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Small-Cap IPO Volatility – The China Connection

Less than two months after the PCAOB and the China Securities Regulatory Commission and Ministry of Finance signed a Statement of Protocol reaching a tentative deal to allow the PCAOB to fully inspect and investigate registered public accounting firms headquartered in mainland China and Hong Kong, Nasdaq effectively halted all small-cap IPOs with a China connection.  This time, the issue is not audit-related.

During the week of September 19, one of our clients had a deal ready to be priced and begin trading on Nasdaq.  We had thought we cleared all comments when a call came from our Nasdaq reviewer – all small-cap IPOs were being temporarily halted while the Exchange investigated recent volatility.  The same day, an article came out on Bloomberg reporting on 2200% price swings (up and then steeply back down) on recent IPOs involving companies with ties to China – a repeat of similar volatility in the late ’80’s and early ’90’s despite three decades of

Cannabis Trade Association Makes Plea For National Exchange Listings

The American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp (ATACH) has published a policy paper urging the Nasdaq and New York Stock Exchange to allow U.S. cannabis operators that “touch the plant” to list on their respective Exchanges.  The current prohibition to listing is purely discretionary and not because of any regulatory action by the SEC or any other U.S. regulatory authority.  The policy paper, published November 7, 2022, outlines very convincing arguments for allowing U.S. operators to list on the National Exchanges.

The policy paper notes that up until now, the National Exchanges have refused to list these companies while cannabis remains federally illegal out of concerns that they could be charged with aiding and abetting violations of the U.S. Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”) or with money laundering by the receipt of listing fees.  As of the time of the publication of the policy paper, cannabis is legal in 37 states, D.C. and U.S. territories.  The ATACH rightfully asserts that

Update On Nasdaq And NYSE Direct Listings

The rules related to direct listings continue to evolve as this method of going public continues to gain in popularity.  The last time I wrote about direct listings was in September 2020, shortly after the SEC approved, then stayed its approval, of the NYSE’s direct listing rules that allow companies to sell newly issued primary shares on its own behalf into the opening trade in a direct listing process (see HERE). Since that time, both the NYSE and Nasdaq proposed rules to allow for a direct listing with a capital raise have been approved by the SEC.

The Nasdaq Stock Market  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. 

Nasdaq Updated LAS Form

Effective September 17, 2021, Nasdaq updated its Listing of Additional Shares (LAS) Form and the process for the review of such forms.

Background

Nasdaq Rule 5250 sets forth certain obligations for companies listed on Nasdaq including related to requirements to provide certain information and notifications to Nasdaq, make public disclosures, file periodic reports with the SEC, and distribution of annual and interim reports.  Rule 5250(e) specifies the triggering events that require a listed company to submit certain forms to Nasdaq.

Rule 5250(e) requires the submittal of specific forms related to the following triggering events:

  • Change in Number of Shares Outstanding – Each listed company must file a form with Nasdaq no later than 10 days after the occurrence of any aggregate increase or decrease of any class of securities listed on Nasdaq that exceeds 5% of the amount of securities outstanding of that class.
  • Listing of Additional Shares – As further detailed below, a listed company must give
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Public Market Listing Standards

One of the bankers that I work with often once asked me if I had written a blog with a side-by-side comparison of listing on Nasdaq vs. the OTC Markets and I realized I had not, so it went on the list and with the implementation of the new 15c2-11 rules, now seems a very good time to tackle the project.  I’ve added NYSE American to the list as well.

Quantitative and Liquidity Listing Standards

Nasdaq Capital Markets

To list its securities on Nasdaq Capital Markets, a company is required to meet: (a) certain initial quantitative and qualitative requirements and (b) certain continuing quantitative and qualitative requirements.  The quantitative listing thresholds for initial listing are generally higher than for continued listing, thus helping to ensure that companies have reached a sufficient level of maturity prior to listing.  NASDAQ also requires listed companies to meet stringent corporate governance standards.

