Securities Law 101 Series

Registering shares of stock in a mergerThis is the fifth part of our Securities Law 101 series.  Because capital raising is such a critical function for middle market companies, we designed this series to introduce their management teams to some of the fundamental concepts in securities law.  We hope that this series will prevent some of the most common mistakes management teams make.  We will periodically publish posts examining different aspects of securities law. 

So your company wants to use its stock to buy another company?  As we have seen, stock consideration is coming back into vogue.  Issuing shares of stock for mergers and acquisitions, however, triggers the need to either register the new shares with the SEC (and possibly state securities regulators) or to find an exemption from the requirements found under Section 5 of the Securities Act of 1933. The presence of these rules can substantially increase the cost of the deal and could even make you consider going public before you thought possible.      

For mergers, finding an exemption from registration is not usually an easy task unless the target company is still held largely by the founder. Usually, the target company’s shareholders in the merger are often numerous, from many different states or jurisdictions, and represent a wide range of investor qualifications (accredited, sophisticated, etc.). As such, in many cases, finding a securities exemption is all but impossible. With exemptions off the table, let’s look at how to register stock in a merger. 

Stock that is registered in the context of a merger is registered on Form S-4.  This form was specifically designed for business combinations and exchange offers.  A transaction in which security holders are required to elect to receive new or different securities in exchange for their existing security (so called Rule 145 transactions) would qualify to use Form S-4.

Disclosure under Form S-4 can be quite complex. Generally, Form S-4 requires full disclosure regarding both the acquiring and target companies and, if the post-merger entity will differ materially from the acquiring entity, then full disclosure with respect to the post-merger entity is also required. Form S-4s also include the proxy statement for the shareholder meeting to approve the transaction and, typically, combine this proxy with the prospectus. Form S-4 mandates extensive disclosure of the transaction in the prospectus/proxy statement, including any fairness opinions and a comparison of the rights of the shareholders of the parties to the transaction.  Essentially, the disclosures are tailored to the specific transaction and nuances in the deal can create the need for a lot of disclosure.  Notably, for some companies, (e.g., 1st United Bancorp, Inc.) Continue Reading Securities Law 101 (Part V): Issuing shares of stock for mergers and acquisitions

Pitfalls issuing securities to employeesThis is the fourth part of our Securities Law 101 series.  Because capital raising is such a critical function for middle market companies, we designed this series to introduce their management teams to some of the fundamental concepts in securities law.  We hope that this series will prevent some of the most common mistakes management teams make.  We will periodically publish posts examining different aspects of securities law.

For startup companies, cash is almost always tight.  Despite the cash crunch, startups need to be able to attract qualified employees to get their business off the ground.  So, a question I get all the time from founders of startups is: Can’t I just give my employees some shares?  The answer, of course, is “yes, as long as there is an exemption from registration.”

So, what is this “exemption from registration”?

Well, as a reminder every time you issue securities the securities must be registered with the SEC and each state’s securities commission unless there is an exemption from registration.  When you are issuing securities to employees, the exemption that you would most likely rely on is “Rule 701.”  To be able to rely on Rule 701, you need to meet the following conditions:

Pitfalls issuing securities to employeesThis is the fourth part of our Securities Law 101 series.  Because capital raising is such a critical function for middle market companies, we designed this series to introduce their management teams to some of the fundamental concepts in securities law.  We hope that this series will prevent some of the most common mistakes management teams make.  We will periodically publish posts examining different aspects of securities law.

For startup companies, cash is almost always tight.  Despite the cash crunch, startups need to be able to attract qualified employees to get their business off the ground.  So, a question I get all the time from founders of startups is: Can’t I just give my employees some shares?  The answer, of course, is “yes, as long as there is an exemption from registration.”

So, what is this “exemption from registration”?

Well, as a reminder every time you issue securities the securities must be registered with the SEC and each state’s securities commission unless there is an exemption from registration.  When you are issuing securities to employees, the exemption that you would most likely rely on is “Rule 701.”  To be able to rely on Rule 701, you need to meet the following conditions:

Regulation FD EnforcementThis is the third part of our Securities Law 101 series.  Because capital raising is such a critical function for middle market companies, we designed this series to introduce their management teams to some of the fundamental concepts in securities law.  We hope that this series will prevent some of the most common mistakes management teams make.  We will periodically publish posts examining different aspects of securities law. 

In the wake of the SEC recommending an enforcement action against Netflix, Inc. and its CEO for social media postings that potentially violate Regulation FD, public companies must increasingly ensure that they understand, and comply with, their obligations under Regulation FD.

