By Laura Anthony, Esq.
Related to small business issuers, the current rules create an unfair distinction. A company trading on the OTC Markets that voluntarily reports to the SEC would be eligible, whereas a company that may be substantially similar but is required to file reports would be ineligible to utilize Regulation A+.
On June 6, 2016, OTC Markets filed a petition for rulemaking with the SEC requesting that the SEC amend Regulation A+ to expand the eligibility criteria to include all small issuers, including those that are subject to the Exchange Act reporting requirements and to allow “at-the-market offerings.”
The OTC Markets petition is concise and to the point. When Congress passed the JOBS Act, it left the particulars of Regulation A+ rulemaking to the SEC with only the following mandates:
- The aggregate offering amount of all securities sold within a 12-month period shall not exceed $50,000,000;
- The securities may be offered and sold publicly;
- The securities shall not be restricted securities within the meaning of the federal securities laws;
- The civil liability provisions under Section 12(a)(2) of the Securities Act shall apply to any person offering or selling Regulation A securities;
- The issuer may solicit interest in the offering prior to filing any offering statement, on such terms and condition as the SEC may prescribe in the public interest and protecting investors;
- The SEC shall require the issuer to file annual audited financial statements; and
- Such other terms and conditions as the SEC shall determine are necessary in the public interest and protecting investors.
The JOBS Act itself did not prohibit or limit the use of Regulation A+ for reporting companies, and accordingly, that decision is within the SEC rulemaking discretion. In fact, throughout the JOBS Act and in particular in Title IV related to Regulation A+, Congress refers to expanding capital formation for “small issues” under $50 million with the goal of increasing capital to all small companies.
The SEC reasoning for excluding reporting companies in the first place is weak at best. In particular, the SEC excluded reporting issuers because the prior Regulation A rules, which were admittedly rarely used and ineffective at assisting in small business capital formation, contained the exclusion. That is, when revamping Regulation A+ as mandated by the JOBS Act, the SEC just didn’t change that provision.
The OTC Markets points out that the Regulation A+ rules as enacted offer more protections for non-accredited investors than a fully registered S-1 or S-3 offering. In particular, there are no investor limitations for unaccredited purchasers in an S-1 or S-3 offering, whereas a Regulation A+ offering limits investments by unaccredited investors to no more than 10% of the greater of the investor’s annual income or net worth. In addition, a traditional S-1 or S-3 does not have any limitations or prohibitions related to bad actor disqualifications, whereas Regulation A+ does prohibit use by “bad actors.”
The OTC Markets petition also contains a good discussion on the costs associated with an S-1 or S-3 offering, including added costs of state blue sky law compliance. State blue sky preemption is one of the cornerstones of Tier 2 Regulation A+ offerings that benefit issuers. Moreover, generally only much larger issuers are S-3 eligible and thus S-3 is not considered a “small company” capital formation tool. Similarly, private offerings under Regulation D are not registered and so do not offer the same level of investor protections. These offerings also result in restricted securities and thus less investor incentive to participate.
In addition to the obvious benefit to small and emerging company capital formation of allowing small reporting companies to utilize Regulation A+, there is also an added potential benefit to the capital markets as a whole. OTC Markets opines that the flow of freely tradable securities into the marketplace for existing public companies could have a positive uptick on the liquidity and overall growth and vitality of venture markets. Regulation A+ could have the benefit of pushing forward the much-needed venture market for the secondary trading of securities of early-stage, small and emerging growth companies. OTC Markets points out that it could and should be that venture market.
Note 1: Read Part I of this Article. Click HERE
Note 2: Original appeared on Legal & Compliance, LLC on 28 June 2016. Click HERE
Securities attorney Laura Anthony is the founding partner of Legal & Compliance, LLC, a corporate, securities and business transactions law firm. The firm’s 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.