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Nasdaq Direct Listing Rule Change

On April 3, 2018, Spotify made a big board splash by debuting on the NYSE without an IPO. Instead, Spotify filed a resale registration statement registering the securities already held by its existing shareholders. The process is referred to as a direct listing.  As most of those shareholders had invested in Spotify in private offerings, they were rewarded with a true exit strategy and liquidity by becoming the company’s initial public float.  On April 26, 2019, Slack Technologies followed suit, filing a resale Form S-1 with an anticipated direct listing on to the NYSE.

Around this time last year, I published a blog on the direct listing process focusing on the differences between a direct listing onto a national exchange and one onto OTC Markets – see HERE. As the process seems to be gaining in popularity, on February 15, 2019 Nasdaq amended its direct listing process rules. This blog is focused on the Nasdaq direct listing process.

Direct Listings in General

In a direct listing process, a company completes one or more private offerings of its securities, thus raising money up front, and then files a registration statement with the SEC to register the shares purchased by the private investors. Although a company can use a placement agent/broker-dealer to assist in the private offering, it is not necessary. A company would also not necessarily need a banker in the resale direct listing process.  A benefit to the company is that it has received funds much earlier, rather than after a registration statement has cleared the SEC.

Where a broker-dealer assists in the private placement, the commission for the private offering may be slightly higher than the commissions in a public offering. One of the reasons is that FINRA regulates and must approve all public offering compensation, but does not limit or approve private offering placement agent fees. For more on FINRA Rule 5110, which regulates underwriting compensation, see HERE. A second reason a broker-dealer may charge a higher commission is that there is higher risk to investors in a private offering that does not have an immediately available public exit.

The investors take a greater risk because the shares they have purchased are restricted and may only be resold if registered with the SEC or in accordance with an exemption from registration such as Rule 144. Oftentimes a company offers a registration rights agreement when conducting the private offering, contractually agreeing to register the shares for resale within a certain period of time.  Due to the higher risk, private offering investors generally are able to buy shares at a lower valuation than the intended IPO price. The pre-IPO discount varies but can be as much as 20% to 30%.

Furthermore, most private offerings are conducted under Rule 506 of Regulation D and are limited to accredited investors only or very few unaccredited investors. As a reminder, 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. 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.  Rule 506(c) allows for general solicitation and advertising of the offering.

Accordingly, in a direct listing process, accredited investors are generally the only investors that can participate in the pre-IPO discounted offering round.  Main Street investors will not be able to participate until the company is public and trading.  Although this raises debate in the marketplace – a debate which has resulted in increased offering options for non-accredited investors such as Regulation A – the fact remains that the early investors take on greater risk and as such need to be able to financially withstand that risk. For more on the accredited investor definition, see HERE.

The private offering, or private offerings, can occur over time. Prior to a public offering, most companies have completed multiple rounds of private offerings, starting with seed investors and usually through at least a series A and B round.  Furthermore, most companies have offered options or direct equity participation to its officers, directors and employees in its early stages. In a direct listing, a company can register all these shareholdings for resale in the initial public market.

Although Spotify’s shares increased in value since debuting on the NYSE, in a direct listing there is a chance for an initial dip, as without an IPO and accompanying underwriters, there will be no price stabilization agreements.  Usually price stabilization and after-market support is achieved by using an overallotment or greenshoe option.  An overallotment option – often referred to as a greenshoe option because of the first company that used it, Green Shoe Manufacturing – is where an underwriter is able to sell additional securities if demand warrants same, thus having a covered short position.  A covered short position is one in which a seller sells securities it does not yet own, but does have access to.

A typical overallotment option is 15% of the offering.  In essence, the underwriter can sell additional securities into the market and then buy them from the company at the registered price, exercising its overallotment option.  This helps stabilize an offering price in two ways.  First, if the offering is a big success, more orders can be filled.  Second, if the offering price drops and the underwriter has oversold the offering, it can cover its short position by buying directly into the market, which buying helps stabilize the price (buying pressure tends to increase and stabilize a price, whereas selling pressure tends to decrease a price).

Direct Listing on NASDAQ

The Nasdaq Stock Market currently has three tiers of listed companies: (1) The Nasdaq Global Select Market, (2) The Nasdaq Global Market, and (3) The Nasdaq Capital Market. Each tier has increasingly higher listing standards, with the Nasdaq Global Select Market having the highest initial listing standards and the Nasdaq Capital Markets being the entry-level tier for most micro- and small-cap issuers.  For a review of the Nasdaq Capital Market listing requirements, see HERE.

A company seeking to list securities on Nasdaq must meet minimum listing requirements, including specified financial, liquidity and corporate governance criteria. Nasdaq listing rule IM-5315-1 sets forth the requirements for a direct listing and describes how the Exchange will calculate compliance with the Nasdaq Global Select Market initial listing standards related to the price of a security, including the bid price, market capitalization and the market value of publicly held shares.  The amended rule which became effective on February 15, 2019 only addresses a listing on the Nasdaq Global Select Market. I’ve included a chart at the end of this blog with the Nasdaq Global Select Market listing requirements.

