The SEC has declared immediately effective (yet another) proposed change to the rules of an exchange—this one from the NYSE. The NYSE has adopted new Section 312.03T of the NYSE Listed Company Manual, which will provide a temporary exception, through June 30, 2020, from the application of the shareholder approval requirements for specified issuances of 20% or more of the outstanding shares (Section 312.03) and, in certain narrow circumstances, by a limited exception for issuances to related parties or other capital-raising issuances that could be considered equity compensation (Sections 312.03 and 303A.08). Although not entirely congruent, the exception appears to be modeled closely on the comparable Nasdaq exception that was approved just over a week ago. (See this PubCo post.) In light of the unprecedented disruption in the economy as a result of COVID-19, many listed companies “are experiencing urgent liquidity needs during this period of crisis due to lost revenues and maturing debt obligations.” The temporary exception is designed to respond to this unprecedented emergency and to help companies access necessary capital quickly.
After the 2008 financial crisis, many companies sought to raise capital by selling equity in private placements, often to existing major shareholders, but faced limitations resulting from the NYSE’s shareholder approval requirements. To address that concern in the Covid-19 crisis, the NYSE has proposed, and the SEC has approved and declared immediately effective, an NYSE rule change to waive, through June 30, 2020 and subject to compliance with conditions, application of certain of the shareholder approval requirements in Section 312.03 of the NYSE Listed Company Manual. That rule requires listed companies to obtain shareholder approval prior to certain types of equity issuances. The general effect of the waivers, according to the NYSE, is to make these NYSE shareholder approval requirements more comparable to the similar Nasdaq requirements on a temporary basis. The waivers are intended to provide temporary relief to listed companies that may have urgent liquidity needs in the coming months as a result of the impact of COVID-19.
On March 20, the SEC approved the 2018 NYSE proposal to amend Sections 312.03 and 312.04 of the NYSE Listed Company Manual, modifying the price requirements for purposes of determining whether shareholder approval is required for certain issuances. As previously noted in this PubCo post, this proposal is remarkably similar to the one that the SEC approved for Nasdaq in 2018 (see this PubCo post), so its approval here was not unexpected. Just like the Nasdaq rule, the NYSE modification:
changes the definition of market value for purposes of the shareholder approval rule to the lower of the closing price and five-day average closing price; and
eliminates the requirement for shareholder approval of issuances at a price less than book value but at least as great as market value.