Will there be a JOBS Act 3.0? The JOBS and Investor Confidence Act of 2018 just passed the House by a vote of 406 to 4, so, even though Senators may often be chary of jumping on the House bandwagon—remember the doomed Financial Choice Act of 2016 and then 2017— the overwhelming and bipartisan approval in the House still makes the odds look better than usual.
In this report, Expanding the On-Ramp: Recommendations to Help More Companies Go and Stay Public, eight organizations—the American Securities Association, Biotechnology Innovation Organization, Equity Dealers of America, Nasdaq, National Venture Capital Association, Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, TechNet and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—joined forces to make recommendations about how to revitalize the IPO market and make public company status more appealing. Many of these recommendations have in the past been the subject of legislation or proposed rulemaking or have otherwise been floated in the ether but, nevertheless, have not advanced. Will the weight of these groups propel any of these recommendations forward?
The WSJ is reporting that “people familiar with the matter”—every reporter’s favorite source—say that the SEC is “weighing” expanding “test the waters” beyond just EGCs. You might recall that, in 2012, the JOBS Act allowed IPO candidates that were EGCs to take preliminary steps to determine the potential level of investor interest before committing to the expensive and time-consuming prospectus drafting and SEC review process. That flexibility, together with the new confidential IPO filing process—which allowed EGCs to start the SEC review process on a confidential basis so that sensitive information would not be disclosed if they ultimately determined not to move forward with the offering—was intended to promote and facilitate access to the public capital markets. Since that time, however, the IPO market has not exactly taken off like a rocket, and the hand-wringing over the lack of interest in going public has continued. In June 2017, Corp Fin extended the confidential filing process, permitting non-EGCs to submit confidential draft registration statement for IPOs and for most offerings made in the first year after going public. Will testing the waters be the next step?
A frequent lament these days is the decline in the number of IPOs and public companies generally, with much of the discussion—particularly at the agency and Congressional levels—focused on the adverse impact of increased regulatory burden. (See this PubCo post.) In December 2015, Congress directed the SEC’s Division of Economic and Risk Analysis to assess the impact of Dodd-Frank and other financial regulations on access to capital for consumers, investors and businesses and market liquidity, including U.S. Treasury and corporate debt markets. The staff of DERA has now issued its report to Congress on Access to Capital and Market Liquidity. The report begins with a gigantic caveat: it’s really challenging to determine the effects of changes in regulations. At the end of the day, DERA did not pinpoint any “causal relationship” between Dodd-Frank and developments in the capital markets, emphasizing instead that the volume of IPOs has historically ebbed and flowed, with many contributing factors influencing IPO dynamics.
In his first public speech as SEC Chair, Jay Clayton outlined for the Economic Club of New York eight principles that he aims to guide his tenure as Chair. In discussing these principles and some ways in which he plans to put them into practice, Clayton seemed to stress the need to focus more intently on the various costs of regulatory compliance—in dollars, in time, in effort, in complexity and in economic impact. In particular, Clayton drew attention to a reduction in the number of public companies in recent years—a “roughly 50% decline in the total number of U.S.-listed public companies over the last two decades”—attributing the decline at least in part to the expansion of disclosure requirements, in some cases beyond materiality. To address this issue, he asserted, the SEC “should review its rules retrospectively” from the perspective of the cumulative effect of required disclosure, not just each incremental slice. Finally, he noted that the SEC “has several initiatives underway to improve the disclosure available to investors, “ including implementation of recommendations contained in the SEC staff’s Report on Modernization and Simplification of Regulation S-K (see this PubCo post). According to Clayton, the staff “is making good progress on preparing rulemaking proposals based on this report….”
Corp Fin posts FAQs regarding extension of process for confidential submission of draft registration statements
On June 29, Corp Fin announced that it was extending the process for confidential submission of draft registration statements, currently available only for IPOs of emerging growth companies, to IPOs of companies that are not EGCs, as well as for most follow-on offerings made in the first year after going public. The extension of this confidential process will allow more companies to defer the public disclosure of sensitive or competitive information until they are almost ready to market the offering—and potentially to avoid the public disclosure altogether if they ultimately decide not to proceed with the offering. The new process will become available on July 10, 2017. (See this PubCo post.) Subsequently, Corp Fin issued a series of FAQs to provide additional guidance.
…submit a confidential draft registration statement for IPOs, as well as for most offerings made in the first year after going public, Corp Fin announced yesterday. Until now, that beneficial process, first permitted by the JOBS Act, has been available only to emerging growth companies. The extension of this confidential process will allow more companies to defer the public disclosure of sensitive or competitive information until they are almost ready to market the offering—and potentially to avoid the public disclosure altogether if they ultimately decide not to proceed with the offering. According to the press release, the change “will provide companies with more flexibility to plan their offering. The nonpublic review process after the IPO reduces the potential for lengthy exposure to market fluctuations that can adversely affect the offering process and harm existing public shareholders. By requiring a public filing period prior to the launch of marketing, the process incorporates a feature of the EGC review process that provides an opportunity for the public to evaluate those offerings.” The new process will become available on July 10, 2017.