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Mar282017

The Financial Choice Act 2.0

ABA Journal’s 10th Annual Blawg 100

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On February 9, 2017, the Chair of the House Financial Services Committee issued a memo outlining changes to the Financial Choice Act, dubbing the newest version the Financial Choice Act 2.0. The memo was not intended for public distribution but found its way in any event, causing a great deal of anticipation as to the amended Act itself. The actual amended Act has not been released as of the date of this blog.

Introduction

As a reminder, the Financial Choice Act, which was passed by the House Financial Services Committee on September 13, 2016, is an extensive, extreme piece of legislation that would dismantle a large amount of the power of the SEC and strip the Dodd-Frank Act of many of its key provisions. As first written, it would not be feasible for the Act to pass into law, but it certainly illustrates the extreme views of members of the House

Mar212017

SEC Completes Inflation Adjustment To Civil Penalties

ABA Journal’s 10th Annual Blawg 100

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The SEC has completed the first annual adjustment for inflation of the maximum civil monetary penalties administered under the SEC. The inflation adjustment was mandated by the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Improvements Act of 2015, which requires all federal agencies to make an annual adjustment to civil penalties.

The SEC adjusted civil penalties that can be imposed under the Securities Act of 1933, Securities Exchange Act of 1934, Investment Company Act of 1040, Investment Advisors Act of 1940 and Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. Under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 civil penalties are those imposed by the PCAOB in disciplinary proceedings against its accountant members.

The penalty increase applies to civil monetary penalties (“CMP”). A CMP is defined as “any penalty, fine, or other sanction that: (1) is for a specific amount, or has the maximum amount, as provided by federal law; and (2) is assessed or enforced by an agency in an

Mar142017

The SEC Has Issued New Guidance Related To Foreign Private Issuers

ABA Journal’s 10th Annual Blawg 100

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On December 8, 2016, the SEC issued 35 new compliance and disclosure interpretations (C&DI) including five related to the use of Form 20-F by foreign private issuers and seven related to the definition of a foreign private issuer.

C&DI Related to use of Form 20-F

In the first of the five new C&DI, the SEC confirms that under certain circumstances the subsidiary of a foreign private issuer may use an F-series registration statement to register securities that are guaranteed by the parent company, even if the subsidiary itself does not qualify as a foreign private issuer. In addition, the subsidiary may use Form 20-F for its annual report. To qualify, the parent and subsidiary must file consolidated financial statements or be eligible to present narrative disclosure under Rule 3-10 of Regulation S-X.

Likewise in the second of the new C&DI, the SEC confirms that an F-series registration statement may be used to

Mar072017

SEC Announces Examination Priorities For 2017

ABA Journal’s 10th Annual Blawg 100

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On January 12, 2017, the SEC announced its Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE) priorities for 2017. The OCIE examines and reviews a wide variety of financial institutions, including investment advisors, investment companies, broker-dealers, transfer agents, clearing agencies and national securities exchanges. The OCIE examination goals are to promote compliance, prevent fraud, identify risk and inform policy.

The priorities this year have a primary focus on (i) protecting retail investors, especially those saving for retirement; (ii) assessing market-wide risks; and (iii) new forms of technology, including automated investments advice.

The SEC shares its annual examination priorities as a heads-up and to encourage industry participants to conduct independent reviews and make efforts for increased compliance, prior to an SEC examination, investigation or potential enforcement proceeding. Moreover, the SEC chooses its priority list in conjunction with discussions with all divisions of the SEC and other market regulators and identifies what it believes are the

Feb282017

The SEC Has Proposed The Use Of Universal Proxy Cards

ABA Journal’s 10th Annual Blawg 100

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The SEC has seen a huge exodus of key officials and employees since the recent change in administration, and the ultimate effect of these changes on pending or proposed rule making remains to be seen. However, some proposed rules, whether published or still in drafting process, will remain largely unaffected by the political changes. This could be one of them. In particular, on October 16, 2016, the SEC proposed amendments to the federal proxy rules to require the use of universal proxy cards in connection with contested elections of directors. The proposed card would include the names of both the company and opposed nominees. The SEC also proposed amendments to the rules related to the disclosure of voting options and standards for the election of directors.

