Rule 144 and Pink Sheet Shells; Selling Shares Post Merger
One of the most common inquiries received by securities attorneys today involves Issuers wanting to know when they and their shareholders can sell their shares on the open market following a merger with a Pink Sheet shell. In many cases, the answer they get is not the answer they want; twelve months after the Pink Sheet Company becomes a fully reporting entity.
If a private entity has merged with a Pink Sheet shell under the assumption that they can avoid the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) reporting requirements, this revelation is devastating. As a result of the amendments to Rule 144 and Rule 145, enacted in February, 2009, private companies that wish to go public on the Pink Sheets are advised to do so directly, and not through a reverse merger with a shell company.
Technically Rule 144 provides a safe harbor from the definition of the term “underwriter” such that a selling shareholder may utilize the exemption contained in Section 4(1) of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, to sell their restricted securities. In layman terms, Rule 144, allows shareholders to sell their unregistered shares. When a private entity merges with a Pink Sheet shell, the shareholders of the private entity receive restricted shares. Historically, other than registration, Rule 144 provided the only method for such shareholders to sell their shares on the open market. The February 2009 amendment eliminated this ability.
Rule 144(i), as amended, provides in pertinent part that the Rule is unavailable to issuers with no or nominal operations or no or nominal non-cash assets. That is the rule is unavailable for the use by shareholders of any company that is or was at any time previously, a shell company. A shell company is one with no or nominal operations and either no or nominal assets, assets consisting solely of cash and cash equivalents or assets consisting of any amount of cash and cash equivalents and nominal other assets.
When a Shell is No Longer a Shell
In order to use Rule 144, a Company must have ceased to be a shell company, be subject to the reporting requirements of section 13 or 15(d) of the Exchange Act; filed all reports and other materials required to be filed by section 13 or 15(d) of the Exchange Act, as applicable, during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the issuer was required to file such reports and materials), other than Form 8-K reports; and have filed current “Form 10 information” with the Commission reflecting its status as an entity that is no longer a shell company, then those securities may be sold subject to the requirements of Rule 144 after one year has elapsed from the date that the issuer filed “Form 10 information” with the SEC.
Lastly, Rule 145, which is the rule that addresses the issuance of securities in mergers, consolidations and reclassifications, was amended to provide an analogous provision.
Securities attorney Laura Anthony provides expert legal advice and ongoing corporate counsel to small public Companies as well as private Companies seeking to go public on the Over the Counter Bulletin Board Exchange (OTCBB). Ms. Anthony counsels private and small public Companies nationwide regarding reverse mergers, due diligence on public shells, corporate transactions and all aspects of securities law.
Ms. Anthony is the Founding Partner of Legal & Compliance, LLC, a national corporate, securities and civil litigation law firm based in West Palm Beach, Florida. The firm’s corporate and securities attorneys provide technical legal services to small and mid-size private and public (OTCBB) Companies, entrepreneurs, and business professionals nationwide. Contact us today for a FREE consultation!