Many groups have come forward in recent weeks with their lists of regulations that should be reviewed or amended, as well as their list of areas that merit close review in light of the potential burdens that may be imposed by current regulation.  As far as securities regulation is concerned, much of the focus, at least in the popular press, has been placed on measures that relate to IPOs; however, modest changes in other areas would have a positive impact on capital formation—here is our current list:

  • Adopting the proposed amendments relating to smaller reporting companies;
  • Continuing to advance the disclosure effectiveness initiative;
  • Continuing the review of the industry guides in order to modernize these requirements and eliminate outdated or repetitive requirements;
  • Revisiting the WKSI standard in order to see if similar accommodations and offering related flexibility should be made available to a broader universe of companies;
  • Reviewing existing communications safe harbors in order to modernize these and make communications safe harbors available to a broader array of companies, including business development companies;
  • Adopting the proposed amendment to Rule 163(c) that would allow underwriters or other financial intermediaries to engage in discussions on a WKSI’s behalf relating to a possible offering;
  • Assessing whether a policy rationale remains for including MLPs within the definition of “ineligible issuer” when MLPs undertake public offerings on a best efforts basis;
  • Assessing who suffers when ineligible issuers are prevented from using FWPs other than for term sheet purposes;
  • Removing the limitations that require certain issuers to conduct live only roadshows;
  • Eliminating the need for “market-maker” prospectuses;
  • Reviewing the one-third limit applicable to primary issuances off of a shelf registration statement for certain smaller companies;
  • Modernizing the filing requirements for BDCs, permitting access equals delivery for BDCs and modernizing the research safe harbors to include BDCs;
  • Adding knowledgeable employees to the definition of accredited investor;
  • Eliminating the IPO quiet period;
  • Working with the securities exchanges to review their “20% Rules” (requiring a shareholder vote for private placements completed at a discount that will result in an issuance or potential issuance of securities greater than 20% of the pre-transaction total shares outstanding);
  • Addressing the Rule 144 aggregation rules for private equity and venture capital fund related sales;
  • Shortening the Rule 144 holding period for reporting companies;
  • Including sovereign wealth funds and central banks within the definition of QIBs;
  • Shortening the 30-day period in Rule 155; and
  • Shortening the six-month integration safe harbor contained in Regulation D.

Thursday, May 25, 2017
10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. EDT

The webinar will discuss the current state of fintech services in the US, including state licensing requirements, bank partnership arrangements, and the potential for special purpose bank charters at both the state and federal levels.

The presenters will also discuss the benefits and potential difficulties of these arrangements. Finally, the discussion will touch on fintech enhancements to existing bank services, including distributed ledger technology.

Topics Will Include:

  • An update on the state of fintech services;
  • Lending and payments models;
  • Bank partnerships;
  • State licenses;
  • Bank Charters;
  • True Lender; and
  • Madden.

Speakers:

CLE credit is pending for California and New York.

For more information, or to register, please click here.

Earlier this month Rick A. Fleming, Investor Advocate at the Securities and Exchange Commission, gave a speech in which he discussed the impact that shrinking public markets have on investor participation.  Mr. Fleming noted that over the past 20 years, the volume of initial public offerings (IPOs) has been decreasing and companies are waiting longer to go public, limiting the ability for individual retail investors to participate in capital growth and preserving capital gains for wealthy investors in the private markets.  He also noted that there has been a significant shift away from retail investing towards institutional investing.  Mr. Fleming explored whether there is a link between the shift to institutional investing and the decrease in IPO activity, specifically with regard to small company IPOs.  Based on discussions with asset managers, Mr. Fleming discovered that, in general, institutional investors who engage in active management have little interest in investing in small-cap public companies because of concerns regarding trade liquidity and regulatory barriers.   In his speech, Mr. Fleming identified some macro trends on individual investor participation:

