater shareholders, or any person that has a direct or indirect material interest in the company. Companies other than emerging-growth or smaller reporting companies must also disclose the company’s policy for the review, approval or ratification of related party transactions. Item 404 also requires the disclosure of compensations, assets or benefits to be received by promoters where the company is filing an S-1 or Form 10 registration statement.

A “promoter” has a specific definition in the securities laws and is not tied to stock promotion in the sense that many may think.  A “promoter” is defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act as including:

(1) Any person who, acting alone or in conjunction with one or more other persons, directly or indirectly takes initiative in founding and organizing the business or enterprise of an issuer; or

(2) Any person who, in connection with the founding and organizing of the business or enterprise of an issuer, directly or indirectly receives in consideration of services or property, or both services and property, 10 percent or more of any class of securities of the issuer or 10 percent or more of the proceeds from the sale of any class of such securities. However, a person who receives such securities or proceeds either solely as underwriting commissions or solely in consideration of property shall not be deemed a promoter within the meaning of this paragraph if such person does not otherwise take part in founding and organizing the enterprise.

(3) All persons coming within the definition of promoter in paragraph (1) of this definition may be referred to as founders or organizers or by another term provided that such term is reasonably descriptive of those persons’ activities with respect to the issuer.

Item 404 expands the definition of promoter to include “any person who acquired control of a registrant that is a shell company, or any person that is part of a group, consisting of two or more persons that agree to act together for the purpose of acquiring, holding, voting or disposing of equity securities of a registrant, that acquired control of a registrant that is a shell company.”

 Item 405 – Compliance with Section 16(a) of the Exchange Act

Section 16(a) of the Exchange Act requires the filing of Forms 3 and 4 by officers, directors or 10%-or-greater shareholders. For a review of the Section 16 filing requirements, see my blog HERE. Item 405 requires a company to disclose failures to meet these filing requirements.

 Item 406 – Code of Ethics

Item 406 requires a company to disclose whether it has adopted a code of ethics for the executive officers and accounting controller. A copy of the code of ethics must also be filed with the SEC and included on the company’s website.

 Item 407 – Corporate Governance

Item 407 requires disclosure of corporate governance standards, including those related to director independence; board committees, including audit compensation, and nominating committees; and annual meeting attendance. Item 407 requires detailed information for each category of corporate governance as well as the policies and procedures of each board committee.

Further Background

The request for comment follows the July 13, 2016 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 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 ReleaseHERE 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 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.

Prior to the S-K Concept Release and current Regulation S-K and S-X proposed amendments, 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
LAnthony@LegalAndCompliance.com

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

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

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

Download our mobile app at iTunes.

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

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

© Legal & Compliance, LLC 2016


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SEC Continues Efforts To Prevent Microcap Fraud
Posted by Securities Attorney Laura Anthony | August 16, 2016 Tags: , , ,

As I’ve written about numerous times in the past, a primary agenda of the SEC and FINRA is to prevent small- and micro-cap fraud.  On March 23, 2016, the SEC charged Guy Gentile with penny stock fraud.  The SEC complaint, as well as numerous industry articles and a blog by Mr. Gentile himself, reveal in-depth efforts by the SEC together with FINRA and the FBI and DOJ to remove recidivist and bad actors from the micro-cap system.  While the methods used by the regulators have been the subject of heated debates and articles, the message and result remain that the SEC is committed to its efforts to deter securities law violations.

Although small- and micro-cap fraud has always been an important area of concern and enforcement by the SEC since the financial crisis of 2008, it has increasingly been a focus.  Regulators have amplified their efforts through regulations and stronger enforcement, including the SEC Broken Windows policy, increased Dodd-Frank whistleblower activity and reward payments, CEO and CFO liability for SEC reports under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and increased bad actor prohibitions.  See my blog HERE related to the SEC Broken Windows policy and CEO/CFO liability (as an aside, I note that the proposed Stronger Enforcement of Civil Penalties Act never made it past its introduction in July 2015) and HERE related to Rule 506 and Regulation A bad actor prohibitions.

The fight against small- and micro-cap fraud is an industry positive overall.  While not a regulator, OTC Markets itself has taken great strides in improving the quality of and information available related to OTC Markets-traded companies, including through qualitative and quantitative standards for quotation on both the OTCQB (see my blog HERE) and OTCQX (see my blog HERE).

