New Rules Offer Clarity On China’s Outbound M&A Crackdown

On August 18, 2017, China’s State Council issued guidelines clarifying rules passed a year ago by the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE) limiting outbound investments as cover-up to move money out of China.

The new guidelines provide different policies for Chinese companies’ investment overseas, broadly dividing overseas investment into three categories:

  • investments in “real estate, hotels, entertainment, sport clubs, [and] outdated industries” are restricted;

  • investments in sectors that could “jeopardize China’s national interest and security, including output of unauthorized core military technology and products” and investments in gambling and pornography are prohibited; and

  • investments in establishing R&D centers abroad and in sectors like high-tech and advanced manufacturing enterprises that could boost China’s Belt and Road Initiative, and investments that would benefit Chinese products and technology will be encouraged by Chinese outbound regulators.

These guidelines are new and we have to wait and see how they will be interpreted and implemented by regulators. Still, there may be reasons to believe they will have a net positive effect on the China-U.S. M&A market. The new guidelines bring about greater certainty to buyers, lenders and targets on whether a deal will get approved by Chinese regulators.

The volume and size of Chinese outbound M&A is already on an upward trajectory in the second quarter of 2017, as buyers are already getting more acclimated to SAFE rules announced at the end of 2016 restricting the outflow of Chinese capital. Chinese buyers completed 94 deals totaling $36 billion in Q2, compared to the 74 deals totaling $12 billion in Q1. The current Chinese outbound M&A trend, coupled with greater certainty under the new guidelines, is likely to result in more Chinese outbound M&A deals during the last quarter of 2017, as well as in 2018.

This post was written by Shang Kong & Zhu Julie Lee of Foley & Lardner LLP © 2017

For more legal analysis go to The National Law Review

EB-5 Visas: A Source of Funding for US Businesses But Not Without Risk

Poyner Spruill

China’s wealthy investors are known for seeking secure havens for their money overseas.  In addition to being considered a secure environment for their money, the US offers the EB-5 program providing the investor and his or her immediate family with permanent US residence, known as getting “green cards” in return for making an investment.

Basically, in return for an investment of either $500,000 or $1,000,000, which can be shown to the satisfaction of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services to create 10 US jobs per investment over a two year period, the investor and his family get green cards.  Since it started in 1990, the EB-5 visa program has brought approximately $6.7 billion to the US and has created 95,000 jobs.  In fact, the EB-5 visa program was not very popular until the 2008 financial crisis when traditional sources of financing became more difficult to obtain.  Since then, numerous businesses have attempted to use the EB-5 program to raise money.  For example, Vermont’s Trapp Family Lodge of “Sound of Music” fame advertises that it seeks EB-5 investors to open a beer hall and renovate its existing resort facilities.

There are two distinct EB-5 routes — the Basic Program and the Regional Center Pilot Program. Both programs require that the immigrant make a capital investment of either $500,000 or $1,000,000 (depending on whether the investment is in a Targeted Employment Area [TEA]) in a new commercial enterprise located within the United States.  A TEA is defined by law as “a rural area or an area that has experienced high unemployment of at least 150% of the national average.”  The new commercial enterprise must create or preserve 10 full-time jobs for qualifying US workers within two years (or under certain circumstances, within a reasonable time after the two year period) of the immigrant investor’s admission to the US as a Conditional Permanent Resident.

Entrepreneurs across the nation have set up regional centers for foreign investment to market local EB-5 projects to investors.  There are over 230 such regional centers, some of which are state-run  like Vermont’s Jay Peak. The flexibility offered by a regional center is attractive to both the investor and developer since the investor does not have to play a role in the company. With a direct EB-5 investment, the investor must have some sort of “managerial” function.  Seeing a lucrative opportunity when connecting an investor with regional centers, an industry has sprung up, particularly in China, to connect US businesses with potential investors. These go-betweens charge the regional center as much as $175,000 per investor for making the introduction.

Some projects have not produced the requisite number of jobs that would prompt US immigration authorities to withhold green cards – resulting in exposure to lawsuits from the investor against the developer or regional center that has solicited the investment.  Approximately 31 investors, 15 from China, filed a federal lawsuit alleging the only thing they had to show for a $15.5 million investment was an undeveloped plot of land across the Mississippi River from New Orleans.  In San Bruno, California, three Chinese investors alleged in a lawsuit filed last year that they lost $3 million when an EB-5 developer disappeared with his associates concocted a story about his death.

In contrast, the Marriot and Hilton hotel chains have successfully solicited and obtained EB-5 investment funds to build new hotels; Sony Pictures Entertainment and Warner Brothers have used the EB-5 program to raise funds for film projects; and the new home of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, Barclay Center, was funded through EB-5 investment.

Even if successful, EB-5 visa approval has become much slower due to suspicion of fraud and developers’ inaccurate estimate of creating 10 jobs per investor.  With the economic downturn, the USCIS has hired economists and securities lawyers to review EB-5 applications. Now showing it that it means business, the Securities Exchange Commission has filed its first lawsuit against an EB-5 project alleging that the promoters of a Chicago hotel and convention center project fraudulently sold more than $145 million in securities and collected $11 million in administrative fees from over 250 Chinese investors.