  • The number of individual investors who invest directly in stocks has decreased in recent years:
    • In 2001, 21% of families had direct investments in stocks compared to 13% today.
    • Today, only 11.4% of families with net worth between the 50th and 75th percentile of all U.S. households invest directly in stocks.
  • Individual investors are shifting from investing in stocks to investing in funds, causing the assets under management (AUM) of institutional investors to grow:
    • In 1976, individual investors directly owned 50% of U.S. stocks compared to 21.5% in 2016.
    • In 1976, institutional investors owned less than 20% of U.S. stocks; today institutional investors own the majority.
    • Today, nearly 45% of U.S. households invest in registered funds.
    • AUM of institutional investors has increased from $6 trillion in 1998 to $19 trillion today.
  • Mutual fund investments in small IPOs have declined:
    • In 1990, 10.6% of funds disclosed an investment in small IPO issuers compared to only 0.7$% in 2010.
    • Institutional ownership of small-cap companies has fallen 8% between 2014 and 2016, with institutions shifting their investment focus to mid- and large-cap companies.

Based on the macro trend data and the results of his conversations with asset managers, Mr. Fleming believes that, in order to reinvigorate the IPO market, regulators need to consider reforms that will make institutional investors more interested in smaller public companies. In addition, Mr. Fleming believes regulators will be much more successful if they focus on demand-side reforms directed towards attracting more investors to the public markets rather than on supply-side reforms of decreasing disclosure requirements or shareholder rights to attract more companies to the public markets.  The full text of Mr. Fleming’s speech is available at: https://www.sec.gov/news/speech/fleming-enhancing-demand-ipos-050917

As the 115th United States Congress is currently in session, a number of bills designed to promote capital raising for companies have been introduced in both the House and the Senate. In the last two months, both the House and Senate approved a handful of these bills, further advancing potential legislative reform relating to corporate capital formation.

For a summary of the status of these various bills, see our Pending Legislation tracker.

In the May 10, 2017 dialogue held by the SEC’s Division of Economic and Risk Analysis and New York University’s Stern School of Business, academics and industry representatives provided recommended measures for rejuvenating the U.S.’s IPO market.  Such measures, aimed at increasing the incentive for companies of varying sizes, geographic backgrounds and industries to utilize and thrive in the public markets, included the following recommendations:

  • Exempt dividends from taxation at the corporate level for all public companies.
  • Increase regulations on private companies to align them with public companies. These regulations can include mandatory accounting standards and restrictions on ownership.
  • Exclude accredited investors from 500 shareholder thresholds for private companies under Section 12(g) of the Exchange Act to ensure that companies are able to enter the public market at the most advantageous time.
  • Require disclosure of short positions for small public companies to make smaller companies more attractive to institutional investors.
  • For public companies, base operational decisions on investment and growth of the company rather than meeting earnings guidance. Public companies should speak to investors about the long term and get independent directors involved in the company’s strategy.

On May 10, 2017, the SEC’s Division of Economic and Risk Analysis and New York University’s Stern School of Business held a dialogue aimed at assessing the economic factors causing the recent downturn in initial public offerings (“IPOs”) in the U.S. market.  Former Acting Chair and current SEC Commissioner Michael Piwowar began the dialogue, reiterating the importance of making public capital markets available to businesses.  Commissioner Piwowar emphasized that a robust IPO market fosters innovation, creates jobs and provides opportunities for investors to increase wealth and mitigate risk.

Throughout the discussion, academics, regulators and industry practitioners opined on economic trends that have led to a severe decrease in IPO activity over the past fifteen years.   The overall IPO activity is presently less than 1/3 of where it stood in the 1990s and 40% of current-day IPOs are undergone by large companies.  Panelists agreed that regulation, including restrictions and disclosures required by Sarbanes Oxley and the JOBS Act, has had at most a minimal impact on the decline of the IPO market.  Rather, through venture capital, private equity, hedge funds and mutual funds, emerging companies today enjoy a variety of options to privately grow their businesses and gain needed liquidity.  Even firms desiring “exit options” can opt to pursue for strategic sales rather than entering the public market.  While some industry professionals expect an uptick in IPOs as soon as this year, the time allocation, cost and risk of going public will likely continue to limit IPO activity, particularly among smaller issuers.

