By Laura Anthony, Esq.
The OTC Markets petition contains a pointed discussion on the market benefits, including noting that “Regulation A+ allows smaller companies, traditionally lacking the backing of bulge bracket investment banks and the large base of institutional ownership needed to fund ongoing research coverage, to reach out to a broader pool of potential investors through ‘testing the waters’ provisions and the efficient economical reach of the Internet and social media. Emerging companies can use Regulation A+ online offerings to tap into large numbers of individual investors and efficiently target smaller institutions. Allowing fully SEC reporting companies the same ability to leverage technology and transparency to reach potential investors would be expected to provide a ready source of growth capital, and, equally important, an increase in liquidity in the secondary market.”
Interestingly, OTC argues that opening up Regulation A+ to small reporting companies may reduce or minimize the use of toxic financing options which carry substantial dilution and downward pricing pressure on company stock. Moreover, allowing small reporting companies to utilize Regulation A+ may raise the interest in these offerings for investment banks.
Finally, in order to make Regulation A+ the most useful for reporting companies, OTC Markets requests that the SEC also amend the rules to allow “at-the-market” offerings. Currently all Regulation A+ offerings must be priced. In the case of a security that is already trading, the ability to price accurately is difficult and the inability to adjust such pricing in response to fluctuating market conditions can impede the success of the offering.
From my perspective, Regulation A has become the most popular method of fundraising and private-to-public transactions for small business issuers. Although as of the date of this blog, only one issuer, Elio Motors, Inc., has received a trading symbol and actively trades, many others are in the works and I think we will see an opening of the floodgates. As Tier 2 requires audited financial statements, the preparation process can take months and the placement of an offering can also take months.
A traditional IPO is completed using an underwriter on a “firm commitment” basis where the underwriter buys all the company’s securities on the first day of the IPO and proceeds to resell them. No Regulation A offerings have yet been completed in a firm commitment underwritten offering. To the contrary, current Regulation A offerings are either self-placed by the issuing company, or completed with the assistance of a broker-dealer placement agent on a best efforts basis. This placement process can take several months to complete. Accordingly, many issuers have not closed out their offerings as of yet and therefore have not reached the point of eligibility to apply for a trade symbol. My office alone has over half a dozen Regulation A offerings in the works.
Tier 2 offerings in particular present a much-needed opportunity for smaller companies to go public without the added time and expense of state blue sky compliance but with added investor qualifications. Tier 2 offerings preempt state blue sky laws. To compromise with opponents to the state blue sky preemption, the SEC included investor qualifications for Tier 2 offerings. In particular, Tier 2 offerings have a limitation on the amount of securities non-accredited investors can purchase of no more than 10% of the greater of the investor’s annual income or net worth. It is the obligation of the issuer to notify investors of these limitations. Issuers may rely on the investors’ representations as to accreditation and investment limits with no added verification.
Tier 2 issuers that have used the S-1 format for their Form 1-A filing will be permitted to file a Form 8-A to register under the Exchange Act and become subject to its reporting requirements. A Form 8-A is a simple registration form used instead of a Form 10 for issuers that have already filed the substantive Form 10 information with the SEC. Upon filing a Form 8-A, the issuer will become subject to the full Exchange Act reporting obligations, and the scaled-down Regulation A+ reporting will automatically be suspended. With the filing of a Form 8-A, the issuer can apply to trade on a national exchange.
This marks a huge change and opportunity for companies that wish to go public directly and raise less than $50 million. An initial or direct public offering on Form S-1 does not preempt state law. By choosing a Tier 2 Regulation A+ offering followed by a Form 8-A, the issuer can achieve the same result – i.e., become a fully reporting trading public company, without the added time and expense of complying with state blue sky laws. The other consideration would be the added investor qualifications, but if the issuer meets the requirements for and lists on a national exchange, the added investor qualifications no longer apply.
Note 1: Read Part I of this Article. Click HERE
Note 2: Read Part II of this Article. Click HERE
Note 3: 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.
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