The integration doctrine prevents issuers from circumventing the registration requirements of the Securities Act of 1934 by determining whether two or more securities offerings are really one offering that does not qualify as an exempt offering, or an exempt offering is really part of a registered public offering.
Securities Act Release No. 33-4552 (November 6, 1962) sets forth a five factor test that is used as a guideline in determining whether the separate offerings of an issuer that occur within a short time of one another will be integrated. These same factors are set forth in the Note to Rule 502(a) of Regulation D, which factors address whether the offerings:
- are part of a single plan of financing;
- involve the issuance of the same class of securities (convertible securities, warrants, and other
- derivative instruments generally are deemed to be the same class as the underlying security unless the terms of the primary security prohibit exercises until at least the one year anniversary date);
- are made at or about the same time;
- involve the same type of consideration is to be received; and
- are made for the same general purpose.
Rule 502(a) provides for a six-month (soon to be 90 days) safe harbor wherein multiple private offerings that are conducted at least six (6) months apart will not be integrated. In addition, a private offering that is conducted at least six (6) months before or after a registered or exempt public offering will not be integrated with the public offering. Fortunately, effective February 4, 2008, the SEC changed the length of integration safe harbor from six (6) months to ninety (90) days.
In addition, Rule 155 sets forth a safe harbor for abandoned private and public offerings (Release No. 33-7943, effective March 7, 2001). Generally, the rule creates safe harbors to allow: (i) a public offering immediately following an abandoned private offering and (ii) a private offering thirty (30) days after an abandoned public offering, without integrating the public and private offerings in either situation. These safe harbors provide issuers with more flexibility to react to volatile capital market conditions.
Rule 155 does not replace, but rather supplements, the five factor test that will be used whenever the safe harbor is inapplicable. For example, the five-factor test, rather than Rule 155, would apply when evaluating whether two or more private offerings should be integrated with each other. Moreover, Rule 155 recognizes only Sections 4(2) and 4(6) and Rule 506 offerings as exempt offerings. Finally, Rule 155 is not available for shelf registration statements.
Concurrent Private and Registered Offerings in PIPE Transactions
The primary legal consideration in any PIPE (private investment in public entity) investment is ensuring that the issuer takes all steps necessary to make the investment a valid private placement. The issuer must conduct the PIPE offering in a manner that does not involve any general solicitation or advertisement. In this context, an issuer that had considered a public offering and filed a registration statement with the SEC may be deemed to have engaged in a general solicitation for the offering, and the issuer would have to completely abandon that offering by withdrawing the registration statement for a period of time before engaging in the PIPE transaction.
SEC Rule 155
Rule 155 does not alter the position taken by the SEC staff in its no-action letters to Black Box Inc. and Squadron, Ellenoff, Pleasant & Lehrer. In these letters, the staff indicated that it would not integrate a registered offering and a concurrent unregistered offering made only to Qualified Institutional Buyers (as defined by Rule 144A under the 1933 Act) and no more than two or three large accredited institutional investors.
Given that a PIPE transaction inherently involves a private placement of securities and a subsequent public offering, the PIPE transaction has higher integration risks. To ensure that the PIPE transaction is respected as two separate transactions, the initial private placement must be “complete” prior to filing of any registration statement for the underlying securities. In the standard PIPE transaction, meeting this requirement normally does not pose a problem since the registration statement is filed following the closing of the PIPE transaction.
Private Placement Completion
The SEC will consider a private placement complete if: (a) all of the purchasers have fully paid the purchase price for the securities in the private offering, or (b ) each purchaser is irrevocably obligated to purchase a set number of securities, the purchase price is fixed and the transaction cannot be renegotiated.
The SEC has permitted concurrent registered and private offerings to be made under the conditions set forth in its Black Box and other related “no action” letters (described above). A “Black Box PIPE” would be undertaken, for example, during a period when the company has on file an effective resale or shelf registration statement. In such situations, the SEC requires that the private offering be made only to: (a) persons who are qualified institutional buyers (QIBs) as defined in Rule 144A(a) under the Securities Act, and/or (b) no more than two or three large institutional accredited investors.
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