Disclosure Requirements

In recent months, there has been an active dialogue regarding the regulatory burdens for public companies and whether these burdens have contributed to the decline in the number of U.S. initial public offerings (“IPOs”) and companies listed on U.S. securities exchanges. One of the burdens cited by commentators relates to the extensive disclosures required under the rules and regulations of the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “Commission” or the “SEC”) for companies seeking to register IPOs under the Securities Act of 1933 and also for public-reporting companies in their filings made pursuant to the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the “Exchange Act”). Long before the days of the recent presidential order seeking to limit new regulations and eliminate existing regulations, the Commission had already embarked on its own disclosure effectiveness initiative; however, in recent months, the “push” for regulatory burden relief has become a shove.

Yesterday’s release by the Commission of proposed amendments to certain Regulation S-K requirements, which we summarize in this alert, are likely just the first of several disclosure-related amendments to be issued.

Read our client alert.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practising Law Institute’s Exempt and Hybrid Securities Offerings is the first practical, accessible resource to provide you with comprehensive legal, regulatory, and procedural guidance regarding these increasingly popular offering methodologies.

Authored by Morrison & Foerster Partners Anna Pinedo and James Tanenbaum, the third edition of Exempt and Hybrid Securities Offerings gives you a useful understanding of the applicable regulations and legal framework for these transactions, as well as the implications of these regulations for structuring transactions.

The treatise provides a detailed analysis of the regulations and guidance affecting exempt and hybrid securities offerings, as well as offers market context and practical structuring advice. Packed with checklists, transactional timelines, SEC guidance, and a wealth of labor-saving sample documents, Exempt and Hybrid Securities Offerings offers the relative advantages and drawbacks of the most commonly used forms of exempt and hybrid offerings. It clearly explains:

  • conducting venture private placements;
  • traditional and structured PIPE transactions;
  • institutional (debt) private placements;
  • Rule 144A offerings;
  • Regulation S offerings;
  • Regulation A offerings and crowdfunding;
  • shelf takedowns;
  • registered direct and ATM offerings;
  • confidentially marketed public offerings; and
  • continuous issuance programs, including MTN and CP programs.

This comprehensive three-volume treatise, with useful forms, has been updated to reflect changes brought about by the Dodd-Frank Act, the JOBS Act, the FAST Act, and other recent regulatory changes.

For more information, please click here.

On September 21, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) published interpretive guidance (the “SEC Guidance”) to assist public companies in their preparation of the pay ratio disclosure required by Section 953(b) of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of [2010] (the “Act”). The staff of the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance (the “Staff”) separately published interpretive guidance (the “Staff Guidance) relating to the use of sampling and other reasonable methodologies. This Staff guidance is intended to assist registrants in determining how to use statistical sampling methodologies and other reasonable methods in complying with the pay ratio disclosure obligation. The Staff has further supplemented its guidance with new and revised Compliance and Disclosure Interpretations.

Read our client alert.

On September 13, 2017, the SEC Advisory Committee on Small and Emerging Companies held an open meeting to discuss the Sarbanes-Oxley (“SOX”) auditor attestation requirement, the final report that will be issued prior to the expiration of the Committee’s current charter and whether updates are needed to Securities Act Rule 701.  In its discussion of the SOX auditor attestation requirement, the Committee considered the associated compliance costs and a proposal to change the “smaller reporting company” (“SRC”) and “non-accelerated filer” definitions to a company with either (1) a public float of less than $250 million or annual revenues of less than $100 million.  The SEC’s proposed amendments to the SRC definition from June 2016 did not cover non-accelerated filers.  The Committee then discussed its draft report to the SEC, which emphasized a number of recommendations it has made in the past, including the following:

