April 8, 2020

Listing Standards: NYSE & Nasdaq Respond to Covid-19 Volatility

The Covid-19 crisis has taken a big bite out of the market caps of a whole lot of NYSE & Nasdaq listed companies, and this Weil blog says that the exchanges are responding to the market’s volatility & the other strains on listed companies resulting from the crisis. Here’s the intro:

In light of U.S. and global equities markets declines resulting from the continued spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) has temporarily suspended the application of one of its continued listing rules, which requires that listed companies maintain an average global market capitalization over a consecutive 30 trading-day period of at least $15 million (Market Capitalization Standard).

In addition, the Nasdaq Stock Market (Nasdaq) issued an information memorandum on March 23, 2020, indicating that Nasdaq is closely monitoring the impact of COVID-19 and the resultant market volatility of the securities of its listed companies, and providing Nasdaq-listed companies with guidance in a number of areas.

The memo says that although Nasdaq hasn’t suspended any of its listing requirements, its information memo provides guidance to listed companies in several areas. For instance, Nasdaq will consider COVID-19’s impact in its review of requests for financial viability exceptions to Rule 5635, which requires shareholder approval for the issuance of securities in certain enumerated circumstances. Nasdaq’s information memo also says that companies eligible for the 45-day filing extension provided in the SEC’s March 5 and March 20 orders won’t be deemed deficient under Rule 5620 if they take advantage of the extension.

On Monday, the SEC also approved the NYSE’s temporary waiver of Rule 312.03’s shareholder approval requirements for certain share issuances to related parties and its easing of the rule’s conditions to the “bona fide private financing” exemption to the shareholder approval requirements for private placements involving more than 20% of the outstanding shares. See this Cydney Posner blog for more details.

Paycheck Protection Program: Free Money? Don’t Bank On It

If you’re in a law firm, chances are pretty good that you’ve spent a fair amount of time during the past week getting clients up to speed on the requirements for Paycheck Protection Progam loans. For businesses that qualify and can comply with the program’s conditions, loans made under the program may indeed turn out to be “free money.”  But this Forbes article from Bruce Brumberg points out that this program isn’t a risk-free proposition:

In a business-law alert, the law firm Quarles & Brady explains the following (in this and the followed quotations I have bolded part of the text for emphasis). “The PPP application requires the applicant to make a number of certifications, including: ‘Current economic uncertainty makes this loan request necessary to support the ongoing operations of the applicant.’ The SBA has not provided any definition or color about the nature or extent of the required impact to operations that would make the loan request ‘necessary to support ongoing operations,’ which has both applicants and lenders skittish about making or accepting the certifications.”

In a similar client alert, the law firm Venable points out: “Borrowers must certify on the application that ‘current economic uncertainty makes this loan request necessary to support the ongoing operations of the Applicant.’ There is little guidance as to what exactly this means.”

In its commentary on the program, the law firm Ropes & Gray goes so far as to warn about possible legal exposure under the False Claims Act (FCA): “Already, news and opinion articles are addressing (and Members of Congress are saying) that there will be significant oversight over funds distributed through PPP. Private individuals have also made clear that they intend to exercise their rights under the Freedom of Information Act to identify the recipients of PPP loans with a view to identifying those who, in their view, were not the intended beneficiaries of the program.

So, while the program may provide a real lifeline for many borrowers, companies need to understand that there are uncertainties that could come back to bite them – and that, as always, a little healthy skepticism is appropriate when somebody says “we’re from the government, and we’re here to help.”

SEC’s Private Offering Proposal: Chart of Proposed Changes to Registration Alternatives

Approximately 25 years one month ago, the SEC proposed amendments to simplify & harmonize the framework for exempt offerings. If you’ve worked on private offerings, chances are you’re familiar with the very helpful “Chart of Alternatives to Registration” that Stan Keller, Jean Harris & Rich Leisner put together. Well, Stan has recently published a new chart reflecting the SEC’s proposed changes to those alternatives. Check it out!

John Jenkins