The Canadian government has decided recently to halt its immigrant investor program due to the number of Chinese applications.  This has left Chinese investors potentially turning their attention to the US equivalent as they seek a financially and politically stable haven for themselves and their families.

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FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) Issues New Rules on Securities Borrowing, Customer Protection and Callable Securities

Katten Muchin

 

On December 4, 2013 the Securities and Exchange Commission approved rules proposed by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority regarding securities loans and borrowings, permissible use of customers’ securities, and callable securities. For securities loans and borrowings, Financial Industry Regulatory Authority proposed new Rule 4314, which requires a member firm acting as an agent in a securities lending or borrowing transaction to disclose its capacity as agent. The rule aims to clarify whether parties are acting as principals or agents when entering into security lending or borrowing agreements. When member firms loan securities to or borrow securities from a counterparty acting in an agency capacity, the rule requires the member firm to maintain books and records to reflect the details of the transaction with the agent and each principal on whose behalf the agent is acting as well as the details of the transaction. The rule allows a member firm that is a party to a loan or borrowing agreement with another member firm to liquidate the transaction whenever the other party becomes subject to one of the specified liquidation conditions. Additionally, no member firm can lend or borrow any security to or from any person that is not a member of FINRA, including any customer, except pursuant to a written agreement. Each member firm subject to Securities Exchange Act Rule 15c3-3 that borrows fully paid or excess margin securities from a customer must comply with the Securities Exchange Act Rule 15c3-3 requirements for a written agreement between the borrowing member firm and lending customer.

FINRA also adopted new Rule 4330 regarding the permissible use of customers’ securities. The rule prohibits a member firm from lending securities held on margin for a customer that are eligible to be pledged or loaned unless the member firm first obtains written authorization from the customer permitting the lending arrangement. The rule also requires a member firm that borrows fully paid or excess margin securities carried for a customer account to comply with Securities Exchange Act Rule 15c3-3, provide notices to customers in compliance with Securities Exchange Act Section 15(e), and notify FINRA at least 30 days prior to the borrowing. Before any member firm engages in a securities borrowing transaction with a customer, the rule requires the member firm to have reasonable grounds for believing that the customer’s loan of securities is appropriate for its financial situation and needs and that the member firm provide certain disclosures to the customer in writing. A FINRA member firm is also required to keep books and records evidencing compliance with these rules.

Finally, FINRA adopted new Rule 4340 to clarify requirements applicable to callable securities. The rule requires each member firm with possession or control of a callable security, in the event of a partial redemption or call, to identify such securities and establish an impartial lottery system to allocate the securities among its customers. The member firm must also provide written notice, which may be electronic, to new customers opening an account and to all customers once a year that describes how customers may access the allocation procedures on the member firm’s website or obtain hard copies upon request. The rule prohibits a member firm from allocating securities to its own or an associated person’s account during a redemption until all other customers’ positions have been satisfied. This prohibition applies only when the redemption is offered on terms favorable to the called parties. When on unfavorable terms, a member firm cannot exclude its positions or those of its associated persons from the redemption.

The proposed rules with links to amendments, comments, and the approval order may be accessed here.

 

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A Giant Leap: EU-China Bilateral Investment Treaty Negotiations to Be Launched Formally

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Negotiations for a bilateral investment treaty between the European Union and China are expected to be formally launched during the EU-China Summit next week. Though the launch would be just the first step in a long negotiation process, it would also be a giant leap for upgrading the investment relationship between the EU and China.

On 24 October 2013, the fourth meeting of the EU-China High Level Economic and Trade Dialogue was held in Brussels.  Among other points, the most recent talk between the world’s two biggest traders reaffirmed the willingness to formally launch negotiations for a bilateral investment treaty (BIT) during the EU-China Summit to be held in Beijing later this month.

This move is significant for several reasons.

  • There is huge potential for investment flow between the European Union and China.

According to provisional Eurostat data, in 2012 Chinese investments into the EU(27) amounted to €3.5 billion, and only accounted for 2.2 per cent of total foreign direct investment (FDI) flowing into the EU. By contrast, in the same year EU firms invested €9.9 billion in China, accounting for approximately 11.4 per cent of all China’s inward FDI. It is worth noting that the EU’s outward FDI to China only accounted for 2.4 per cent of total outbound investment flowing from the EU to the rest of world in 2012. By contrast, bilateral trade in goods and services is more than €1 billion per day.

  • The existing BITs between China and EU Member States are to be upgraded.

China signed its first BIT with Sweden in 1982, and currently has similar arrangements with each and every EU Member State (except Ireland).  However, these BITs were negotiated and executed in the past 30 years, during which China went through substantial changes in all aspects of society, including a significant increase in outbound investment.  Some of the BITs were updated to reflect such changes, e.g., the China-Netherlands BIT was amended to include national treatment in 2001.

