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Conversation: Potential Perils of Crowdfunding

Mary Jo WhiteThe Securities and Exchange Commission, through December 23, 2013, is seeking public comments on a proposal under Title III of the JOBS Act that would permit crowdfunding in connection with the purchase of securities. Nothing is perfect, and if adopted, investors and issuers alike will need to exercise caution.
 
Following is a tongue-in-cheek dialog between SEC Chair Mary Jo White, with comments taken verbatim from a press release issued by the SEC October 23, and a completely fictitious investor, expressing concerns:
 
Mary Jo:  I’m pleased that we’re in a position to seek public comment on a proposal to permit crowdfunding.
 
Investor:  What is crowdfunding?
 
Mary Jo:  Crowdfunding describes an evolving method of raising capital that has been used outside the securities arena to raise funds through the Internet for a variety of projects ranging from innovative product ideas to artistic endeavors.
 
Investor: Umm…I’m not sure I understand.  What does that have to do with securities?
 
Mary Jo:  Title III of the JOBS Act created an exemption under securities laws so that this type of funding method can be easily used to offer and sell securities as well. Securities purchased in a crowdfunding transaction could not be resold for a period of one year.
 
Investor:  Oh, I get it now.   You mean I soon will be able to take my hard-earned money and buy stocks in small, risky companies I never heard of?  Companies that may be run by rip-off artists.  Companies that have not been vetted by an investment bank. Stocks that will not necessarily trade in the public markets—not even on the OTC Bulletin Board?  And stocks that I may not even be able to easily sell?
 
Mary Jo: The Securities and Exchange Commission voted unanimously to propose rules under the JOBS Act to permit companies to offer and sell securities through crowdfunding.
 
Investor: Huh?  Maybe I don’t get it after all. What are the commissioners thinking?
 
Mary Jo:  The intent of the JOBS Act is to make it easier for startups and small businesses to raise capital from a wide range of potential investors and provide additional investment opportunities for investors.
 
Investor: Opportunities you say?  Aren’t there enough investment opportunities out there already? Do we really need more?  I’m scared. I want my mommy.
 
Mary Jo: We want this market to thrive in a safe manner for investors.
 
Investor:  O.K. I understand that’s what you want.  But President Obama wanted the Affordable Care Act website to work.  Besides, wasn’t the SEC supposed to be watching folks like that Madoff fellow?  He should have been easy to monitor, compared with the thousands of small entrepreneurs who will want to sell securities to unsuspecting investors?
 
Mary Jo:  There is a great deal of excitement in the marketplace about the crowdfunding exemption.
 
Investor:  Did I say I am scared?
 
Roger Pondel, rpondel@pondel.com
 
 

JOBS Act to Jumpstart IPOs

IPO

By most accounts, the JOBS Act will likely become law and the rules for new issues should help to streamline and ease the IPO process.
 
Yesterday, the Senate passed he Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS Act) (73-26 votes) with broad bipartisan support.  Its version of the JOBS Act will require approval from the House of Representatives (remember that a few weeks ago the House voted 390-23 in favor of a similar version of the law), after which it will go directly to President Obama’s desk for signature.  The White House has previously endorsed the legislation.
 
According to a recent report from the legal minds at Latham & Watkins, the JOBS Act, which is a combination of several different bills, contains certain IPO-related provisions related to corporate governance and financial reporting standards that should:

     

  • make it easier to go public;
  • provide significant cost savings for the IPO process;<
  • allow issuers to gauge investor interest before filing a registration statement;
  • permit confidential initiation of the SEC registration process;
  • streamline the requirements for financial statements;
  • permit analyst research immediately after the IPO; and
  • provide transitional relief for some companies up to five years from more costly requirements such as hiring an independent auditor.

 
Those supporting the bill believe it will encourage small businesses to grow and hire more workers. Further streamlining the IPO process enables companies to gain access to needed growth capital to fuel their expansion needs.  Reducing red tape should give an added boost to entrepreneurs seeking to launch new business start-ups, but it also could spur others to illicitly benefit from less stringent rules at the Securities and Exchange Commission.
 
While this should be viewed as a positive step forward, it also reminds investors of all stripes to carefully seek out and read all company filings before laying down the green.

 

PondelWilkinson, investor@pondel.com