Currently where there is a contested election of directors, shareholders likely receive two separate and competing proxy cards from the company and the opposition. Each card generally

Feb212017

SEC Issues White Paper On Penny Stock Risks

ABA Journal’s 10th Annual Blawg 100

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On December 16, 2016, the SEC announced several new settled enforcement proceedings against market participants including issuers, attorneys and a transfer agent, related to penny stock fraud. On the same day the SEC issued a new white paper detailing the risks associated with investing in penny stocks. This blog summarizes the SEC white paper.

As I have written about on numerous occasions, the prevention of micro-cap fraud is and will always be a primary focus of the SEC and other securities regulators. In fact, the SEC will go to great lengths to investigate and ultimately prosecute micro-cap fraud. See my blog HERE regarding the recent somewhat scandalous case involving Guy Gentile.

Introduction

The SEC Division of Economic and Risk Analysis published a white paper on the risks and consequences of investing in stocks quoted in the micro-cap markets versus those listed on a national securities exchange. The paper reviewed 1.8 million trades by

Feb142017

What Does The SEC Do And What Is Its Purpose?

ABA Journal’s 10th Annual Blawg 100

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As I write about the myriad of constantly changing and progressing securities law-related policies, rules, regulations, guidance and issues, I am reminded that sometimes it is important to go back and explain certain key facts to lay a proper foundation for an understanding of the topics which layer on this foundation. In this blog, I am doing just that by explaining what the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is and its purpose. Most of information in this blog comes from the SEC website, which is an extremely useful resource for practitioners, issuers, investors and all market participants.

Introduction

The mission of the SEC is to protect investors, maintain fair, orderly and efficient markets and facilitate capital formation.  Although each mission should be a priority, the reality is that the focus of the SEC changes based on its Chair and Commissioners and political pressure. Outgoing Chair Mary Jo White viewed the SEC enforcement division

Feb072017

House Passes Creating Financial Prosperity For Business And Investors Act

ABA Journal’s 10th Annual Blawg 100

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On December 5, 2016, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Creating Financial Prosperity for Businesses and Investors Act (H.R. 6427) (the “Act”), continuing the House’s pro-business legislation spree. The Act is actually comprised of six smaller acts, all of which have previously been considered and passed by the House in 2016. The Act is comprised of: (i) Title I: The Small Business Capital Formation Enhancement Act (H.R. 4168); (ii) Title II: The SEC Small Business Advocate Act (H.R. 3784); (iii) Title III: The Supporting American’s Innovators Act (H.R. 4854); (iv) Title IV: The Fix Crowdfunding Act (H.R. 4855); (v) Title V: The Fair Investment Opportunities for Professionals Experts Act (H.R. 2187); and (vi) Title VI: The U.S. Territories Investor Protection Act (H.R. 5322).

Title I: The Small Business Capital Formation Enhancement Act (H.R. 4168)

This Act requires the SEC to respond to the findings and recommendations of the SEC’s annual Government-Business Forum

Jan312017

SEC Issues New C&DI On Abbreviated Debt Tender And Debt Exchange Offers

ABA Journal’s 10th Annual Blawg 100

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The SEC has been issuing a slew of new Compliance and Disclosure Interpretations (“C&DI”) on numerous topics in the past few months. On November 18, 2016, the SEC issued seven new C&DI providing guidance on tender offers in general as well as on abbreviated debt tender and debt exchange offers, known as the Five-Day Tender Offer. The guidance related to the Five-Day Tender Offer clarifies a previously issued January 2015 no-action letter on the subject. As I have not written on the subject of tender offers previously, I include a very high-level summary of tender offers in general and together with specific discussion on the new C&DI.