Overall, the EU-China BIT will not be a simple compilation of the existing BITs between China and EU Member States, but an upgrade of the investment relationship between them.

  • The negotiation of a EU-China BIT is likely to be a long process.

The negotiation of a BIT between two giant economic entities is likely to be a long process.  For example, the China-US BIT negotiation is still in its preliminary stage more than 30 years after both parties opened the dialogue in 1980.  The China-Canada agreement took 18 years and went through 22 rounds of formal negotiations.

The difficulties of these negotiations must not be underestimated.  The EU-China BIT will go further than the existing bilateral agreements with individual Member States.  The EU negotiators are keen to include provisions on market access, including access to services, and on intellectual property.  The negotiation process is likely to be complicated by calls from the European Parliament to include provisions on fundamental rights and values (social, environmental, consumer, etc.).

From a procedural point of view, this will be the first trade agreement negotiated by the EU since the assignment of trade and investment agreements to the exclusive competence of the EU under the Lisbon Treaty.  This gives the European Parliament a key role to play in approving any final agreement.

In sum, if both parties formally launch the negotiations in November, it will be a small step in the negotiation process, but a giant leap for upgrading the investment relationship between EU and China.

If EU industry has concerns about obstacles to FDI in China, including discrimination and absence of mutual treatment, it is not too late to raise them with the Directorate General for Trade of the European Commission.

Article by:

Philip Bentley, QC

Frank Schoneveld

Bryan Fu

Of:

McDermott Will & Emery

Investment Management Legal and Regulatory Update – October 2013

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SEC Issues Guidance Update for Investment Companies that Invest in Commodity Interests and Announces New Risk and Examinations Office

The staff of the Division of Investment Management has issued a Guidance Update that summarizes the views of the Division regarding disclosure and compliance matters relevant to funds that invest in commodity interests. The staff also announced the creation of a Risk and Examinations Office within the Division of Investment Management that will accompany the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE) on exam visits.

Disclosure of Derivatives and Associated Risks. Any principal investment strategies disclosure related to derivatives should be tailored specifically to how a fund expects to be managed and should address those strategies that the fund expects to be the most important means of achieving its objectives and that it also anticipates will have a significant effect on its performance. In determining the appropriate disclosure, a fund should consider the degree of economic exposure the derivatives create, in addition to the amount invested in the derivatives strategy. This disclosure also should describe the purpose that the derivatives are intended to serve in the portfolio (e.g., hedging, speculation, or as a substitute for investing in conventional securities), and the extent to which derivatives are expected to be used. Additionally, the disclosure concerning the principal risks of the fund should similarly be tailored to the types of derivatives used by the fund, the extent of their use, and the purpose for using derivatives transactions.

Prior Performance Presentation. A newly registered fund that invests in commodity interests and that includes in its registration statement information concerning the performance of private accounts or other funds managed by the fund’s adviser is responsible for ensuring that such information is not materially misleading. Specifically, a fund that includes the performance of other funds or private accounts should generally include the performance of all other funds and private accounts that have investment objectives, policies, and strategies substantially similar to those of the fund.

Legend Requirement. Rule 481 under the Securities Act requires a fund to provide a legend on the outside front cover page that indicates that the SEC has not approved or disapproved of the securities or passed upon the accuracy or adequacy of the disclosure in the prospectus and that any contrary representation is a criminal offense. The staff will not object if a fund that invests in commodity interests includes in the legend language that also indicates that the CFTC has not approved or disapproved of the securities or passed upon the accuracy or adequacy of the disclosure in the prospectus.

Compliance and Risk Management. Day-to-day responsibility for managing a fund’s portfolio, including any commodity interests and their associated risks, rests with the fund’s investment adviser. In addition, the fund’s board generally oversees the adviser’s risk management activities as part of the board’s oversight of the adviser’s management of the fund. The staff expects that funds and their advisers would adopt policies and procedures that address, among other things, consistency of fund portfolio management with disclosed investment objectives and policies, strategies, and risks.

Each fund should have in place policies and procedures that are sufficient to address the accuracy of disclosures made about the fund’s use of derivatives, including commodity interests, and associated risks, as well as consistency of the fund’s investments in these derivatives with the fund’s investment objectives. For example, these policies and procedures should be reasonably designed to prevent material misstatements about a fund’s use of derivatives, including commodity interests, and the associated risks.

New Risk and Examinations Office. The update notes that a Risk and Examinations Office has recently been created within the Division of Investment Management to analyze and monitor the risk management activities of investment advisers, investment companies, the investment management industry and new products. The group will work closely with OCIE to make onsite visits to investment management firms.

Source: SEC Division of Investment Management Guidance, August 2013, 2013-05.