Commissioner Piwowar’s opening remarks at the SEC-NYU Dialogue on Securities Market Regulation: Reviving the U.S. IPO Market are available at: https://www.sec.gov/news/speech/opening-remarks-sec-nyu-dialogue-securities-market-regulation-reviving-us-ipo-market

On April 13, 2017, the NYSE issued a proposed rule change that would amend Sections 204.12, 204.21, and 202.06(B) of its NYSE Listed Company Manual to require listed companies to provide notice to the NYSE at least ten minutes before making any public announcement about a dividend or stock distribution, including outside of the hours during which the NYSE’s immediate release policy is in operation.  The principal effect of the change would be to require listed companies to provide ten minutes advance notice to the NYSE with respect to a dividend announcement made at any time, rather than just during the hours of operation of the immediate release policy as is currently the case.  The NYSE noted that the proposed rule change will help avoid confusion in the marketplace if there is contradictory information available from multiple sources or uncertainty as to whether news reports of dividends are accurate and also enable NYSE staff to answer questions from market participants about corporate actions.

A copy of the proposed rule change is available at: https://www.nyse.com/publicdocs/nyse/markets/nyse/rule-filings/filings/2017/NYSE-2017-17.pdf.

On May 8, 2017, the NYSE MKT issued a proposed rule change to harmonize its periodic reporting requirements with those of the NYSE. Currently, the NYSE MKT provides companies that are late in making required filings with a compliance plan under its general provisions for companies that are non-compliant with NYSE rules, as set forth in Section 1009 of the NYSE MKT Company Guide. Section 1009 gives the NYSE MKT the discretion to grant companies up to 18 months to cure events of noncompliance and does not provide specific guidance with respect to how compliance periods should be administered for companies late in submitting their filings. In contrast, Section 802.01E of the NYSE Listed Company Manual limits companies to a maximum cure period of 12 months to submit all delayed filings and includes specific provisions for determining how much time companies should be given to cure within the context of that maximum 12 months and what is required to be eligible for that additional time. The proposed rule change also harmonizes NYSE MKT requirements with respect to semi-annual reporting by foreign private issuers with that of the NYSE. The NYSE MKT noted that a consistent approach among the two sister exchanges will avoid confusion among investors and companies and their service providers about the applicable rules.

A copy of the proposed rule change is available at: https://www.sec.gov/rules/sro/nysemkt/2017/34-80619.pdf.

The Nasdaq recently published a report, titled “The Promise of Market Reform,” which sets out proposed structural changes that are intended to relieve some of the burdens associated with being a public company.  The report notes the decline in the number of U.S. public companies and notes the trend in U.S. IPOs and the increased reliance on private placements.  The report suggests reform of the proxy process, by, among other things, raising the minimum ownership amount and holding period to introduce a proxy proposal and addressing proxy advisory firms.  The report suggests various measures that would streamline corporate disclosures by eliminating quarterly reporting requirements, providing additional accommodations for smaller reporting companies, and reducing politically motivated disclosure obligations.  The report notes that litigation reform also is needed.  Various tax reform measures also are discussed as possible incentives to encourage investment.  Finally, the report discusses possible market structure changes.  Finally, the report addresses measures that are intended to promote long-termism.

The report can be accessed here:  https://globenewswire.com/news-release/2017/05/04/978502/0/en/U-S-Financial-Markets-Require-Comprehensive-Market-Reform-to-Reignite-Job-Growth-and-Create-a-Healthier-Economic-Ecosystem.html

Below, a continuation of our bibliography of thought-provoking articles on issues related to right-sizing regulation, staying private versus going public, and related topics:

The JOBS Act:  Unintended Consequences of the “Facebook Bill,” Tyler Adam, 9 Hastings Bus L.J. 99.  This article discusses the effects of the changes to the Exchange Act Section 12(g) threshold, essentially making it easier for companies to remain private, defer IPOs, and limit their disclosure requirements.

The Law and Economics of Scaled Equity Market Regulation, Jeff Schwartz, 39 J. Corp. L. 347.  This article questions the case for reduced disclosure requirements for smaller or entrepreneurial companies and suggests a framework for evaluating regulatory relief and the costs of securities regulation.

Fool’s Gold, Abraham J.B. Cable.  This article considers whether employees in startup or entrepreneurial companies, for whom stock-based compensation may constitute a significant percentage of overall compensation, are well-equipped to evaluate the risks and rewards of their investment in such companies and the related regulatory implications.