What Is a Tender Offer?

A tender offer is not statutorily defined, but from a high level is a broad solicitation made by a company or a third party to purchase a substantial portion of the outstanding debt or equity of a company. A tender

Jan242017

The SEC Has Issued New C&DI Guidance On Regulation A+

ABA Journal’s 10th Annual Blawg 100

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On November 17, 2016, the SEC Division of Corporation Finance issued three new Compliance and Disclosure Interpretations (C&DI) to provide guidance related to Regulation A/A+. Since the new Regulation A+ came into effect on June 19, 2015, its use has continued to steadily increase.  In my practice alone I am noticing a large uptick in broker-dealer-placed Regulation A+ offerings, and recently, institutional investor interest.

Following a discussion on the CD&I guidance, I have included some interesting statistics, practice tips, and thoughts on Regulation A+, and a refresher summary of the Regulation A+ rules.

New CD&I Guidance

In the first of the new CD&I, the SEC has clarified that where a company seeks to qualify an additional class of securities via post-qualification amendment to a previously qualified Form 1-A, Item 4 of Part I, which requires “Summary Information Regarding the Offering and Other Current or Proposed Offerings,” need only include information related

Jan172017

SEC Issues New C&DI Clarifying The Use Of Form S-3 By Smaller Reporting Companies; The Baby Shelf Rule

ABA Journal’s 10th Annual Blawg 100

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The SEC has been issuing a slew of new Compliance and Disclosure Interpretations (“C&DI”) on numerous topics in the past few months. I will cover each of these new C&DI in a series of blogs starting with one C&DI that clarifies the availability of Form S-3 for the registration of securities by companies with a public float of less than $75 million, known as the “baby shelf rule.”

The Baby Shelf Rule

Among other requirements, to qualify to use an S-3 registration statement a company must have filed all Exchange Act reports in a timely manner, including Form 8-K, within the prior 12 months and trade on a national exchange. An S-3 also contains certain limitations on the value of securities that can be offered. Companies that have an aggregate market value of voting and non-voting common stock held by non-affiliates of $75 million or more, may offer the full amount of

Jan102017

SEC Issues Guidance On Integration With A 506(c) Offering

ABA Journal’s 10th Annual Blawg 100

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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

Jan032017

SEC Issues Report On Regulation S-K

ABA Journal’s 10th Annual Blawg 100

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As required by Section 72003 of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (the “FAST Act”), on November 23, 2016, the SEC issued a Report on Modernization and Simplification of Regulation S-K (the “Report”) including detailed recommendations for changes.

The Report continues the ongoing review and proposed revisions to Regulations S-K and S-X as related to reports and registration statements filed under the Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”) and Securities Act of 1933 (“Securities Act”). Regulation S-K, as amended over the years, was adopted as part of a uniform disclosure initiative to provide a single regulatory source related to non-financial statement disclosures and information required to be included in registration statements and reports filed under the Exchange Act and the Securities Act. Regulation S-X contains specific financial statement preparation and disclosure requirements.

The Disclosure Effectiveness Initiative began in December 2013, when the SEC, as required by the JOBS Act, issued its first report

Dec272016

SEC Proposes Shortening Trade Settlement

ABA Journal’s 10th Annual Blawg 100

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On September 28, 2016, the SEC proposed a rule amendment to shorten the standard broker-initiated trade settlement cycle from three business days from the trade date (T+3) to two business days (T+2). The change is designed to help reduce risks, including credit, market and liquidity risks, associated with unsettled transactions in the marketplace. Outgoing SEC Chair, Mary Jo White was quoted as saying that the change “is an important step to the SEC’s ongoing efforts to enhance the resiliency and efficiency of the U.S. clearance and settlement system.” I have previously written about the clearance and settlement process for U.S. capital markets, which can be reviewed HERE.