SEC Approves Registration Rules for Municipal Advisors

State and local governments that issue municipal bonds frequently rely on advisors to help them decide how and when to issue the securities and how to invest proceeds from the sales. Prior to passage of the Dodd-Frank Act in 2010, municipal advisors were not required to register with the SEC. This left many municipalities relying on advice from unregulated advisors. After the Dodd-Frank Act became law, the SEC established a temporary registration regime for municipal advisors that prohibited any municipal advisor from providing advice to, or soliciting, municipal entities or other covered persons without being registered. More than 1,100 municipal advisors have since registered with the SEC. The SEC recently adopted final rules that establish a permanent registration regime for municipal advisors.

Registered municipal advisors will also likely be subject to additional new regulation from the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB). In September 2011, the MSRB withdrew several rule proposals pertaining to municipal advisors pending adoption by the SEC of a permanent registration regime for municipal advisors. Among the proposals was a rule regulating political contributions by municipal advisors. The MSRB had previously indicated that it would resubmit the withdrawn rule proposals once a final definition of the term “municipal advisor” was adopted by the SEC.

Proposed Rule

In 2010, the SEC proposed a rule governing the permanent registration process. The proposal defined “municipal advisor” broadly and would have required municipal advisor registration of appointed board members of municipalities and people providing investment advice on all public funds. The SEC received more than 1,000 comment letters on the proposal, most of which raised concerns about the broad reach of the proposal.

Final Rule

The final rule requires a municipal advisor to register with the SEC if it:

  • provides advice on the issuance of municipal securities or about certain “investment strategies” or municipal derivatives; or
  • undertakes a solicitation of a municipal entity or obligated person.

The rule clarifies who is and is not a “municipal advisor” and offers guidance on when a person is providing “advice” for purposes of the municipal advisor definition. The rule exempts employees and appointed officials of municipal entities from registration and limits the type of “investment strategies” that will result in municipal advisor status. Additionally, instead of the proposed approach that would have required individuals associated with registered municipal advisory firms to register separately, the final rule requires firms to furnish information about these individuals.

Defined Terms

Advice. A person is providing “advice” to a municipal entity or an “obligated person” based on all of the relevant facts and circumstances, including whether the advice:

  • involves a recommendation to a municipal entity;
  • is particularized to the specific needs of a municipal entity; or
  • relates to municipal financial products or the issuance of municipal securities.

Advice, however, does not include providing certain general information.

An “obligated person” is an entity such as a non-profit university or non-profit hospital that borrows the proceeds from a municipal securities offering and is obligated by contract or other arrangement to repay all or some portion of the amount borrowed.

Investment Strategies. A person providing advice to a municipal entity or an “obligated person” with respect to “investment strategies” only has to register if such advice relates to:

  • the investment of proceeds of municipal securities;
  • the investment of municipal escrow funds; or
  • municipal derivatives.

Exemptions from the Municipal Advisor Definition

The following persons conducting the specified activities would not be required to register as a municipal advisor:

Registered Investment Advisers. Registered investment advisers and associated persons do not have to register if they provide investment advice in their capacities as registered investment advisers, such as providing advice regarding the investment of the proceeds of municipal securities or municipal escrow investments.

This exemption does not apply to advice on the structure, timing, and terms of issues of municipal securities or municipal derivatives. The SEC considers advice in these areas as outside the focus of investment adviser regulation.

Independent Registered Municipal Advisor. Persons who provide advice in circumstances in which a municipal entity has an independent registered municipal advisor with respect to the same aspects of a municipal financial product or issuance of municipal securities do not have to register, provided that certain requirements are met and certain disclosures are made.

Banks. Banks do not have to register to the extent they provide advice on certain identified banking products and services, such as investments held in deposit accounts, extensions of credit, funds held in a sweep account or investments made by a bank acting in the capacity of bond indenture trustee or similar capacity.

This exemption does not apply to banks that engage in other municipal advisory activities, such as providing advice on the issuance of municipal securities or municipal derivatives, in part because municipal derivatives were a source of significant losses by municipalities in the financial crisis.

Underwriters. Brokers, dealers and municipal securities dealers serving as underwriters do not have to register if their advisory activities involve the structure, timing and terms of a particular issue of municipal securities.

Registered Commodity Trading Advisor. Registered commodity trading advisors and their associated persons do not have to register if the advice they provide relates to swaps.

Swap Dealers. Registered swap dealers do not have to register as municipal advisors if they provide advice with respect to swaps in circumstances in which a municipal entity is represented by an independent advisor.

Public Officials and Employees. Public officials do not have to register to the extent that they are acting within the scope of their official capacity. This exemption addresses an unintended consequence of the proposed rule that generated significant public comment and created the impression that public officials and municipal employees would be covered if they provided “internal” advice.

This exemption covers persons serving as members of a governing body, an advisory board, a committee, or acting in a similar official capacity as an official of a municipal entity or an obligated person. For instance, it covers:

  • members of a city council, whether elected or appointed, who act in their official capacity; and
  • members of a board of trustees of a public or private non-profit university acting in their official capacity, where the university is an obligated person by virtue of borrowing proceeds of municipal bonds issued by a state governmental educational authority.