So what is Regulation FD?  Adopted by the SEC in 2000, Regulation FD (a/k/a Regulation Fair Disclosure) prohibits companies from selectively disclosing material nonpublic information to analysts, institutional investors, and others. Citing instances of selective disclosure to certain institutional investors and/or securities analysts and the resulting profits or avoidance of loss that come at the expense of those without knowledge of the disclosure, the SEC intended to promote full and fair disclosure of information by issuers.  

Under Regulation FD, when an issuer, or person acting on its behalf, discloses material nonpublic information to certain people (in general, securities market professionals and holders of the issuer’s securities who may well trade on the basis of the information), the issuer must publicly disclose that information.  Importantly, where a disclosure is intentional, the issuer must simultaneously make public disclosure of the nonpublic material information. However, where the disclosure is non-intentional, the issuer must “promptly” make public disclosure.  The required public disclosure may be made by filing or furnishing a Form 8-K, or by another method or combination of methods that is reasonably designed to effect broad, non-exclusionary distribution of the information to the public such as press releases disseminated by a wire service. 

Regulation FD does not define what is considered “material,” but Continue Reading Securities Law 101 (Part III): Watch your mouth! Regulation FD’s impact on (selective) disclosure

seed moneyThis is the second part of our Securities Law 101 series.  Because capital raising is such a critical function for emerging start-up companies, we designed this series to introduce their management teams to some of the fundamental concepts in securities law.  We hope that this series will prevent some of the most common mistakes management teams of start-up companies make.  We will periodically publish posts examining different aspects of securities law. 

So your company would like to raise money?  These days it seems like every company is in need of more capital, even banks that are in the business of lending their funds out to others.  Whether your business needs new funding for growth, or more funding to meet regulatory capital requirements, or your company has not been able to secure that loan the business needs, there are a lot of reasons to consider a private placement.  Here, we will explore the use of the private placement to raise funds and the recent changes in securities laws that make this a better alternative than it was before.

We all know that there are many ways to raise money out there (and sales of stock through crowdfunding isn’t one of them yet), but one typical way would be to sell equity in your company to private investors.  All securities offerings must be registered unless an exemption exists.  Therefore, these deals are generally set up as private placements exempt from registration under SEC Rule 506, which allows an unlimited amount of money to be raised from an unlimited number of accredited investors (and up to 35 non-accredited investors).  Accredited investors are those individuals whose joint net worth with their spouse is at least $1 million, excluding the value of any equity in personal residences but including any mortgage debt to the extent it exceeds the fair market value of the residences.  The term also includes individuals with income exceeding $200,000 in each of the two most recent years, or joint income with their spouse exceeding $300,000 in each of those years, plus a reasonable expectation of reaching these income levels in the current year.  There are also other types of accredited investors such as companies with total assets in excess of $5 million.  Consequently, there are several categories of accredited investors out there that can potentially help with funding.

We recommend limiting the offer of securities in a private offering to only accredited investors.  The reason for this is that Continue Reading Securities Law 101 (Part II): Avoiding the pitfalls in a private placement

This is the first part of our Securities Law 101 series.   Because capital raising is such a critical function for emerging start-up companies, we designed this series to introduce their management teams to some of the fundamental concepts in securities law.  We hope that this series will prevent some of the most common mistakes management teams of start-up companies make.  We will periodically publish posts examining different aspects of securities law. 

Contrary to popular perceptions, securities law is not just for large corporations and conglomerates.  Too many start-up companies make the mistake of thinking securities law does not apply to them, though there is no de minimis exception to regulation. Practically, this means all entities, big and small, are required to comply with the applicable provisions of the Securities Act of 1933 (“1933 Act”).  Each state has its own securities laws with similar requirements.

The general principle of the 1933 Act is that every offer and sale of securities must be registered with the SEC unless an offering exemption exists.  You should keep in mind that a “security” is not limited to a share of stock either.  In fact, securities also include what are known as “investment contracts.”  Thus, courts have also applied the 1933 Act to interests bearing little resemblance to traditional securities transactions, including chinchillas, payphone packages, rare coins, live beavers, silver foxes, whiskey receipts, diamonds, and religious cults.

How is a beaver a security?  Back in 1946, the U.S. Supreme Court in a case called SEC v. W.J. Howey Co. created this test for an investment contract: (1) an investment of money; (2) with the expectation of profits; (3) in a common enterprise; (4) coming mainly from the efforts of others. Under this test, for example, limited partnerships are securities because investors invest money and expect a profit which comes in part from the efforts of others (here, the general partners exercising essential managerial efforts).

What do we mean by the investment of money?  Cash is not the only item that constitutes “money.” For example, Continue Reading Securities Law 101 (Part I): Yes, securities law applies to you