  • Providing regulatory certainty for finders, private placement brokers and platforms that are not registered as broker-dealers and are involved in primary and secondary offerings of unregistered securities in order to help smaller businesses raise capital.
  • Supporting an expansion of the “accredited investor” definition to take into account measures of sophistication, regardless of income or net worth, thereby expanding rather than contracting the pool of accredited investors.
  • Extending to SRCs the same accommodations made to EGCs with respect to disclosure requirements, and finalizing the proposed amendments to increase the financial thresholds in the SRC definition and revising the definition of “accelerated filer” to include companies with a public float of $250 million or more, but less than $700 million.
  • Amending Item 407(c)(2) of Regulation S-K to require issuers to describe, in addition to their policy with respect to diversity, if any, the extent to which their boards are in fact diverse, by including disclosure regarding race, gender and ethnicity of each board member.
  • Preempting state regulation of secondary trading in securities of Tier 2 Regulation A issuers that are current in their ongoing reports in order to improve secondary market liquidity.
  • Allowing smaller exchange-listed companies to voluntary choose trading increments or tick-sizes greater than the one penny in order to help small and mid-cap companies raise capital.

The Committee then turned to a discussion of various proposed changes to Securities Act Rule 701, including, among others, removing the requirement that consultants be “natural persons,” removing the $5 million aggregate limitation (the “hard cap limit”), clarifying that material amendments to any security previously issued under Rule 701 does not result in a new grant or sale, clarifying the application of Rule 701 to RSUs, clarifying that expanded disclosure is only required to be provided for sales that occur after the hard cap limit is exceeded, and clarifying the timing and delivery requirements for expanded disclosure.

A copy of the Committee’s draft report is available here.

The IPO Task Force seems to have come together again.  The Center for Capital Markets released a letter dated August 22, 2017 addressed to the Treasury Secretary setting out a few suggestions, which are quite similar to those that had been advanced a few years ago, and that have as their objective increasing the number of public companies.  The suggestions include:

  • Extending the Title I JOBS Act on-ramp accommodations from five to ten years for EGCs and reviewing the EGC definition;
  • Making the JOBS Act accommodations available to all issuers, not just EGCs;
  • Modernizing the Sarbanes-Oxley internal control over financial reporting requirements;
  • Modernizing securities disclosure requirements;
  • Addressing the rules related to shareholder proposals and regulating proxy advisory firms;
  • Promoting equity market structure changes that enhance liquidity for EGC and small cap stocks; and
  • Incentivizing research coverage.

A bit of additional commentary on these suggestions is offered in the letter, which may be found here: http://www.centerforcapitalmarkets.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Follow-Up-Letter-to-July-28-Roundtable-on-Access-to-Capital.pdf?x48633

On Tuesday, July 25, 2017, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton spoke at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness (CCMC). During the panel, Chairman Clayton discussed the Commission’s priorities on a variety of issues.

Bad Actors/Retail Fraud. Chair Clayton noted the substantial costs of the effects of a bad actor and the costs of restoring faith in our capital markets. He also made it clear that there would be no tolerance for retail fraud under his tenure.

Enforcement. Chair Clayton noted that the Commission has increased the use of data to determine more effective ways to target exams, taking into consideration to whom to issue an exam, how to conduct the exam and whether the Commission is being effective in these examinations.

Proxy Reports/Disclosure Effectiveness. Chairman Clayton noted that adding disclosure does not signal better disclosure. The Chairman stressed that disclosure should be written to protect the investor rather than be written in case of a court appearance.

Reduction in Number of Public Companies. The Chairman stressed that the Commission would not do anything to inhibit private capital formation. He cited a recent meeting with a number of small- and mid-cap companies where they discussed the timing of their respective IPOs. Chairman Clayton noted that having both a healthy public capital market and a private equity market provides companies with financing options, facilitates capital formation and provides healthy and necessary market competition.

Lifecycle of a Company. Chairman Clayton referenced that, in the past, the general public used to be able to participate in the growth of a company, but in our current environment, Main Street has a limited ability to participate. He noted that it is difficult to offer private investment opportunities to individual investors in a cost effective way.

Effectiveness of the U.S. Capital Markets. The Chairman noted that the U.S. capital markets are efficient for large-cap companies, but Chairman Clayton noted that there is room for improvement for mid- and small-cap companies. The Chairman outlined a number of factors affecting the effectiveness of the U.S. capital markets for smaller companies, including liquidity in the secondary trading markets and the costs of being a public company.

