One of the largest areas of my firms practice involves going public transactions. I have written extensively on the various going public methods, including IPO/DPOs and reverse mergers. The topic never loses relevancy, and those considering a transaction always ask about the differences between, and advantages and disadvantages of, both reverse mergers and direct and initial public offerings. This blog is an updated new edition of past articles on the topic.
Over the past decade the small-cap reverse merger, initial public offering (IPO) and direct public offering (DPO) markets diminished greatly. The decline was a result of both regulatory changes and economic changes. In particular, briefly, those reasons were: (1) the recent Great Recession; (2) backlash from a series of fraud allegations, SEC enforcement actions, and trading suspensions of Chinese companies following reverse mergers; (3) the 2008 Rule 144 amendments, including the prohibition of use of the rule for shell company and former shell company shareholders; (4) problems
What is a reverse merger? What is the process?
A reverse merger is the most common alternative to an initial public offering (IPO) or direct public offering (DPO) for a company seeking to go public. A “reverse merger” allows a privately held company to go public by acquiring a controlling interest in, and merging with, a public operating or public shell company. The SEC defines a “shell company” as a publically traded company with (1) no or nominal operations and (2) either no or nominal assets or assets consisting solely of any amount of cash and cash equivalents.
In a reverse merger process, the private operating company shareholders exchange their shares of the private company for either new or existing shares of the public company so that
For at least the last twelve months, I have received calls daily from companies wanting to go public. This interest in going public transactions signifies a big change from the few years prior.
Beginning in 2009, the small-cap and reverse merger, initial public offering (IPO) and direct public offering (DPO) markets diminished greatly. I can identify at least seven main reasons for the downfall of the going public transactions. Briefly, those reasons are: (1) the general state of the economy, plainly stated, was not good; (2) backlash from a series of fraud allegations, SEC enforcement actions, and trading suspensions of Chinese companies following reverse mergers; (3) the 2008 Rule 144 amendments including the prohibition of use of the rule for shell company and former shell company shareholders; (4) problems clearing penny stock with broker dealers and FINRA’s enforcement of broker-dealer and clearing house due diligence requirements related to penny stocks; (5) DTC scrutiny and difficulty in obtaining clearance following
Section 3(a) (10) of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended (“Securities Act”) is an exemption from the Securities Act registration requirements for the offers and sales of securities by Issuers. The exemption provides that “Except with respect to a security exchanged in a case under title 11 of the United States Code, any security which is issued in exchange for one or more bona fide outstanding securities, claims or property interests, or partly in such exchange and partly for cash, where the terms and conditions of such issuance and exchange are approved, after a hearing upon the fairness of such terms and conditions at which all persons to whom it is proposed to issue securities in such exchange shall have the right to appear, by any court, or by any official or agency of the United States, or by any State or Territorial banking or insurance commission or other governmental authority expressly authorized by law to grant such
Necessity of Background Searches on Officers and Directors as Part of Due Diligence Prior to a Reverse Merger or IPO
If you are a private company looking to go public on the OTCBB, securities attorney Laura Anthony provides expert legal advice and ongoing corporate counsel. Ms. Anthony counsels private and small public companies nationwide regarding reverse mergers, corporate transactions and all aspects of securities law.
Many private companies go public either through a reverse merger with a public shell or initial public offering (IPO) process. A reverse merger allows a private company to go public by purchasing a controlling percentage of shares of a public shell company and merging the private company into the shell. An initial public offering is where the private company files a registration statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission and once the registration statement is effective proceeds to sell stock either directly (a DPO) or more commonly through an underwriter.
It is very important that management of public shells and underwriters conduct a background check on the private company’s officers and directors prior to embarking
Companies subject to the reporting requirements of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (amended to the “Exchange Act”), without current business operations, and trading on the NASDAQ Over the Counter Bulletin Board (“OTCBB”), commonly known as Bulletin Board Shells, have become the vehicle of choice for private companies seeking to go public through a reverse merger.
Although the domestic economy has slowed, reverse mergers still flourish, and Chinese-based companies in particular have taken the lead in reverse mergers with Bulletin Board Shells. As old sectors slow, new sectors such as biofuels, health supplements, and agricultural science have risen to lead the charge into the public arena.
SEC Reporting Requirements Make Due Diligence Practical
Bulletin Board Shells have become the vehicle of choice for private companies seeking public status. This is due in part to increasing industry pressure for public companies to maintain total disclosure of their financial condition and operations.
Bulletin Board Shells and OTCBB Companies must prepare and file
Following approval of the 15c2-11 application by FINRA, and the consistent quotation of a company’s securities, market makers may “piggy back” on the approved and completed 15c2-11. In short, a market maker may quote the share price of the Bulletin Board Shell while relying on the due diligence of other market makers and the company’s current SEC filings.
Although highly technical, the due diligence process can be completed quickly and thoroughly by an experienced securities attorney; the key is knowing where to look and what to look for. For example:
- All articles and amendments are ordered from the company’s state of domicile and reviewed for procedural correctness and historical understanding.
- DTC (the Depository Trust Company) is contacted to confirm the company is in a transferable status.
- In addition to financial statement review, using several proprietary online search services, the firm conducts comprehensive debt and litigation searches to identify any miscellaneous debts as well as pending or past litigation.
- A tax
When a publicly traded company “goes dark” and becomes delinquent in its filing requirements, it generally becomes a public shell and is no longer quoted on the Over the Counter Bulletin Board Exchange (OTCBB). However, with the assistance of an experienced securities attorney, the shell company can be restored so that a merger candidate can be introduced.
Some of the specific details that constitute the clean-up process include:
- Reinstating the Company’s corporate charter and paying franchise taxes to the Company’s state of domicile, if necessary
- Working with a PCOAB (Public Company Oversight Accounting Board) auditor to update all necessary financial statements and audits
- Holding a shareholder meeting for purposes of electing directors and amending articles of incorporation and bylaws as necessary
- Updating the Company’s articles of incorporation and bylaws to ensure they suit the needs of the successor Company
- Conducting reverse splits of the Company’s outstanding shares of common stock in order to decrease the size of the outstanding common