Similarly, this exemption covers employees of a municipal entity or an obligated person to the extent that they act within the scope of their employment.

Attorneys. Attorneys do not have to register if they are providing legal advice or traditional legal services with respect to the issuance of municipal securities or municipal financial products.

This exemption does not apply to advice that is primarily financial in nature or to an attorney representing himself or herself as a financial advisor or financial expert on municipal advisory activities.

Accountants. Accountants do not have to register if they are providing accounting services that include audit or other attest services, preparation of financial statements, or issuance of letters for underwriters.

Registration Forms

The final rule requires municipal advisory firms to file the following through EDGAR:

  • Form MA to register as a municipal advisor; and
  • Form MA-I for each individual associated with the firm who engages in municipal advisory activities.

The temporary registration regime will remain in place until December 31, 2014. The new rule requires municipal advisors to register on a staggered basis beginning July 1, 2014. The expiration date of the temporary rules will be extended in order to allow municipal advisors to continue to remain temporarily registered during the staggered compliance period.

Sources: SEC Approves Registration Rules for Municipal Advisors, SEC Press Release 2013-185 (September 18, 2013); Registration of Municipal Advisors, SEC Release No. 34-70462 (September 18, 2013).

SEC Eliminates the Prohibition on General Solicitation and General Advertising in Certain Private Offerings to Accredited Investors

As we reported in our July Client Alert, the SEC amended Regulation D to implement a Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS Act) requirement to lift the ban on general solicitation and general advertising for certain private offerings.

JOBS Act

Congress passed the JOBS Act in 2012, which directed the SEC to remove the prohibition against general solicitation and general advertising for securities offerings relying on Rule 506, provided that sales are limited to accredited investors and an issuer takes reasonable steps to verify that all purchasers are accredited investors.

While issuers will be able to widely solicit and advertise for potential investors, the JOBS Act required the SEC to adopt rules that “require the issuer to take reasonable steps to verify that purchasers of the securities are accredited investors, using such methods as determined by the Commission.” In other words, there is no restriction on who an issuer can solicit, but an issuer faces restrictions on who is permitted to purchase its securities.

Rule 506(c)

The addition of 506(c) to the existing Rule 506 permits issuers, including hedge funds and other private funds, to use general solicitation and general advertising to offer their securities provided that:

  • all purchasers of the securities are accredited investors (as defined in Rule 501);
  • the issuer takes reasonable steps to verify that the investors are accredited investors;
  • all other conditions of the Rule 506 exemption are met; and
  • Form D is completed and the box is checked indicating that Rule 506(c) is being relied upon.

Verification of Accredited Investor Status

Under the new rules, the issuer will need to take reasonable steps to verify that each investor is accredited. Whether the steps taken are “reasonable” will be a principles-based determination by the issuer, in the context of the particular facts and circumstances of each purchaser and transaction. The SEC noted that the issuer should consider the nature of the purchaser and the amount and type of information that the issuer has about the purchaser; the nature of the offering, such as the manner in which the purchaser was solicited to participate in the offering; and the terms of the offering, such as a minimum investment amount.

In response to comments received with respect to the SEC’s original rule proposal, the amendment to Rule 506 also includes a non-exclusive list of methods that issuers may use to verify that purchasers are accredited investors. The methods described in the final rule include the following:

  • Verification of Income. Review IRS forms filed for last two years and obtain a written representation of expected income for the current year.
  • Verification of Net Worth. Review documentation related to assets (bank and brokerage statements, CDs and independent appraisal reports) and liabilities (credit reports).
  • Third Party Verification. Obtain a written confirmation that a person is an accredited investor from a broker-dealer, investment adviser, attorney or CPA.
  • Existing Accredited Security Holder. For any investor who invested in an issuer’s prior Rule 506 offering as an accredited investor and remains an investor, obtain a written certification (at the time of a Rule 506(c) sale) that he or she still qualifies as an accredited investor.

Preservation of Existing Rule

The existing provisions of Rule 506 as a separate exemption are not affected by the final rule. Issuers conducting Rule 506 offerings without the use of general solicitation or general advertising can continue to conduct securities offerings in the same manner and aren’t subject to the new verification rule.

Form D

In connection with these changes, Form D has been amended to require issuers to indicate whether they are relying on 506(c), which permits general solicitation and advertising in a Rule 506 offering.

The rule amendments became effective September 23, 2013.

Sources: SEC Approves JOBS Act Requirement to Lift General Solicitation Ban, Commission Also Adopts Rule to Disqualify Bad Actors from Certain Offerings and Proposes Rules to Enable SEC to Monitor New Market and Bolster Investor Protections, SEC Press Release 2013-124 (July 10, 2013); Eliminating the Prohibition Against General Solicitation and General Advertising in Rule 506 and Rule 144A Offerings, SEC Release No. IA-3624 (July 10, 2013).

