June 5, 2019

Cryptocurrencies: Kik’s “Defend Crypto” Enforcement Gambit

Yesterday, the SEC announced an enforcement proceeding against Kik Interactive, which allegedly has engaged in a $100 million unregistered token offering.  Here’s the SEC’s complaint. Ordinarily, the SEC’s decision to bring an enforcement action is the big news, but I’ve kind of buried the lede here.  Why?  Because this Forbes article says that Kik & its affiliated entity, the Kin Ecosystem Foundation, are positively itching for a fight:

Two years ago, messaging app Kik raised about $100 million in an initial coin offering for the Kin token. Three days later, the SEC reached out, and after much back and forth, finally notified Kik last fall that it intended to pursue an enforcement action against both Kik and the Kin Ecosystem Foundation.

However, Kik and Kin made a surprise move: It published its response to the SEC, detailing what seems like a pretty strong case for why their token sale was not an offering of securities and why their token currently does not meet the definition of a security. They also announced in the Wall Street Journal their plan to fight this out in court.

In order to fund their defense, these crypto folks did a very crypto thing – they started a legal defense fund called “Defend Crypto” to which people can contribute bitcoin & other cryptocurrencies. What’s the sales pitch? In short, they say that “the future of crypto is on the line,” & they’re fighting Cryptomageddon:

For the future of crypto, we all need Kin to win. This case will set a precedent and could serve as the new Howey Test for how cryptocurrencies are regulated in the United States. That’s why Kin set up the Defend Crypto fund to ensure that the funds are there to do this the right way.

The message seems to be resonating with its intended audience. The fund raised over $4.5 million even before the SEC filed its action. What’s more, these guys seem positively thrilled that they’ve been sued. This WSJ article quotes KiK’s CEO as saying in reaction to the SEC’s complaint that what’s “exciting” to him “is that this industry is finally going to get the clarity it so desperately needs.”

“Clarity” is a word that crypto-evangelists use a lot when it comes to the securities laws. Sure, there are aspects of the SEC’s position on digital assets that are murky, but every time I hear somebody from the crypto crowd speak, I get the sense that they believe “clarity” means having regulators tell them what they want to hear. Anyway, enjoy the heck out of your enforcement proceeding. . .

Endangered Species: Quarterly Guidance on the Way Out?

It wasn’t all that long ago that most public companies seemed to view providing quarterly forecasts as just one of the costs of being public. That sure doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. In fact, this recent OZY article reports that the practice of providing quarterly guidance may be going the way of the Dodo:

The number of American companies releasing guidance every three months has dropped from 75 % in 2003 to 27% in 2017, according to a new report by the nonprofit FCLT Global, which advocates against quarterly earnings guidance. The phenomenon is even rarer outside the United States. Among listed companies on the Euro Stoxx 300, less than 1 percent issued quarterly guidance between 2010 and 2016.

Several publicly listed companies that release quarterly sales and revenue information are joining the chorus against short-term financial thinking. Large publicly traded companies such as Cisco, GSK, Barclays and Unilever, along with some state pension funds and global investment firms, are among the members of FCLT, an acronym for Focusing Capital on the Long Term. The group presents data showing that such forecasting does not, as many argue, reduce stock price volatility.

Despite this research and the calls of prominent investor & corporate advocates to end quarterly guidance, I suspect that the practice will remain pretty resilient at the lower end of the food chain. Smaller caps are often desperate to please analysts and maintain whatever coverage they may have, so until securities analysts jump on the bandwagon, some of these companies are likely to still keep sticking their necks out.

More On “NYSE Proposes to Tweak Equity Compensation Plan Rules”

Last week, I blogged about the NYSE’s proposed changes to the definition of “fair market value” in Rule 303A.08.  Troutman Sanders’ Brink Dickerson points out that there seems to be a bit of a disconnect between the NYSE’s proposal & the approach taken by Item 402 of S-K:

The change to 303A.08 is interesting in that it does not reconcile nicely with S-K 402(d)(2)(vii), which requires a separate column when the exercise price is “les than the closing market price of the underlying security.” A lot of my clients now use the closing price on the date of grant (1) to avoid this extra disclosure, and (2) because they would prefer the stock price to be unknown at the time of grant to minimize bullet-dodging, etc. Surprising that the NYSE would not go with the SEC’s default approach. Under the NYSE construct, you can only avoid the extra column with certainty if you make a grant after the market closes but not on the next day.

John Jenkins