Attorney: Joshua B. Silverman
Pomerantz Monitor March/April 2018
For more than eight decades, the Securities Act of 1933 has protected investors by requiring full disclosure in initial public offerings. As President Roosevelt explained at the time of its enactment, the statute was intended to restore confidence in public markets by ensuring that important information regarding new issues was not “concealed from the buying public.”
In 2012, the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act created a new type of offering that largely bypassed these investor protections. Commonly known as a mini- IPO or Regulation A+ offering, the provision allowed small companies to raise $50 million or less with limited regulations. Advocates claimed that by bypassing “burdensome” regulations the act would facilitate capital formation, create jobs, and reinvigorate capital markets.
Regulation A+ companies go through only a minimal “qualification” process, avoiding most pre-offering scrutiny from the SEC’s Division of Corporate Finance. Such companies are not bound by the “quiet period” rules that restrict advertising of traditional IPOs. As a result, many are promoted by online ads and social media campaigns making aggressive promises. Even worse, Regulation A+ offerings are not subject to the strong private remedy under Section 11 of the Securities Act of 1933.
More than five years after the JOBS Act, none of the promised benefits has materialized. There is no evidence that Regulation A+ has created jobs (except for stock promoters) or boosted small business. Peeling back safe-guards, however, definitely hurt investors. Regulation A+ has become a “backdoor” mechanism to facilitate public listings by companies that would not be able to do so by traditional means, and most have resulted in heavy losses. Because most shares in these offerings are foisted on retail investors, they have borne the majority of these losses. But institutions are now getting involved. FAT Brands, for example, claims that institutional investors accounted for 30% of its mini-IPO.
The first company to take advantage of the light-touch regulations, Elio Motors, listed on the OTCQX at $12 after running a heavily-advertised campaign on a crowdfunding site. Shares now languish below $3, less than 25% of their price at the time of listing. Instead of creating jobs, the undercapitalized manufacturer of three-wheeled vehicles has furloughed workers.
More than a dozen other companies have since used Regulation A+ to go public, with many even listing on the NASDAQ or NYSE. A recent study by Barrons magazine confirms that investors lost money in nearly all of these offerings. The fourteen offerings reviewed by Barrons dropped by an average of 40% on a price-weighted basis during their first six months of trading, at a time when the Russell 2000 and S&P SmallCap 600 indexes both registered strong gains.
Predictably, the reduced scrutiny of Regulation A+ has attracted promoters with shady pedigrees. For example, the CEO of Level Brands, Martin Sumichrast, was previously known for bringing low-quality companies public through Stratton Oakmont, the infamous penny-stock brokerage featured in Wolf of Wall Street. Rami El-Batrawi, the CEO and founder of YayYo, a ride-sharing company that filed to go public in 2017, was until recently banned from serving as an officer or director of a public company under a consent judgment settling claims that he manipulated trading of his prior company, Genesis Intermedia.
Although Regulation A+ has been a disaster by any ob-jective measure, lawmakers seem intent to double down. A bill currently pending in the House of Representatives would raise the limit of Regulation A+ offerings to $75 million. Until Congress begins to consider the needs of investors, it truly is “buyer beware.”