SEC Adopts Rule to Disqualify “Bad Actors” from Rule 506 Offerings

The SEC recently approved amendments to Rule 506 to set forth the “bad actor” (commonly known as “bad boy”) provisions that could disqualify issuers from relying on the rule. The Dodd-Frank Act directed the SEC to adopt the amendments in order to prevent issuers from relying on the Rule 506 safe harbor if certain “bad actors” were involved in the offering.

As required by the Dodd-Frank Act, the SEC approved disqualifications under Rule 506 that are substantially similar to the disqualifications found in other securities regulations. Persons covered by the bad boy provisions include: issuers; directors, executive officers, other officers participating in the offering, general partners or managing members of issuers; beneficial owners of 20% or more of the issuer’s voting equity securities; investment managers to an issuer that is a pooled investment fund and directors, executive officers, other officers participating in the offering, general partners or managing members of the investment manager; promoters connected with the issuer; persons compensated for soliciting investors as well as the directors, officers, general partners or managing members of any compensated solicitor. The disqualifying events include:

  • securities-related criminal convictions;
  • securities-related court injunctions and restraining orders;
  • final orders of a state securities commission, state insurance commission, state or federal bank, savings association or credit union regulator or the CFTC barring an individual from association with regulated entities or from engaging in securities, insurance or banking business or finding a violation of any law pertaining to fraudulent, manipulative or deceptive conduct;
  • SEC disciplinary orders relating to brokers, dealers, municipal securities dealers, investment advisers and investment companies and their associated persons;
  • SEC cease-and-desist orders related to violations of certain anti-fraud provisions and registration requirements of the federal securities laws;
  • suspension or expulsion from membership in, or suspension or bar from associating with a member of, a securities self-regulatory organization; and
  • SEC stop orders pertaining to the filing of a registration statement or the suspension of an exemption.

Reasonable Care Exception. Under this exception, an issuer would not lose the benefit of the Rule 506 safe harbor if it can show that it did not know and, in the exercise of reasonable care, could not have known that a covered person with a disqualifying event participated in the offering.

Disclosure of Pre-Existing Disqualifying Events. Disqualification applies only for disqualifying events that occur after September 23, 2013, the effective date of this rule. Matters that existed before the effective date of the rule and would otherwise be disqualifying are subject to a mandatory disclosure requirement to investors.

Sources: SEC Approves JOBS Act Requirement to Lift General Solicitation Ban, Commission Also Adopts Rule to Disqualify Bad Actors from Certain Offerings and Proposes Rules to Enable SEC to Monitor New Market and Bolster Investor Protections, SEC Press Release 2013-124 (July 10, 2013); Disqualification of Felons and Other Bad Actors from Rule 506 Offerings, SEC Release No. 33-9414 (July 10, 2013).

SEC Proposes Amendments to Private Offering Rules (Regulation D and Form D)

In partial response to the many comments that the SEC received with respect to its proposed JOBS Act amendments to Rule 506, the SEC recently proposed the following amendments to the private offering rules.

Advance Notice of Sale. Under the proposal, issuers that intend to engage in general solicitation as part of a Rule 506 offering would be required to file the Form D at least 15 calendar days before engaging in general solicitation for the offering. Also, within 30 days of completing an offering, issuers would be required to update the information contained in the Form D and indicate that the offering has ended.

Additional Information about the Issuer and the Offering. Under the proposal, issuers would be required to provide additional information such as:

  • types of general solicitation used;
  • methods used to verify accredited investor status;
  • publicly available website;
  • controlling persons;
  • industry group;
  • asset size;
  • breakdown of investor types (accredited/non-accredited and natural person/entity) and amounts invested; and
  • breakdown of use of proceeds.

Disqualification. Under the proposal, an issuer would be disqualified from using the Rule 506 exemption in any new offering if the issuer or its affiliates did not comply with the Form D filing requirements in a Rule 506 offering.

Legends and Disclosures. Under the proposal, issuers would be required to include certain legends or cautionary statements in any written general solicitation materials used in a Rule 506 offering. The legends would be intended to inform potential investors that the offering is limited to accredited investors and that certain potential risks may be associated with such offerings.

In addition, if the issuer is a private fund and includes information about past performance in its written general solicitation materials, it would be required to provide additional information in the materials to highlight the limitations on the usefulness of this type of information. The issuer also would need to highlight the difficulty of comparing this information with past performance information of other funds. The proposal also requests public comment on whether other manner and content restrictions should apply to written general solicitation materials used by private funds.

Submission of Written General Solicitation Materials to the SEC. Under the proposal, issuers would be required to submit written general solicitation materials to the SEC through an intake page on the SEC website. Materials submitted in this manner would not be available to the general public. As proposed, this requirement would be temporary, expiring after two years.

Guidance to Private Funds about Misleading Statements. In its current form, Rule 156 under the Securities Act provides guidance on when information in mutual fund sales literature could be fraudulent or misleading for purposes of the federal securities laws. Under the proposal, the rule would be amended to apply to the sales literature of private funds.

