The JOBS Act makes several significant changes to the rules surrounding private capital formation. One such change being the much-discussed elimination of the prohibition on general solicitation and general advertising in certain private securities offerings. Another being the addition of an exemption from broker-dealer registration for platforms that, to a certain extent, facilitate offers and sales of unregistered securities.
General Solicitation and General Advertising in Private Offerings
Section 201 of the JOBS Act requires that within 90 days of its enactment, or by July 4, 2012, the Securities and Exchange Commission revise Regulation D to eliminate the prohibition on general solicitation and general advertising in private offerings made in reliance on the safe harbor afforded by Rule 506, provided that only accredited investors participate in the offerings.
In its current form, Rule 506 allows an unlimited amount of capital to be raised from an unlimited number of accredited investors and up to 35 sophisticated non-accredited investors, provided, however, that whenever non-accredited investors participate in an offering certain information disclosure requirements must be met. In its current form Rule 506 also explicitly prohibits general solicitation and general advertising, regardless of whether participating investors are accredited or non-accredited.
Section 201 of the JOBS Act also requires that the Commission, again by July 4, 2012, revise Rule 144A to provide that securities sold thereunder may be offered to persons other than qualified institutional buyers (QIBs), including by means of general solicitation or general advertising, provided that the securities are ultimately sold only to persons that the seller or anyone acting on the seller’s behalf reasonably believe to be QIBs.
Like Rule 506, Rule 144A is a safe harbor for sales of unregistered securities. Where they differ is that Rule 506 addresses sales of securities by an issuer (akin to a primary offering), whereas Rule 144A addresses resales by persons other than an issuer (akin to a secondary offering). Very generally, the safe harbor afforded by Rule 144A allows for resales of a limited category of qualifying securities to QIBs. Rule 144A resales often follow in close proximity to the private offering in which the securities being resold were originally issued.
So how are these changes going to impact the market for private securities offerings?
Insofar as Rule 506 offerings are concerned, over time we may see a shift from other types of Regulation D offerings to Rule 506 offerings, but lifting the ban on general solicitation and general advertising is not likely to have a significant impact on the type of investors participating in Rule 506 offerings.
Based on a recent report by the Commission’s Division of Risk, Strategy and Financial Innovation (FSHI), Rule 506 is already by far the most popular private offering exemption; used in over half of all the private offerings examined in FSHI’s report. And, even though Rule 506 allows for participation by up to 35 non-accredited investor, almost 90% of all Regulation D offerings (Rules 504, 505 and 506 combined) are made up entirely of accredited investors. So, while we may ultimately see even more Rule 506 offerings, there’s not much room for a shift in the ratio of non-accredited to accredited investors.
As for transactions set up to take advantage of the Rule 144A resale exemption, they only make up a small number of the private offerings conducted each year and they generally involve larger companies that already are, or immediately become, subject to the Exchange Act’s reporting requirements. Compared to Rule 506 offerings, Rule 144A transactions are fairly niche and, while I don’t have anything in the way of stats to back it up, I don’t think that we’re going to see any great shift toward Rule 144A offerings just because general solicitation and general advertising is permitted.
Where lifting the ban on general solicitation and general advertising will undoubtedly have the greatest impact is in the amount of information about private offerings that becomes publicly available. Hopefully this will result in a better understanding of how private capital formation works, as opposed to an overload of information that is of diminishing value or quality.
One other item of note here is that, despite the JOBS Act having taken effect, the current prohibition on general solicitation and general advertising remains in place until the Commission adopts amended or new implementing rules and those rules themselves take effect.
The Platform Exemption to Broker-Dealer Registration
Finally, Section 201 the JOBS Act creates an entirely new exemption from the broker-dealer registration requirements for anyone that maintains a platform or other mechanism that permits offers, sales, purchases or negotiations of securities, or permits general solicitation, general advertising or related activities by an issuer that is offering securities, regardless of whether those activities take place online, in person or by some other means.
What’s more, the exemption is available even if the person maintaining the platform invests in or provides “ancillary services” related to the securities that are made available through the platform. Ancillary services are defined to include due diligence services, provided no compensated investment advice is given, and the provision of standardized documents, provided there is no involvement in the negotiation process and the parties are free to use their own transaction documents if they choose to.
Lastly, the exemption is contingent on there being no transaction related compensation, no possession of securities or customer funds and no involvement by persons subject to statutory disqualification under Section 3(a)(39) of the Exchange Act.