Costs of Compliance. Chairman Clayton acknowledged the Commission’s need to keep in mind the costs of compliance when writing rules, given that compliance can be very costly depending on how the rule is written.

Pay Ratio Rule. The Chairman noted that the Commission will be reviewing the rule but recognizes that the compliance date is coming.

Best Interest Standard. The Chairman directly stated that he would be disappointed if there were any reductions in choices for the individual investor relating to the best interest standard. The Chairman noted that, with the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule on the books, having differing standards for individual investors would not make sense. He then noted that the market would benefit from greater clarity on this issue. Chairman Clayton stressed that the Commission wants the best for the main street investor and is hopeful that common ground exists between the DOL and the Commission’s mandates.

Coordination Among Domestic Regulators. Chairman Clayton acknowledged the cooperative nature between the Commission and other domestic regulators such as FSOC and the CFTC. The Chairman stressed, however, that there should be no gaps between the various regulatory rules, no duplication and that regulators should not be asking for the same information in different ways. He noted that his colleagues at the other regulators share this view. Specifically, the Chairman confirmed that the Commission is engaged with the CFTC on this issue, given that these two entities oversight sometimes overlaps.

Cyber Security. The Chairman stressed that coordination among regulators is very important when it comes to cyber security and that regulators should be developing standards in order to effectively respond to these incidents. He acknowledged that fellow regulators are very open to cooperation and indeed see the need for this cooperation. The Chairman also addressed the issue of punishing victims of a cyber attack. He noted that if a company was acting responsibly in terms of protections and disclosures, regulators should not be punishing them for being victims.

International Harmonization. Chairman Clayton noted that it is part of the Commission’s mission to handle international coordination of regulation as more U.S.-based companies become global companies and participants. The Chairman specifically acknowledged the Commission’s preparation for the implementation of MiFIID II and for any issues that might arise from the rule.

Materiality. Chairman Clayton also touched on the issue of materiality during the Q&A portion. The Chairman noted that having a flexible materiality standard is useful given that, when a court is determining materiality, the determination is reflective of the substantial difference between certain projects.  In this instance, the Chairman was referencing the municipal bond space when discussing materiality.

In closing, the Chairman thanked former Chairman of the Commission Mary Joe White and Commissioner Michael Piwowar for their service.

Recently, the SEC’s Office of Investor Advocate released the report it is required to file with the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Financial Services of the House of Representatives.  In the report, the Office outlines its objectives for the 2018 fiscal year.

The report notes that the Office anticipates that the SEC will continue to advance the Disclosure Effectiveness initiative and intends to contribute to the SEC’s work in this area in order to update disclosure rules.

The report also discusses what it refers to as “the phenomenon of fewer initial public offerings,” and notes that that evidences suggests that disclosure and other related burdens do not account for the downturn in IPOs.  The report notes various studies that attribute the downturn to other causes.  For example, the report discusses the lack of institutional demand for smaller companies and the increased dominance of institutional investor participation (over retail participation) in the markets.  The report cites another study that attributes the decline to evidence that the benefits of being public have declined as significant capital has become available through private markets.  The report notes that the Office intends to focus on understanding better the dynamics of the public and private markets, including the demand of institutional investors for smaller company shares.

The full report is accessible 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.

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.

Thursday, April 20, 2017
1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. EDT

During this session, we will review the benefits and accommodations available to foreign private issuers, or non-U.S. domiciled companies, that choose to access the U.S. capital markets. We will discuss assessing status as a foreign private issuer, the initial and ongoing disclosure requirements for foreign private issuers, liability considerations, and related topics. The speakers also will address important recent developments significant to foreign private issuers, including:

  • Recent Staff guidance regarding the foreign private issuer definition;
  • Areas of focus for SEC comments, including the use of non-GAAP measures;
  • Corporate governance developments;
  • Exhibits, HTML and XBRL for foreign private issuers and IFRS filers; and
  • Areas of likely SEC focus, including potential rollback of certain specialized disclosure requirements, the disclosure effectiveness initiative and related matters.

Speakers:

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

Please contact cmg-events@mofo.com for a promotional code for 25% off tuition.