Comments on the proposal originally were due on September 23, 2013. However, “in light of the public interest,” the SEC re-opened the comment period until October 30, 2013.

Sources: SEC Approves JOBS Act Requirement to Lift General Solicitation Ban, Commission Also Adopts Rule to Disqualify Bad Actors from Certain Offerings and Proposes Rules to Enable SEC to Monitor New Market and Bolster Investor Protections, SEC Press Release 2013-124 (July 10, 2013); Amendments to Regulation D, Form D and Rule 156, SEC Release No. IC-30595 (July 10, 2013).

SEC Charges Investment Adviser for Misleading Fund Board About Algorithmic Trading Ability

The SEC charged an investment adviser and its former owner for misleading a mutual fund’s board of directors about the firm’s ability to conduct algorithmic currency trading so the board would approve the adviser’s contract to manage the fund.

The case arises out of an initiative by the SEC Enforcement Division’s Asset Management Unit to focus on the “15(c) process” – a reference to Section 15(c) of the Investment Company Act that requires a fund’s board to annually evaluate the fund’s advisory agreements. Advisers must provide the board with truthful information necessary to make that evaluation.

“It is critical that investment advisers provide truthful information to the directors of the registered funds they advise,” said Julie M. Riewe, Co-Chief of SEC Enforcement Division’s Asset Management Unit. “Both boards and advisers have fiduciary duties that must be fulfilled to ensure that a fund’s investors are not harmed.”

The SEC’s Enforcement Division alleged that Chariot Advisors LLC and Elliott L. Shifman misled the fund’s board about the nature, extent, and quality of services that the firm could provide. In two presentations before the board, Shifman misrepresented that his firm would implement the fund’s investment strategy by using a portion of the fund’s assets to engage in algorithmic currency trading. Chariot fund’s initial investment objective was to achieve absolute positive returns in all market cycles by investing approximately 80% of the fund’s assets under management in short-term fixed income securities, and using the remaining 20% to engage in algorithmic currency trading.

According to the SEC’s order instituting administrative proceedings, Chariot Advisors did not have an algorithm capable of conducting such currency trading. This was particularly significant because in the absence of an operating history the directors focused instead on Chariot Advisors’ reliance on models when the board evaluated the advisory contract. Even though Shifman believed that the fund’s currency trading needed to achieve a 25 to 30% return to succeed, Shifman allegedly did not disclose to the board that Chariot Advisors had no algorithm or model capable of achieving such a return.

The SEC alleges that for at least the first two months after the fund was launched, Chariot Advisors did not use an algorithm model to perform the fund’s currency trading as represented to the board, but instead hired an individual trader who was allowed to use discretion on trade selection and execution. According to the order, the trader used a technical analysis, rules-based approach for trading that combined market indicators with her own intuition.

The SEC further alleges that the misconduct by Shifman and Chariot Advisors caused misrepresentations and omissions in the Chariot fund’s registration statement and prospectus filed with the SEC and viewed by investors.

A hearing will be scheduled before an administrative law judge to determine whether the allegations contained in the order are true and whether any remedial sanctions are appropriate.

Sources: SEC Charges North Carolina-Based Investment Adviser for Misleading Fund Board About Algorithmic Trading Ability, SEC Press Release 2013-162 (August 21, 2013); In the Matter of Chariot Advisors, LLC and Elliott L. Shifman, Investment Company Act Release No. 30655 (August 21, 2013).

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Private Placement of Alternative Investment Funds in the European Union (EU): Changing Regulatory Landscape

GT Law

I. Overview

The European Commission’s Alternative Investment Fund Managers Directive (“AIFMD”) was designed to establish a unified framework throughout the EU for regulating previously unregulated Alternative Investment Funds (“AIF”).

The AIFMD is effective as per July 22, 2013. The AIFMD, as any other EU directive, however needs to be transposed into European Union members’ national laws before it will actually have effect. Moreover, the AIFMD leaves the member states with the flexibility to make their own choices on certain aspects. This concerns also the private placement of units in AIF´s.

In preparation for its enforcement by the individual EU member states, this memorandum will discuss the AIFMD’s effect on non-EU managers of AIFs (“AIFM”) marketing non-EU AIFs within the EU.  The memorandum will first give a broad overview of some of the AIFMD’s measures significant for non-EU AIFMs, followed by a table summarizing how the private placement of AIF´s in the major capital markets of the EU is affected the AIFMD.

It should be noted that prior to July 22, 2013, the marketing of AIF´s in EU member states already required an individual analysis for each member state. For the time being not much has changed in this respect but marketing unregulated funds to selected non retail investors has certainly become more complex due to the AIFMD. Also these distributions may no longer be expected to remain of relatively little interest to securities regulators and fund managers may therefore be required to strengthen their compliance efforts in this area.

II. Regulatory Target – AIF Managers

The AIFMD seeks to regulate a set of previously unregulated AIFs, namely, “all collective investment undertakings that are not regulated under the Undertakings for Collective Investment in Transferable Securities (UCITS) Directive.”  These include hedge funds, private equity funds, commodity funds, and real estate funds, among others.

