SEC Adopts Final Rules On SPACS, Shell Companies And The Use Of Projections – Part 1

On January 24, 2024, the SEC adopted final rules enhancing disclosure obligations for SPAC IPOs and subsequent de-SPAC business combination transactions.  The rules are designed to more closely align the required disclosures and legal liabilities that may be incurred in de-SPAC transactions with those in traditional IPOs.  The new rules spread beyond SPACs to shell companies and blank check companies in general.

The SEC is specifically requiring enhanced disclosures with respect to compensation paid to sponsors, conflicts of interest, dilution, and the determination, if any, of the board of directors (or similar governing body) of a SPAC regarding whether a de-SPAC transaction is advisable and in the best interests of the SPAC and its shareholders.  The SEC has also adopted rules that deem any business combination transaction involving a reporting shell company, including a SPAC, to involve a sale of securities to the reporting shell company’s shareholders, and has amended several financial statement requirements applicable to transactions involving

SEC Fall 2023 Regulatory Agenda

On December 6, 2023, the SEC published its semi-annual Fall 2023 regulatory agenda (“Agenda”) and plans for rulemaking.  The Agenda is published twice a year, and for several years I have blogged about each publication.  Although items on the Agenda can move from one category to the next, be dropped off altogether, or new items pop up in any of the categories (including the final rule stage), the Agenda provides valuable insight into the SEC’s plans and the influence that comments can make on the rulemaking process.

The Agenda is broken down by (i) Proposed Rule Stage; (ii) Final Rule Stage; and (iii) Long-term Actions.  The Proposed and Final Rule Stages are intended to be completed within the next 12 months and Long-term Actions are anything beyond that.  The number of items to be completed in a 12-month time frame is 43, down from 55 on the Spring 2023 Agenda.

Fourteen items are included in the proposed rule stage, down

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

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

SPAC IPOs A Sign Of Impending M&A Opportunities

The last time I wrote about special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) in July 2018, I noted that SPACs had been growing in popularity, raising more money in 2017 than in any year since the last financial crisis (see HERE).  Not only has the trend continued, but the Covid-19 crisis, while temporarily dampening other aspects of the IPO market, has caused a definite uptick in the SPAC IPO world.

In April, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported that SPACs are booming and that “[S]o far this year, these special-purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, have raised $6.5 billion, on pace for their biggest year ever, according to Dealogic. In April, 80% of all money raised for U.S. initial public offerings went to blank-check firms, compared with an average of 9% over the past decade.”

I’m not surprised.  Within weeks of Covid-19 reaching a global crisis and causing a shutdown of the U.S. economy, instead of my phone

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

An IPO Without The SEC

On January 23, 2019, biotechnology company Gossamer Bio, Inc., filed an amended S-1 pricing its $230 million initial public offering, taking advantage of a rarely used SEC Rule that will allow the S-1 to go effective, and the IPO to be completed, 20 days from filing, without action by the SEC.  Since the government shutdown, several companies have opted to proceed with the effectiveness of a registration statement for a follow-on offering without SEC review or approval, but this marks the first full IPO, and certainly the first of any significant size. The Gossamer IPO is being underwritten by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, SVB Leerink, Barclays and Evercore ISI. On January 24, 2019, Nasdaq issued five FAQ addressing their position on listing companies utilizing Section 8(a).  Although the SEC has recommenced full operations as of today, there has non-the-less been a transformation in the methods used to access capital markets, and the use of 8(a) is just

NASDAQ Issues Report Advocating for The U.S. Public Markets

Before SEC Commissioner Michael Piwowar’s May 16, 2017, speech at the SEC-NYU Dialogue on Securities Market Regulation regarding the U.S. IPO Market (see summary HERE), and SEC Chair Jay Clayton’s July 12, 2017, speech to the Economic Club of New York (see summary HERE), the topic of the U.S. IPO market had already gained significant market attention. Earlier this year, NASDAQ issued a paper titled “The Promise of Market Reform: Reigniting American’s Economic Engine” with its views and position on how to revitalize the U.S. equities and IPO market (the “NASDAQ Paper”). This blog summarizes the NASDAQ Paper.

The NASDAQ Paper begins with a statement by Adena Friedman, President and CEO of NASDAQ. The statement begins with a decidedly positive outlook, noting that “The U.S. equities markets exist to facilitate job creation and wealth creation for millions of people, ultimately driving economic growth for our country.” Ms. Friedman adds that “[E]xceptional market returns in recent years