In its rule release, Nasdaq stated that it intends to subsequently file a proposed rule change to adopt requirements for the Nasdaq Capital and Global Markets applicable to companies which have not been listed on a national securities exchange or traded in the over-the-counter market pursuant to FINRA Form 211 immediately prior to the initial pricing and which wish to list their securities to allow existing shareholders to sell their shares.  The rule change will also clarify the use of the IPO Cross for initial pricing of such securities.  An IPO Cross is a methodology for the initiation of trading of a security where there has been no underlying IPO.

Direct Listings are subject to all initial listing requirements applicable to equity securities and, subject to applicable exemptions, the corporate governance requirements set forth in the Rule 5600 Series.  In addition to setting forth the method for determining initial listing requirements based on the price of a security, including the bid price, market capitalization and market value of publicly held shares, new rule IM-5315-1 requires that a listing can only be completed upon effectiveness of a registration statement that solely registers securities for resale by existing shareholders (i.e., no new shares may be registered).

In essence, under the amended rule, Nasdaq will consider either an independent valuation meeting specific standards or the trading price in an actively traded private placement market or foreign market place.  For purposes of the rule, a private placement market is one that is operated by a national securities exchange or a registered broker-dealer.  IM-5315-1 provides that Nasdaq will determine if a company satisfies the pricing requirements as follows:

(a) If the Company’s security has had sustained recent trading in a private placement market, Nasdaq will attribute a price, market capitalization, and Market Value of Publicly Held Shares to the Company equal to the lesser of (i) the value calculable based on an independent third-party valuation (a “Valuation”) and (ii) the value calculable based on the most recent trading price in a private placement market.

(b) For a security that has not had sustained recent trading in a private placement market prior to listing, Nasdaq will determine that such Company has met the Market Value of Publicly Held Shares requirement if the Company provides a Valuation evidencing a Market Value of Publicly Held Shares of at least $250,000,000.  Nasdaq will also determine the bid price and market capitalization based on such Valuation.

(c) For a Company transferring from a foreign regulated exchange Nasdaq will determine that the Company has met the applicable price-based requirements based on the most recent trading price in such market. This provision applies only where there is a broad, liquid market for the Company’s shares in its country of origin.

(d) Nasdaq will examine the trading price trends for the stock in the private placement market over a period of several months prior to listing and will only rely on a private placement market price if it is consistent with a sustained history over that several month period evidencing a market value in excess of Nasdaq’s market value requirement.

(e) Any valuation used for this purpose must be provided by an entity that has significant experience and demonstrable competence in the provision of such valuations. The Valuation must be of a recent date as of the time of the approval of the Company for listing and the evaluator must have considered, among other factors, the annual financial statements required to be included in the registration statement, along with financial statements for any completed fiscal quarters subsequent to the end of the last year of audited financials included in the registration statement. Nasdaq will consider any market factors or factors particular to the listing applicant that would cause concern that the value of the Company had diminished since the date of the Valuation and will continue to monitor the Company and the appropriateness of relying on the Valuation up to the time of listing. Nasdaq may withdraw its approval of the listing at any time prior to the listing date if it believes that the Valuation no longer accurately reflects the company’s likely market value.

(f) A valuation agent shall not be considered independent if:

(1) At the time it provides such valuation, the valuation agent or any affiliated person or persons beneficially own in the aggregate as of the date of the valuation, more than 5% of the class of securities to be listed, including any right to receive any such securities exercisable within 60 days.

(2) The valuation agent or any affiliated entity has provided any investment banking services to the listing applicant within the 12 months preceding the date of the valuation. For purposes of this provision, “investment banking services” includes, without limitation, acting as an underwriter in an offering for the issuer; acting as a financial adviser in a merger or acquisition; providing venture capital, equity lines of credit, PIPEs (private investment, public equity transactions), or similar investments; serving as placement agent for the issuer; or acting as a member of a selling group in a securities underwriting.

(3) The valuation agent or any affiliated entity has been engaged to provide investment banking services to the listing applicant in connection with the proposed listing or any related financings or other related transactions.

The rule release reminds companies that Nasdaq has broad discretion over the listing process and may deny an application, even if the technical requirements are met, if it believes such denial is necessary to protect investors and the public interest.  I suspect Nasdaq will carefully review any applications for a direct listing.  Moreover, I suspect that one of the reasons that the rule release did not address direct listing standards for the Nasdaq Capital and Global Markets is that such standards will include even more stringent requirements and that such applications will be reviewed very conservatively.

