Are you a US private company looking for capital? Regulation A+ may be your answer.

The amended Regulation A became effective on June 19, 2015, and the SEC has recently provided helpful guidance about it.  On June 18, 2015, the SEC made available “Amendments to Regulation A: A Small Entity Compliance Guide” summarizing provisions of the new Regulation A, and on June 23, 2015, the SEC issued new Compliance and Disclosure Interpretations (C&DIs) clarifying certain provisions of the new Regulation A.

The new Regulation A mandated by the JOBS Act is often dubbed as Regulation A+, as a sign of significant improvement over the old Regulation A, which was rarely used as a capital-raising vehicle. The new Regulation A+ provides for two tiers of offerings:

  • Tier 1, for offerings of securities of up to $20 million in a 12-month period, with not more than $6 million in offers by selling security-holders that are affiliates of the issuer; and
  • Tier 2, for offerings of securities of up to $50 million in a 12-month period, with not more than $15 million in offers by selling security-holders that are affiliates of the issuer.

Under Regulation A+, an entity organized under the laws of the United States or Canada with its principal place of business in the United States or Canada that is not subject to Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 immediately prior to the offering is considered an eligible issuer for the purposes of Regulation A+. The new C&DIs clarify such eligibility requirement and provide that the following companies are eligible to benefit from the provisions of Regulation A+:

  • A company with headquarters located in the United States or Canada, but whose business primarily involves managing operations that are located outside such countries; provided its officers, partners, or managers primarily direct, control and coordinate the issuer’s activities from the United States or Canada.
  • A company that was previously required to file reports with the SEC under Section 15(d) of the Exchange Act, but that has since suspended its Exchange Act reporting obligation; provided the company has satisfied the statutory provisions for suspension in Section 15(d) of the Exchange Act or the requirements of Exchange Act Rule 12h-3.
  • A voluntary filer under the Exchange Act, i.e., a filer that is not obligated to file Exchange Act reports pursuant to either Section 13 or 15(d) of the Exchange Act.
  • A private wholly-owned subsidiary of an Exchange Act reporting company parent; provided such reporting company parent is not a guarantor or co-issuer of the securities of the private wholly-owned subsidiary.

Generally, Regulation A+ has been viewed as a vehicle that private companies can use to raise money to expand their business or to buy out a shareholder. In the new C&DIs, the SEC also clarified that Regulation A+ can be relied upon by an issuer for business combination transactions, such as a merger or acquisition. However, the SEC indicated that Regulation A+ would not be available for business acquisition shelf transactions.

Regulation A+ allows issuers to “test-the-waters” by trying to determine whether there is any interest in a contemplated securities offering. Rule 255 of Regulation A+ requires companies to include certain mandatory cautionary statements in such “test-the-waters” communications. The SEC has previously recognized the issuers interest in using social media (for example, Twitter) to communicate with security holders, and the new C&DIs permits an issuer to “test the waters” in a Regulation A+ offering on a platform that limits the number of characters or amount of text that can be included, and thus technically prevents the inclusion in such communication of the Rule 255 information. The SEC has solved this problem by allowing the use of an active hyperlink to satisfy the requirements of Rule 255 in the following circumstances:

  • The electronic communication is distributed through a platform that has technological limitations on the number of characters or amount of text that may be included in the communication;
  • Including the required statements in their entirety, together with the other information, would cause the communication to exceed the limit on the number of characters or amount of text; and
  • The communication contains an active hyperlink to the required statements that otherwise satisfy Rule 255 and, where possible, prominently conveys, through introductory language or otherwise, that important or required information is provided through the hyperlink.

However, if an electronic communication is capable of including the entire required statements, along with the other information, without exceeding the applicable limit on number of characters or amount of text, the SEC considers the use of a hyperlink to the required statements to be inappropriate. This approach is consistent with the SEC’s position on other communications with shareholders under the Securities Act and Exchange Act rules.

Under Regulation A+, state securities (Blue Sky) registration requirements are not preempted for Tier 1 offerings, but such preemption exists for primary offerings of securities by the issuer or secondary offerings by selling security-holders in Tier 2 offerings. The new C&DIs make it clear that Blue Sky registration and qualification requirements are not preempted with respect to resales of securities purchased in a Tier 2 offering. Resales of securities purchased in a Tier 2 offering must be registered, or offered or sold pursuant to an exemption from registration, with state securities regulators.

The Alphabet Soup of Raising Capital: Regulation A or Regulation D — What Would You Prefer?

On June 19, 2015, amended Regulation A recently adopted by the SEC will become effective. The new Regulation A, mandated by the JOBS Act and often dubbed as Regulation A+, is a significant improvement over the old Regulation A, which was rarely used as a capital raising vehicle. The old Regulation A permits unregistered offerings of up to $5 million of securities in any 12-month period, including no more than $1.5 million of securities offered by security holders of the company. Permissible thresholds of Regulation A+ are much higher. It provides for two tiers of offerings: “Tier 1, for offerings of securities of up to $20 million in a 12-month period, with not more than $6 million in offers by selling security-holders that are affiliates of the issuer; and Tier 2, for offerings of securities of up to $50 million in a 12-month period, with not more than $15 million in offers by selling security-holders that are affiliates of the issuer.”

