The SEC’s Division of Economic and Risk Analysis (DERA) recently produced a Report to Congress regarding the impacts of the Dodd-Frank Act on access to capital for consumers, investors, and businesses, and market liquidity.  Although the Report is principally focused on liquidity, it does provide some interesting statistics regarding the primary issuance of equity securities.

The Report notes that total capital formation from 2010 when the Dodd-Frank Act was enacted through year-end 2016 was approximately $20.2 trillion, of which $8.8 trillion was raised through registered offerings, and $11.38 trillion was raised in exempt offerings.  The report notes the substantial increase in reliance on exempt offerings.  Regulation D offerings have more than doubled since 2009.  However, the report notes that the amount sold in reliance on Rule 506(c) represented only 3% of the amount sold in reliance on Rule 506.  The average amounts raised in initial Rule 506(c) offerings is much smaller than the average amount reported sold in  Rule 506(b) offerings.  Rule 144A issuances remain stable.

The Report also provides data regarding Regulation A and crowdfunded offerings, and may be accessed here:  https://www.sec.gov/files/access-to-capital-and-market-liquidity-study-dera-2017.pdf.

Global fintech venture capital-backed financings are on course to hit record highs, according to a recent research briefing by CB Insights. For the first half of 2017, there have been 496 VC-backed financings that raised over $8.0 billion for fintech companies around the world. U.S. fintech issuers represented almost 40% of the total number of fintech financings in the first half of the year with 198 deals raising $3.1 billion.

Financings for blockchain and bitcoin companies globally in the first half of 2017 raised $343 million over 36 deals. Wealth tech company financings, which include robo-advisors and mobile investing platforms, raised $661 million across 33 financings. Financings for insurance tech companies accounted for over 15% of financings by number of deals, raising $826 million over 76 deals.

There are now 26 fintech unicorns, companies with a valuation of over $1 billion, which include 15 U.S.-based fintech companies. This follows an ongoing trend of privately held companies choosing to remain private longer. Late-stage investments have been ever more present with companies going through multiple rounds of financings due to increased access to capital. Both global and U.S. late-stage investments in fintech companies hit five-quarter highs, with a median deal size of $34 million and $38.5 million, respectively.

To see CB Insight’s full report, click here.

The House Financial Services Committee met on Tuesday, July 25, 2017 and approved four bipartisan bills. Among them, H.R. 2864, the Improving Access to Capital Act, was approved by the Committee by a vote of 59-0.

The bill proposes to amend Regulation A to remove the requirement that an issuer not be subject to certain reporting requirements under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, immediately before an offering. The bill also proposes to amend Tier 2 offering reporting requirements under the Securities Exchange Act of 1933.

The legislation was introduced in an effort to allow for a streamlined SEC review process and promote capital raising for smaller reporting companies. The full bill text can be found here.

Securities and Exchange Commissioner Stein, speaking on the same day as Chair Clayton, in a speech that addressed principally market structure issues also made a number of observations on the current state of the markets. Commissioner Stein framed the market changes, such as the decline in the number of IPOs, somewhat differently than the Chair. She points out that framing matters as a “tug-of-war” between investors (demanding information) and issuers (seeking access to capital) may lead to viewing regulatory choices as a tradeoff between disclosure and capital formation. Such a view might not fully take into consideration the degree to which the market as a whole rely on access to information about private and public companies for price discovery and other purposes. Commissioner Stein observed that from “2009 through 2014, investors supplied nearly $17 trillion in primary capital – providing capital directly to companies in exchange for debt or equity securities.” During the same period, the amount of capital raised in the private markets outpaced the amount raised in the public market. Commissioner Stein noted that “during 2014, for every investor dollar raised in the public market, nearly $1.50 was raised in the private markets.” In her remarks, the Commissioner noted that there is an abundance of private capital that companies are able to access and, in addition, many companies are choosing to be acquired instead of going public. She observed that “One impact is a reduction in the aggregate amount of information available to the entire capital marketplace. On the whole, our markets are less transparent.” The complete remarks may be accessed here: https://www.sec.gov/news/speech/stein-lighting-our-capital-markets-071117.