Background

DTC provides the depository and book entry settlement services for substantially all equity trading in the US.  Over $600 billion in transactions are completed at DTC each day. Although all similar, the exact clearance and settlement process depends on the type of security being

Dec202016

SEC Eliminates The “Tandy Letter”

ABA Journal’s 10th Annual Blawg 100

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On October 5, 2016, the SEC Division of Corporation Finance (CorpFin) announced that, effective immediately, it would no longer require companies to include “Tandy” letter representations in comment letter response or registration acceleration requests addressed to the SEC.

Background

Beginning in the 1970s the SEC began to require an affirmative statement from the company acknowledging that the company cannot use the SEC’s comment process as a defense in any securities-related litigation. Named after the first company required to provide the affirmations, this language is referred to as a “Tandy” letter. By 2004 the “Tandy” letter was required in all comment letter responses to the SEC as well as registration acceleration requests. The “Tandy” portion of a response was required to be agreed to by the company itself, so if the response letter was on attorney letterhead, a signature line was required to be included for the company or the company could submit a

Dec132016

SEC Cracks Down On Failure To File 8-K For Financing Activities; An Overview Of Form 8-K

ABA Journal’s 10th Annual Blawg 100

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Introduction and Background

On September 26, 2016, and again on the 27th, the SEC brought enforcement actions against issuers for the failure to file 8-K’s associated with corporate finance transactions and in particular PIPE transactions involving the issuance of convertible debt, preferred equity, warrants and similar instruments. Prior to the release of these two actions, I have been hearing rumors in the industry that the SEC has issued “hundreds” of subpoenas (likely an exaggeration) to issuers related to PIPE transactions and in particular to determine 8-K filing deficiencies. Using this as a backdrop, this blog will also address Form 8-K filing requirements in general.

Back in August 2014, the SEC did a similar sweep related to 8-K filing failures associated with 3(a)(10) transactions. See my blog HERE for a discussion of those actions and 3(a)(10) proceedings in general. The 8-K filing deficiency actions were a precursor to a larger SEC investigation on 3(a)(10)

Dec062016

Yahoo Hacking Scandal And Obligations Related To Cybersecurity

ABA Journal’s 10th Annual Blawg 100

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On September 26, 2016, Senator Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a member of the Senate Intelligence and Banking Committees and cofounder of the bipartisan Senate Cybersecurity Caucus, wrote a letter to the SEC requesting that they investigate whether Yahoo, Inc., fulfilled its disclosure obligations under the federal securities laws related to a security breach that affected more than 500 million accounts.  Senator Warner also requested that the SEC re-examine its guidance and requirements related to the disclosure of cybersecurity matters in general.

The letter was precipitated by a September 22, 2016, 8-K and press release issued by Yahoo disclosing the theft of certain user account information that occurred in late 2014. The press release referred to a “recent investigation” confirming the theft of user account information associated with at least 500 million accounts that was stolen in late 2014. Just 13 days prior to the 8-K and press release, on September 9, 2016,

Nov292016

SEC Modernizes Intrastate Crowdfunding; Amending Rules 147 And 504; Creating New Rule 147A

ABA Journal’s 10th Annual Blawg 100

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On October 26, 2016, the SEC passed new rules to modernize intrastate and regional securities offerings. The final new rules amend Rule 147 to reform the rules and allow companies to continue to offer securities under Section 3(a)(11) of the Securities Act of 1933 (“Securities Act”). In addition, the SEC has created a new Rule 147A to accommodate adopted state intrastate crowdfunding provisions. New Rule 147A allows intrastate offerings to access out-of-state residents and companies that are incorporated out of state, but that conduct business in the state in which the offering is being conducted. In addition, the SEC has amended Rule 504 of Regulation D to increase the aggregate offering amount from $1 million to $5 million and to add bad-actor disqualifications from reliance on the rule. Finally, the SEC has repealed the rarely used and now redundant Rule 505 of Regulation D.

Amended Rule 147 and new Rule 147A will take