However, will Regulation A+ become a more popular choice for smaller companies than Regulation D in raising capital? Is Regulation A+ a workable compromise between the company’s need to have access to capital and the SEC’s goal of investor protection?

Rule 506 of Regulation D is one of the most widely used capital raising exemptions under the US securities laws. The main reason of its popularity is its flexibility. Although Rule 506 does not provide an opportunity for selling security holders to participate in the offering as Regulation A+ does, Rule 506 does not have any caps on the dollar amount that can be raised. In addition, any company: public or private, US or foreign can raise capital under Rule 506. However, only a US or Canadian issuer that is not (i) a reporting company under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 immediately prior to the offering, (ii) an investment company, or (iii) a blank check company is considered an “eligible issuer” under Regulation A+. Note that “bad actor” disqualification applies to both Rule 506 and Regulation A+ offerings. Also, a company that had its registration revoked under Section 12(j) of the Exchange Act within five years before the filing of the offering statement or that has been delinquent in filing required reports under Regulation A+ during the two years before the filing of the offering statement (or for such shorter period that the issuer was required to file such reports) is not eligible to do an offering under such Regulation.

In some instances, Regulation A+ appears to be more accommodating than Rule 506. For example, Rule 506 allows an unlimited number of accredited investors as purchasers (with Rule 506(b) also permitting up to 35 non-accredited investors), and Tier 1 of Regulation A+ does not have any limitation on the number or type of investors. Tier 2 also does not have any limitations on the number of investors, but imposes a per-investor cap for non-accredited investors (unless the securities are listed on a national exchange) of the aggregate purchase price to be paid by the purchaser for the securities to be no more than 10% of the greater of annual income or net worth for individual investors or revenue or net assets most recently completed fiscal year for entities.  In addition, Regulation A+ allows issuers to “test-the-waters” by trying to determine whether there is any interest in a contemplated securities offering (assuming such practice is allowed under applicable blue sky laws for Tier 1 offerings), while the traditional Rule 506(b) does not allow for general solicitation and advertising (Rule 506(c) permits general solicitation and advertisement).

The biggest downside of Regulation A+ structure is that blue sky registration requirements are not preempted for Tier 1 offerings, which significantly limits the use of Tier 1 for offerings in multiple states. Such preemption exists for Rule 506 offerings as well as Tier 2 of Regulation A+ offerings. But the welcomed flexibility of doing nationwide offerings under Tier 2 comes with a heavy price tag of ongoing reporting. After a Tier 2 offering, an issuer must file with the SEC annual reports on Form 1-K, semi-annual reports on Form 1-SA and current reports on Form 1-U (within 4 business days of the event). The SEC also noted that companies may “voluntarily” file quarterly financial statements on Form 1-U, but the practical effect of desired compliance with Rules 15c2-11 and Rule 144 to maintain placement of quotes by market makers and resales of securities, will lead to “voluntary” quarterly reporting becoming essentially mandatory.

Rule 506 offerings are usually accompanied by private placement memoranda, or PPMs, (even when offerings are solely to accredited investors) to protect issuers from Rule 10b-5 liability under the Exchange Act. There is no prescribed format for such PPMs and they are not reviewed by the SEC. In connection with Regulation A+ offerings, an issuer must file Form 1-A (a “mini” registration statement) through EDGAR with the SEC (first-time issuers are eligible to initially do a non-public submission of a draft of Form 1-A). Such Forms 1-A are subject to the SEC review and comment process, which increases the cost of the transaction and extends the time from the beginning of the transaction and the closing.

The good news is that Regulation A+ provides a new way for smaller companies to raise capital and get some liquidity in their securities. However, if a company is confident that it can raise money through the traditional Rule 506 private placement, it may still want to avoid the SEC review process, the hassle of blue sky compliance under Tier 1 or ongoing reporting obligations of Tier 2 introduced by Regulation A+.

Is the SEC Doing Enough to Promote Capital Formation?

If you believe Commissioner Daniel M. Gallagher, the answer is an emphatic “no”, at least with respect to small businesses. On September 17, 2014, at a Heritage Foundation event, Commission Gallagher gave a speech criticizing the Securities and Exchange Commission’s failure to adequately promote capital formation by small businesses:

[S]adly, we at the SEC are not doing nearly enough to ensure that small businesses have the access to capital that they need to grow. We layer on rule after rule until it becomes prohibitively expensive to access the public capital markets.