Requirements Equity Standard  Market Value of

Listed Securities

Standard

Net
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SEC Approves Nasdaq Board Diversity Rule

On August 6, 2021, the SEC approved Nasdaq’s board diversity listing standards proposal.  Not surprisingly, the approval vote was divided with Commissioner Hester Peirce dissenting and Commissioner Elad Roisman dissenting in part.  On the same day as the approval, Chair Gary Gensler and Commissioners Peirce, Roisman and Allison Herren Lee and Caroline Crenshaw issued statements on the new Rules.

As more fully explained below, new Nasdaq Rule 5605(f) requires Nasdaq listed companies, subject to certain exceptions, to: (i) to have at least one director who self identifies as a female, and (ii) have at least one director who self-identifies as Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, Asian, Native American or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, two or more races or ethnicities, or as LGBTQ+, or (iii) explain why the company does not have at least two directors on its board who self-identify in the categories listed above.  The rule changes also made headlines in most major

China Based Companies Continue To Face US Capital Market Scrutiny

On March 24, 2021, the SEC adopted interim final amendments to implement the congressionally mandated submission and disclosure requirements of the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act (HFCA Act).  Following adoption of the HFCA, on July 30, 2021, SEC Chairman Gary Gensler issued a statement warning of risks associated with investing in companies based in China.  Although the statement has a different angle, it joins the core continued concerns of the SEC top brass and Nasdaq expressed over the years.

In June 2020 Nasdaq published proposed rules which would make it more difficult for a company to list or continue to list based on the quality of its audit, which could have a direct effect on companies based in China (see HERE).  In September 2020, the SEC instituted proceedings as to whether to approve or deny the proposed rule change.  As of the date of this blog, the proposal has not been ruled upon by the SEC.

However, the

SPAC Nasdaq Listing Standards

I’ve written quite a bit about SPAC’s recently, but the last time I wrote about SPAC Nasdaq listing requirements, or any attempted changes thereto, was back in 2018 (see HERE).  Since that time, Nasdaq has a win and recently a loss in its ongoing efforts to attract SPAC listings.

Background on SPACs

Without reiterating my lengthy blogs on SPACs and SPAC structures (see, for example, HERE and HERE), a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) is a blank check company formed for the purpose of effecting a merger, share exchange, asset acquisition, or other business combination transaction with an unidentified target. Generally, SPACs are formed by sponsors who believe that their experience and reputation will facilitate a successful business combination and public company.

The provisions of Rule 419 apply to every registration statement filed under the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, by a blank check company that is issuing securities which fall within the definition of

NYSE Annual Compliance Guidance Memo And Amended Rules

In January, NYSE Regulation sent out its yearly Compliance Guidance Memo to NYSE American listed companies.  Although we are already halfway through the year, the annual letter has useful information that remains timely.  As discussed in the Compliance Memo, the NYSE sought SEC approval to permanently change its shareholder approval rules in accordance with the temporary rules enacting to provide relief to listed companies during Covid.  The SEC approved the amended rules on April 2, 2021.

Amendment to Shareholder Approval Rules

The SEC has approved NYSE rule changes to the shareholder approval requirements in Sections 312.03 and 312.04 of the NYSE Listed Company Manual (“Manual”) and the Section 314 related party transaction requirements.  The rule changes permanently align the rules with the temporary relief provided to listed companies during Covid (for more on the temporary relief, see HERE

Prior to the amendment, Section 312.03 of the Manual prohibited certain issuances to (i) directors, officers or substantial shareholders (related parties),

Nasdaq Board Diversity Proposal

Nasdaq has long been a proponent of environmental, social and governance (ESG) disclosures and initiatives, having published a guide for listed companies on the subject over six years ago (see HERE).  In December 2020, Nasdaq took it a step further and proposed a rule which would require listed companies to have at least one woman on their boards, in addition to a director who is a racial minority or one who self-identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer. Companies that don’t meet the standard would be required to justify their decision to remain listed on Nasdaq.  To help facilitate the proposed rule, Nasdaq has also proposed to offer a complimentary board recruiting solution. A final decision on the proposals is expected this summer.

The SEC recently extended the consideration period and will either approve or disapprove the proposal by August 8, 2021.  The newest Regulatory Flex Agenda which was published last week and will be a topic

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