SEC Issues Guidance On Integration With A 506(c) Offering
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On November 17, 2016, the SEC Division of Corporation Finance issued a new Compliance and Disclosure Interpretations (C&DI) related to the integration of a completed 506(b) offering with a new 506(c) offering. The new C&DI confirms that 506(c) offering will not integrate with a previously completed 506(b) offering.
Effective September, 2013, the SEC adopted final rules eliminating the prohibition against general solicitation and advertising in Rules 506 and 144A offerings as required by Title II of the JOBS Act. The enactment of new 506(c) resulting in the elimination of the prohibition against general solicitation and advertising in private offerings to accredited investors has been a slow but sure success. Trailblazers such as startenging.com, realtymogul.com, circleup.com, wefunder.com and seedinvest.com proved that the model can work, and the rest of the capital marketplace has taken notice. Recently, more established broker-dealers have begun their foray into the 506(c) marketplace with accredited investor-only crowdfunding websites accompanied by the use of marketing and solicitation to draw investors.
The historical Rule 506 was renumbered to Rule 506(b) and issuers have the option of completing offerings under either Rule 506(b) or 506(c). Rule 506(b) allows offers and sales to an unlimited number of accredited investors and up to 35 unaccredited investors, provided however that if any unaccredited investors are included in the offering, certain delineated disclosures, including an audited balance sheet and financial statements, are provided to potential investors. Rule 506(b) prohibits the use of any general solicitation or advertising in association with the offering.
The new Rule 506(c) requires that all sales be strictly made to accredited investors and adds a burden of verifying such accredited status to the issuing company. In a 506(c) offering, it is not enough for the investor to check a box confirming that they are accredited, as it is with a 506(b) offering. Accordingly the issue of integration, or when the 506(c) offering could be deemed to taint the previously completed 506(b) offering, is extremely important for companies utilizing these types of corporate finance transactions.
Integration and the New C&DI
In general the concept of integration is whether two offerings integrate such that either offering fails to comply with the exemption or registration rules being relied upon. The new C&DI effectively treats a 506(c) offering as a public offering and provides in total:
Question: An issuer has been conducting a private offering in which it has made offers and sales in reliance on Rule 506(b). Less than six months after the most recent sale in that offering, the issuer decides to generally solicit investors in reliance on Rule 506(c). Are the factors listed in the Note to Rule 502(a) the sole means by which the issuer determines whether all of the offers and sales constitute a single offering?
Answer: No. Under Securities Act Rule 152, a securities transaction that at the time involves a private offering will not lose that status even if the issuer subsequently decides to make a public offering. Therefore, we believe under these circumstances that offers and sales of securities made in reliance on Rule 506(b) prior to the general solicitation would not be integrated with subsequent offers and sales of securities pursuant to Rule 506(c). So long as all of the applicable requirements of Rule 506(b) were met for offers and sales that occurred prior to the general solicitation, they would be exempt from registration and the issuer would be able to make offers and sales pursuant to Rule 506(c). Of course, the issuer would have to then satisfy all of the applicable requirements of Rule 506(c) for the subsequent offers and sales, including that it take reasonable steps to verify the accredited investor status of all subsequent purchasers.
Rule 502(a) of Regulation D provides a five-factor test to determine whether separate offerings should be integrated (and thus whether an exemption is available for the private offering and there have been no violations of Section 5 for the registered offering). The five factors are: (1) whether the offerings are part of a single plan of financing; (2) whether the offerings involve issuance of the same class of security; (3) whether the offerings are made at or about the same time; (4) whether the same type of consideration is to be received; and (5) whether the offerings are for the same general purpose. The five-factor test is subjective, and the SEC staff has not provided definitive guidance as to what weight to give to the various factors or, indeed, how many of them have to be met.
Rule 502(a) also provides for a six-month safe harbor wherein multiple private offerings that are conducted at least six (6) months apart will not be integrated. A private offering that is conducted at least six (6) months before or after a registered or exempt public offering will not be integrated with the public offering.
Rule 152 is a safe harbor for issuers undertaking a registered public offering after conducting a private offering. As interpreted by the SEC, a completed private offering will not be integrated with a subsequently commenced registered public offering. Clearly as a result of the ability to publicly solicit, the SEC is treating a Rule 506(c) offering as a public offering in making an integration analysis.
Brief Summary of 506(c)
Effective September 23, 2013, the SEC adopted final rules eliminating the prohibition against general solicitation and advertising in Rules 506 and 144A offerings as required by Title II of the JOBS Act. For a complete discussion of the final rules, please see my blog HERE. For a discussion on the use of general solicitation and advertising, including when a solicitation may not be considered “general solicitation” for purposes of the 506 Rules, see my blog HERE.
Title II of the JOBS Act required the SEC to amend Rule 506 of Regulation D to permit general solicitation and advertising in offerings under Rule 506, provided that all purchasers of the securities are accredited investors. The JOBS Act required that the rules necessitate that the issuer take reasonable steps to verify that purchasers of the securities are accredited investors using such methods as determined by the SEC. Rule 506 is a safe harbor promulgated under Section 4(a)(2) (formerly Section 4(2)) of the Securities Act of 1933, exempting transactions by an issuer not involving a public offering. In a Rule 506 offering, an issuer can sell an unlimited amount of securities to accredited investors and up to 35 unaccredited sophisticated investors. The standard to determine whether an investor is accredited has historically been the reasonable belief of the issuer.
Rule 506(c) permits the use of general solicitation and advertising to offer and sell securities under Rule 506, provided that the following conditions are met:
- the issuer takes reasonable steps to verify that the purchasers are accredited;
- all purchasers of securities must be accredited investors, either because they come within one of the categories in the definition of accredited investor, or the issuer reasonably believes that they do, at the time of the sale; and
- all terms and conditions of Rule 501 and Rules 502(a) and (d) must be satisfied.
Rule 506(c) includes a non-exclusive list of methods that issuers may use to verify that investors are accredited. An issuer that does not wish to engage in general solicitation and advertising can rely on the old Rule 506 and offer and sell to up to 35 unaccredited sophisticated investors. An issuer opting to rely on the old Rule 506 does not have to take any additional steps to verify that a purchaser is accredited.
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