After noting that not all of the regulatory burden is the SEC’s fault as “much of the ever-growing rulebook is a direct result of congressional mandates,” Commissioner Gallagher makes a number of recommendations for the SEC. Highlights include recommendations to:

  • Withdraw the proposed amendments to Regulation D. (Commission Gallagher did not support the proposed amendments as he stated in the SEC’s July 10, 2013 open meeting.)
  • Consider more deeply Regulation D, including considering broadening the blue sky exemption to help make the choice between the various exemptions available under Regulation D more meaningful.  According to Commissioner Gallagher, nearly all Regulation D offerings are conducted under Rule 506, even though 2/3 of the offerings are small enough that they could have been conducted pursuant to Rule 504 or 505, because Rule 506 offerings are exempt from blue sky regulations.
  • Analyze the secondary market for private company shares, where innovation has slowed. “We need more facilities to improve trading among accredited investors in the private secondary market.”
  • Finish implementing the JOBS Act’s reforms to Regulation A and couple the reforms with the formation of venture exchanges (national exchanges with listing rules tailored for smaller companies, including those issuing shares issued pursuant to Regulation A). Commission Gallagher noted that the SEC had proposed a robust set of rules, including blue sky preemption in certain larger Regulation A Offerings. (Commissioner Gallagher also noted, with respect to the proposal for blue sky exemption, that an “outpouring of anger from state regulators . . . wasn’t unexpected. After all, state regulators have been “protecting” investors from investment opportunities that are too risky for decades – I’m sure the Massachusetts residents who missed out on the offering of Apple Computer in 1980 because of their regulator’s concerns about the risk know this all too well.”)
  • Reconsider the current thresholds for scaled disclosure and the amount of disclosure that is required at each level – including having two tiers of scaling: significant scaling of disclosure for “nanocap” companies (i.e., companies with market capitalizations of up to $50 million) and moderate scaling for “microcap” companies with market capitalizations of $50 million to $300 million.

Coincidently, the SEC released its 2014 – 2018 Strategic Plan on September 19, 2014, two days after Commissioner Gallagher’s speech. Featured on the cover of the Strategic Plan is the SEC’s mission statement – “Protecting investors, maintaining fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and facilitating capital formation” (emphasis added).

But, judging by the SEC’s own Strategic Plan and its current rulemaking agenda, it is unlikely that the SEC will be vigorously addressing many of Commissioner Gallagher’s concerns regarding capital formation for small businesses in the near future.

SEC Proposes “Regulation A+” Amendments

The SEC has proposed regulations to amend Regulation A as required by the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS Act).   Title IV of the JOBS Act directed the SEC to write regulations providing for an exemption from Securities Act registration for public offerings of up to an aggregate of $50 million of equity, debt or convertible debt securities in a 12 month period.  This provision has been termed “Regulation A+” by some observers because it is designed to be an improvement upon the SEC’s Regulation A, which permits exempt public offerings of up to $5 million by non-SEC reporting companies.  Regulation A has been little used because, for one thing, the $5 million limit is too low. 

The SEC’s proposed rules would update and expand the Regulation A exemption by creating two tiers of Regulation A offerings:

  • Tier 1, which would consist of those offerings already covered by Regulation A – that is securities offerings of up to $5 million in a 12-month period, including up to $1.5 million for the account of selling security-holders.
  • Tier 2, which would consist of securities offerings of up to $50 million in a 12-month period, including up to $15 million for the account of selling security-holders.

For offerings up to $5 million, the company could elect whether to proceed under Tier 1 or 2.

Basic Requirements

Under Tier 1 and Tier 2, companies would be subject to basic requirements, including ones addressing issuer eligibility and disclosure that are drawn from the existing provisions of Regulation A.  The proposed rules also would update Regulation A to, among other things:

  • Require issuers to electronically file offering statements with the SEC.
  • Provide that an offering statement and any amendment can be qualified only by order of the SEC.
  • Permit companies to submit draft offering statements for nonpublic SEC review prior to filing.
  • Permit the use of “testing the waters” solicitation materials both before and after filing of the offering statement.
  • Modernize the qualification, communications, and offering process in Regulation A to reflect analogous provisions of the Securities Act registration process, including permitting issuers to satisfy their delivery requirements as to the final offering circular under an “access equals delivery” model when the final offering circular is filed and available on EDGAR.

 Additional Tier 2 Requirements

In addition to the basic requirements, companies conducting Tier 2 offerings would be subject to the following additional requirements:

  • Investors would be limited to purchasing no more than 10 percent of the greater of the investor’s annual income or net worth.
  • The financial statements included in the offering circular would be required to be audited.
  • The company would be required to file annual and semiannual ongoing reports and current event updates that are similar to the requirements for public company reporting.

Eligibility

Regulation A would be available to companies organized in and with their principal place of business in the United States or Canada, as is currently the case under Regulation A.

The exemption would not be available to companies that:

  • Are already SEC reporting companies and certain investment companies.
  • Have no specific business plan or purpose or have indicated their business plan is to engage in a merger or acquisition with an unidentified company.
  • Are seeking to offer and sell asset-backed securities or fractional undivided interests in oil, gas, or other mineral rights.
  • Have not filed the ongoing reports required by the proposed rules during the preceding two years.
  • Are or have been subject to a SEC order revoking the company’s registration under the Exchange Act during the preceding five years.
  • Are disqualified under the proposed “bad actor” disqualification rules.

Preemption of Blue Sky Law

In view of the range of investor protections provided under the proposal, state securities law requirements would be preempted for Tier 2 offerings. 

The SEC will seek public comment on the proposed rules for 60 days.  Let’s see whether the commenters give the proposed rules an “A+”?