2022 Annual Report Of The Office Of The Advocate For Small Business Capital Formation

The Office of the Advocate for Small Business Capital Formation (“Office”) has published its Annual Report for fiscal year 2022 (“Report”).  The Report is delivered to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Financial Services of the U.S. House of Representatives directly by the Office, without review or input from the SEC at large.

Background

The SEC’s Office of the Advocate for Small Business Capital Formation launched in January 2019 after being created by Congress pursuant to the Small Business Advocate Act of 2016 (see HERE).  The mission of the Office is to advocate for pragmatic solutions to accessing capital markets and business growth.

The Office has the following functions: (i) assist small businesses (privately held or public with a market cap of less than $250 million) and their investors in resolving problems with the SEC or self-regulatory organizations; (ii) identify and propose regulatory changes that would benefit small businesses

Compliance Deadlines For Nasdaq Board Diversity Rules

On August 6, 2021, the SEC approved Nasdaq’s board diversity listing standards proposal.  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 publications.  One of the most common themes in the press was the lack of inclusion of people with disabilities in the definition of an “underrepresented minority” for purposes of complying with the new rules.

The original rules had tiered compliance deadlines which Nasdaq (and practitioners) found confusing and unnecessarily complicated.  On December 14,

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

SEC Proposes New Rules For SPACs – Part 5

On March 30, 2022, the SEC proposed rules related to SPAC and de-SPAC transactions including significantly enhanced disclosure obligations, expanding the scope of deemed public offerings in these transactions, making a target company a co-registrant when a SPAC files an S-4 or F-4 registration statement associated with a business combination, and aligning de-SPAC transactions with initial public offering rules.  In addition, the SEC has also proposed rules that would deem any business combination transaction involving a reporting shell company, including but not limited to a SPAC, to involve a sale of securities to the reporting shell company’s shareholders.  The new rules would amend a number of financial statement requirements applicable to transactions involving shell companies.

In addition to proposing new rules for SPAC and de-SPAC transactions, the SEC is proposing new Securities Act Rule 145a that would deem all business combinations with an Exchange Act reporting shell to involve the sale of securities to the reporting shell company’s

Annual Report of Office of Advocate for Small Business Capital Formation

The Office of the Advocate for Small Business Capital Formation (“Office”) issued its 2020 Annual Report and it breaks down one of the strangest years in any of our lives, into facts and figures that continue to illustrate the resilience of the U.S. capital markets.  Although the report is for fiscal year end September 30, 2020, prior to much of the impact of Covid-19, the Office supplemented the Report with initial Covid-19 impact information.

Background on Office of the Advocate for Small Business Capital Formation

The SEC’s Office of the Advocate for Small Business Capital Formation launched in January 2019 after being created by Congress pursuant to the Small Business Advocate Act of 2016 (see HERE).  One of the core tenants of the Office is recognizing that small businesses are job creators, generators of economic opportunity and fundamental to the growth of the country, a drum I often beat.

The Office has the following functions: (i) assist small businesses

SEC Modernizes Auditor Independence Rules

On October 16, 2020, the SEC adopted amendments to codify and modernize certain aspects of the auditor independence framework.  The rule proposal was published in December 2019 (see HERE).

The current audit independence rules were created in 2000 and amended in 2003 in response to the financial crisis facilitated by the downfall of Enron, WorldCom and auditing giant Arthur Andersen, and despite evolving circumstances have remained unchanged since that time.  The regulatory structure lays out governing principles and describes certain specific financial, employment, business, and non-audit service relationships that would cause an auditor not to be independent.  Like most SEC rules, the auditor independence rules require an examination of all relevant facts and circumstances.  Under Rule 2-01(b), an auditor is not independent if that auditor, in light of all facts and circumstances, could not reasonably be capable of exercising objective and impartial judgment on all issues encompassed within the audit duties.  Rule 2-01(c) provides a non-exclusive list

NYSE Continues To Struggle With Direct Listing Rule Changes

Late last year, around the same time that the SEC approved Nasdaq rule changes related to direct listings on the Nasdaq Global Market and Nasdaq Capital Market (see HERE), the SEC rejected proposed amendments by the NYSE big board which would allow a company to issue new shares and directly raise capital in conjunction with a direct listing process.  Nasdaq had previously updated its direct listing rules for listing on the Market Global Select Market (see HERE).

The NYSE did not give up and in August of this year, after two more proposed amendments, the SEC finally approved new NYSE 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.  However, after receiving a notice of intent to petition to prevent the rule change, the SEC has stayed the approval until further notice.  Still pushing forward, on September 4, the NYSE filed

SEC Proposes Additional Disclosures For Resource Extraction Companies

In December 2019, the SEC proposed rules that would require resource extraction companies to disclose payments made to foreign governments or the U.S. federal government for the commercial development of oil, natural gas, or minerals.  The proposed rules have an interesting history.  In 2012 the SEC adopted similar disclosure rules that were ultimately vacated by the U.S. District Court.  In 2016 the SEC adopted new rules which were disapproved by a joint resolution of Congress.  However, the statutory mandate in the Dodd-Frank Act requiring the SEC to adopt these rules requiring the disclosure remains in place and as such, the SEC is now taking its third pass at it.

The proposed rules would require domestic and foreign resource extraction companies to file a Form SD on an annual basis that includes information about payments related to the commercial development of oil, natural gas, or minerals that are made to a foreign government or the U.S. federal government.

Proposed Rule 

The

Nasdaq Extends Direct Listings

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 as supplemented and amended HERE.

On December 3, 2019, the SEC approved amendments to the Nasdaq rules related to direct listings on the Nasdaq Global Market and Nasdaq Capital Market. As previously reported, on February 15, 2019, Nasdaq amended its direct listing process rules for listing on the Market Global Select Market (see HERE).

Interestingly, around the same time as the approval of the Nasdaq rule changes, the SEC rejected amendments proposed by the NYSE big board which would have allowed

Division of Enforcement 2019 Annual Report

As my firm does not practice in the enforcement arena, it is not an area I always write about, but this year I found a few trends that are interesting.  In particular, just by following published enforcement matters on the SEC’s website, I’ve noticed a large uptick in actions to suspend the trading in, or otherwise take action against, micro- and small-cap companies, especially delinquent filers.  I’ve also noticed a large uptick of actions against smaller public and private companies that use misleading means to raise capital from retail investors, and the concurrent use of unlicensed broker-dealers.  Of course, there have always been a significant number of actions involving cryptocurrencies. In light of my own observations, I decided to review and report on the SEC’s view of its actions.

As an aside, before discussing the report, I note that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has raised concerns about the quality of record keeping and documentation maintained by the