In a speech earlier today, Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Clayton discussed the Commission’s guiding principles.  In his comments relating to disclosure requirements, Chair Clayton noted that “the roughly 50% decline in the total number of U.S.-listed public companies over the last two decades forces us to question whether our analysis should be cumulative as well as incremental.”  I believe it should be.  As a data point, over this period, studies show the median word-count for SEC filings has more than doubled, yet readability of those documents is at an all-time low.”  Clayton notes that the Commission needs to do more to make the public markets more attractive, without affecting adversely the private markets.  Consistent with the Commission’s statements a few days ago regarding the Commission’s willingness to consider requests from issuers regarding omitting certain information, Clayton noted that, “Under Rule 3-13 of Regulation S-X, issuers can request modifications to their financial reporting requirements in these situations.  I want to encourage companies to consider whether such modifications may be helpful in connection with their capital raising activities and assure you that SEC staff is placing a high priority on responding with timely guidance.”

Clayton also noted that the Staff of the Commission continues to work on recommendations following the report on modernizing and simplifying Regulation S-K requirements.  The full speech, which also addressed enforcement, the regulation of derivatives, and investment management, is available here:  https://www.sec.gov/news/speech/remarks-economic-club-new-york.

The SEC’s Investor Advisory Committee has announced the agenda for its June 22 meeting.  The committee will discuss issues relating to capital formation for smaller companies, including the decline in IPOs. The committee will also review certain provisions of the Financial CHOICE Act, as they relate to the SEC.

The meeting is open to the public and will be webcast live from the SEC’s website.

On June 8, 2017, the House passed H.R. 10, the Financial “CHOICE” Act with a vote of 233 to 186.  Introduced on April 27, 2017, the Financial CHOICE Act proposes to amend the Dodd-Frank Act to repeal the Volcker Rule, eliminate the FDIC’s orderly liquidation authority, and repeal certain limitations imposed by the Durbin Amendment.  The bill would also remove FSOC’s authority to designate non-bank financial institutions and financial market utilities as “systemically important” (also known as “too big to fail”).

Furthermore, in addition to the numerous amendments to the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010, the bill intends to (1) modify provisions related to the SEC’s managerial structure and enforcement authority; (2) eliminate the Office of Financial Research within the Department of the Treasury; and (3) revise provisions related to capital formation, insurance regulation, civil penalties for securities laws violations, and community financial institutions.

The bill would also repeal the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule which, when fully implemented, significantly expands the categories of persons considered fiduciaries.  The DOL would be prohibited from adopting any similar rule until after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) adopts a fiduciary standard for broker-dealers.

Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Jeb Hensarling, said in a statement after the passing of the bill: “We will make sure there is needed regulatory relief for our small banks and credit unions, because it’s our small banks and credit unions that lend to our small businesses that are the jobs engine of our economy and make sure the American dream is not a pipe dream.”

For a summary of current pending legislation relating to capital formation, click here.

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.

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 researching and updating our treatise, Exempt and Hybrid Securities Laws, we regularly review recent literature regarding capital markets developments.  The principal underlying thesis of the treatise has been that exempt and hybrid offerings were becoming significantly more important as capital-raising tools.  While that was true although not necessarily obvious when we first published the treatise, it seems to be a trend that has become even more pronounced in recent years, even affecting the number of IPOs.  Each week, we’ll be posting our “favorite” articles on these topics.  Herewith, the first installment:

Unicorns, Guardians, and the Concentration of the U.S. Equity Markets, Amy Deen Westbrook and David A. Westbrook.  This article discusses the more concentrated ownership of both private and public companies in recent years, including the closely held nature of most unicorns.  Given the concentration of ownership in successful privately held companies and in most public companies today, the article addresses the governance and stewardship issues that this ownership concentration poses.

The Twilight of Equity Liquidity, Jeff Schwartz, 34 Cardozo L. Rev. 531.  This article discusses a new approach to regulating companies, with the cornerstone being a new market for newly public companies (a “venture exchange”), which should be designed to encourage companies to pursue IPOs and revive the IPO market, as well as a more extensive “on-ramp” or phasing in of regulatory requirements as companies mature.

Regulating Unicorns:  Disclosure and the New Private Economy, Jennifer Fan, 57 B.C. L. Rev. 583.  This article discusses the unicorn phenomenon and the need to re-think regulation to address the growth of privately held companies with robust valuations and dispersed ownership.