Nasdaq Global Select Market Listing Requirements

 

Financial Requirements

 

Standard 1: Earnings

Standard 2: Capitalization with Cash Flow Standard 3: Capitalization with Revenue Standard 4: Assets with Equity
 

Listing Rules

 

5315(e) and 5315(f)(3)(A)

 

5315(e) and 5315(f)(3)(B)

 

5315(e) and 5315(f)(3)(C)

 

5315(e) and 5315(f)(3)(D)

 

 

 

 

Pre-Tax Earnings (income from continuing operations before income taxes)

Aggregate in prior three fiscal years > $11 million

and

Each of the prior three fiscal years

> $0 and

Each of the two most recent fiscal years >

$2.2 million

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cash Flows

 

 

 

Aggregate in prior three fiscal years >

$27.5 million and

Each of the prior three fiscal years

> $0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Market Capitalization

 

Average > $550 million over prior 12 months Average > $850 million over prior 12 months  

 

$160 million

 

Revenue

 

Previous fiscal year > $110 million Previous fiscal year >

$90 million

 

 

Total Assets $80 million
Stockholders’ Equity  

 

 

 

$55 million

Bid Price $4 $4 $4 $4
 

 

Liquidity Requirements

 

Initial Public Offerings and Spin-Off Companies

Seasoned Companies: Currently Trading Common Stock or Equivalents  

 

Affiliated Companies

 

 

 

Listing Rule

 

Round Lot Shareholders or

Total Shareholders or

Total Shareholders and

Average Monthly Trading Volume over Past Twelve Months

 

 

450

or 2,200

 

 

450

or 2,200

or 550

and

1.1 million

 

 

450

or 2,200

or 550

and

1.1 million

 

 

5315(f)(1)

Publicly Held Shares 1,250,000 1,250,000 1,250,000 5315(e)(2)
 

Market Value of Publicly Held Shares or

Market Value of Publicly Held Shares and

Stockholders’ Equity

 

 

$45 million

 

 

$110 million or

 

$100 million and

$110 million

 

 

$45 million

 

 

5315(f)(2)

The Author

The Author
Laura Anthony, Esq.
Founding Partner
Anthony L.G., PLLC
A Corporate Law Firm
LAnthony@AnthonyPLLC.com

Securities attorney Laura Anthony and her experienced legal team provide ongoing corporate counsel to small and mid-size private companies, OTC and exchange traded public companies as well as private companies going public on the Nasdaq, NYSE American or over-the-counter market, such as the OTCQB and OTCQX. For more than two decades Anthony L.G., PLLC has served clients providing fast, personalized, cutting-edge legal service. The firm’s reputation and relationships provide invaluable resources to clients including introductions to investment bankers, broker-dealers, institutional investors and other strategic alliances. The firm’s focus includes, but is not limited to, compliance with the Securities Act of 1933 offer sale and registration requirements, including private placement transactions under Regulation D and Regulation S and PIPE Transactions, securities token offerings and initial coin offerings, Regulation A/A+ offerings, as well as registration statements on Forms S-1, S-3, S-8 and merger registrations on Form S-4; compliance with the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, including registration on Form 10, reporting on Forms 10-Q, 10-K and 8-K, and 14C Information and 14A Proxy Statements; all forms of going public transactions; mergers and acquisitions including both reverse mergers and forward mergers; applications to and compliance with the corporate governance requirements of securities exchanges including Nasdaq and NYSE American; general corporate; and general contract and business transactions. Ms. Anthony and her firm represent both target and acquiring companies in merger and acquisition transactions, including the preparation of transaction documents such as merger agreements, share exchange agreements, stock purchase agreements, asset purchase agreements and reorganization agreements. The ALG legal team assists Pubcos in complying with the requirements of federal and state securities laws and SROs such as FINRA for 15c2-11 applications, corporate name changes, reverse and forward splits and changes of domicile. Ms. Anthony is also the author of SecuritiesLawBlog.com, the small-cap and middle market’s top source for industry news, and the producer and host of LawCast.com, Corporate Finance in Focus. In addition to many other major metropolitan areas, the firm currently represents clients in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, Atlanta, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., Denver, Tampa, Detroit and Dallas.

Ms. Anthony is a member of various professional organizations including the Crowdfunding Professional Association (CfPA), Palm Beach County Bar Association, the Florida Bar Association, the American Bar Association and the ABA committees on Federal Securities Regulations and Private Equity and Venture Capital. She is a supporter of several community charities including sitting on the board of directors of the American Red Cross for Palm Beach and Martin Counties, and providing financial support to the Susan Komen Foundation, Opportunity, Inc., New Hope Charities, the Society of the Four Arts, the Norton Museum of Art, Palm Beach County Zoo Society, the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts and several others. She is also a financial and hands-on supporter of Palm Beach Day Academy, one of Palm Beach’s oldest and most respected educational institutions. She currently resides in Palm Beach with her husband and daughter.

Ms. Anthony is an honors graduate from Florida State University College of Law and has been practicing law since 1993.

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