The Guy Gentile Case

On March 23, 2016, the SEC charged Guy Gentile with penny stock fraud.  The SEC litigation release alleges that Gentile, who owned and operated Sure Trader, a registered broker-dealer, engaged in manipulative trading, provided illegal kickbacks, illegally issued unregistered stock and distributed promotional mailings of glossy newsletters using fake publication names to pump the stocks of at least two penny stocks (KYUS and RVNG).  The SEC continues that Gentile misled investors with positive but fake price and volume trends while concealing the control persons’ identities and compensation.  Apparently, Gentile, together with attorney Adam Gottbetter and a few stock promoters, controlled large blocks of the companies’ stock, which control was not disclosed in company filings or the promotional activities.

The SEC complaint, filed in March 2016, details Gentile’s actions involving KYUS and RVNG, which actions occurred in 2007 and 2008.  As alleged by the SEC, the entire history of RVNG and KYUS was a fraud, from its creation using a sham registration (see my blog HERE for more on this) to its issuances of freely tradable securities to insiders, manipulative trades and promotional activities.

The SEC complaint does not address the fact that a period of 8-9 years went by between the illegal activities and the filing of the complaint.   Guy Gentile has written a detailed blog explaining his version of events, or more precisely, what happened in the missing years.  In particular, Gentile claims that he was arrested in 2012 and that from that time until the complaint against him in March 2016, he acted as a cooperating witness and SEC and FBI informant, assisting in the indictment of over a dozen individuals related to hundreds of millions of dollars in pump-and-dump and other illegal activities and resulting in over $12 million in fines and disgorgements with the potential of tens of millions more to come.

Gentile details his involvement in elaborate, and sometimes dangerous, undercover operations.  The complaint, together with Gentile’s blog and numerous industry articles on the events, reads like a movie.  It is undisputed that Gentile’s brokerage firm, Sure Trader, which was based in the Bahamas, remained in business and continued to market to U.S.-based retail customers after Gentile’s arrest in 2012 and through at least July 2015.  It appears that the entire firm was wired up and all happenings were being recorded by the FBI.

Guy Gentile’s biggest defense is the statute of limitations, which is five years.  However, apparently he signed a waiver of the statute of limitations while acting as an informant.

The prevention of fraud has been on the SEC agenda since the commission was founded in 1933, with efforts intensifying as the sophistication of the marketplace has grown.  On November 17, 2009, President Obama established, by executive order, an Interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force to strengthen efforts to combat financial crime.  To start, the Department of Justice led the task force and the Department of Treasury, HUD and the SEC served on the steering committee.  The task force’s leadership, along with representatives from federal agencies and regulatory authorities, continue to work with state and local partners to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, address discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims.

Putting aside the entertainment value of the entire case, it does fully illustrate the commitment by regulators to attack small- and micro-cap fraud.  Clearly, the more of these egregious activities that are uncovered and prosecuted, the more success legitimate small businesses will have raising capital, growing, and supporting the U.S. economy including through job creation.

Conclusion

It is undisputed that emerging companies play a critical role in the U.S. economy, supporting growth, innovation and job creation.  The JOBS Act made dramatic changes to the landscape for the marketing and selling of both private and public securities.  These significant changes include: (i) the creation of Rule 506(c), which came into effect on September 23, 2013, and allows for general solicitation and advertising in private offerings where the purchasers are limited to accredited investors; (ii) the overhaul of Regulation A creating two tiers of offerings, which came into effect on June 19, 2015, and allows for both pre-filing and post-filing marketing of an offering, called “testing the waters”; (iii) the addition of Section 5(d) of the Securities Act, which came into effect in April 2012, permitting emerging-growth companies to test the waters by engaging in pre- and post-filing communications with qualified institutional buyers or institutions that are accredited investors; and (iv) Title III crowdfunding, which came into effect on May 19, 2016, and allows for the use of Internet-based marketing and sales of securities offerings.

Furthermore, the OTC Markets has proven itself as a small-cap venture exchange, supporting the secondary trading of small and emerging growth companies and providing a respected trading platform for companies prior to moving on to an exchange such as NASDAQ or the NYSE MKT.

The other side of these initiatives is the real concern of fraud.  I’m not expressing an opinion on the methods used by the regulators in this case, but I do support the efforts.  I also believe in the basic principle that it is better for the industry that investors believe egregious fraudulent activities will be prosecuted.

This firm does not participate in SEC enforcement proceedings or related litigation matters; however, as with any good securities attorney, we keep our clients informed of the law so that they can avoid participation in these proceedings.

The Author

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

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

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

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

Download our mobile app at iTunes.

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

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

© Legal & Compliance, LLC 2016


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  • Contact Information

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

    Toll Free: 1.800.341.2684
    Phone: 561.514.0936
    Fax: 561.514.0832