Rather than regulating AIFs directly, however, the AIFMD regulates AIFMs—that is, entities providing either risk or portfolio management to an AIF.  According to the AIFMD, each AIF may only have a single entity as its manager.

The AIFMD applies to AIFMs that are: (1) themselves established in the EU (“EU AIFM”); (2) AIFMs that are not established in an EU country (“non-EU AIFM”), but that manage and market AIFs established in the EU (“EU AIF”); or (3) non-EU AIFMs that market AIFs that are not established in a EU country (“non-EU AIF”) within an EU jurisdiction.

This memo principally deals with the third category, non-EU AIFMs that market non-EU AIFs in the EU.

III. Exemption – Small AIFs

Pursuant to the AIFMD, AIFMs that manage small funds are exempt from the full rigor of the AIFMD regulatory regime.  A lighter regulatory regime is applicable to these AIFMs.

The AIFMD defines AIFMs that manage small funds as either: (1) an AIFM with aggregate assets under management not exceeding € 500 million, where the AIFs are not leveraged, and the investors do not have redemption rights for the first five years after their investment; or (2) an AIFM with aggregate assets under management not exceeding € 100 million.

AIFMs of smaller funds are largely exempted from the AIFMD, and will only be subject to registration, and limited reporting requirements.

IV. Marketing – Definition

As previously discussed, the AIFMD applies to non-EU AIFMs marketing non-EU AIFs in one or more EU jurisdictions.

The AIFMD defines marketing as “a direct or indirect offering or placement at the initiative of the AIFM or on behalf of the AIFM of units or shares of an AIF it manages to or with investors domiciled or with a registered office in the Union.”  This marketing definition does not include reverse solicitation, where the investor initiates the investment, and the investment is not at the AIFM’s direct or indirect initiative.

Thus, for example, if an EU investor initiated an investment in a U.S. AIF, managed by a U.S. AIFM, the U.S. AIFM and AIF would be unaffected by the AIFMD.  The AIFMD would only apply to U.S. AIFMs managing U.S. AIFs, if the U.S. AIFM solicited investment in the EU.

V. Regulating Non-EU AIFMs – National Private Placement Regimes

The AIFMD is designed to phase out national private placement regimes, creating a unified regulatory regime throughout the EU.  However, the AIFMD is scheduled to come into force in stages.

Between July 22, 2013, and 2018 (at the earliest), non-EU AIFMs will be able to market their non-EU AIFs in an EU jurisdiction (“EU Target Jurisdiction”) subject to the national private placement regimes applicable in that EU jurisdiction.

Thus for example, a U.S. AIFM marketing a U.S. AIF in the UK will be able to do so subject to the UK’s private placement regime.

VI. Regulating Non-EU AIFMs – Additional AIFMD Requirements

As explained, through 2018, the AIFMD will largely permit non-EU AIFMs to market non-EU AIFs subject to the private placement regime in the EU Target Jurisdiction.

However, the AIFMD does include three additional requirements for the non-EU AIFMD to be able to take advantage of the EU Target Jurisdiction’s private placement regime.  These include, specific disclosure and reporting requirements, cooperation agreements, and exclusion of AIFs and AIFMs established in certain countries.  Each of these will be discussed in turn.

a. Applicable AIFMD Reporting Requirements

By its terms, the AIFMD will require even non-EU AIFMs marketing non-EU AIFs pursuant to national private placement regimes to comply with certain AIFMD provisions concerning annual reports, disclosures to investors, periodic reporting to regulators, and acquisition of control over EU companies.

A non-EU AIFM will thus be required to make available: (1) an annual report for each non-EU AIF that it markets in the EU; (2) information relevant to potential investors, as well as changes in material information previously disclosed; (3) regular reports to the national regulator in the EU Target Jurisdiction; and (4) disclosure information to a listed or unlisted EU company over which the non-EU AIFM acquires control.

b. Cooperation Agreements

For non-EU AIFMs to be able to market their non-EU AIFs in an EU jurisdiction, the AIFMD requires that there be cooperation agreements in place between the regulator in the non-AIFM’s home jurisdiction, and the EU Target Jurisdiction.

ESMA has negotiated memoranda of understanding (“MOU”) with 34 regulators in a variety of jurisdictions.  These include regulators in Albania, Australia, Bermuda, Brazil, the British Virgin Islands, Canada (the provincial regulators of Alberta, Quebec and Ontario as well as the Superintendent of Financial Institutions), the Cayman Islands, Dubai, Guernsey, Hong Kong (Hong Kong Monetary Authority and Securities and Futures Commission), India, the Isle of Man, Israel, Jersey, Kenya, Malaysia’s Labuan Financial Services Authority, Mauritius, Montenegro, Morocco, Pakistan, Serbia, Singapore, Switzerland, Tanzania, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates and the United States (Federal Reserve Board, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and Securities and Exchange Commission).

These MOUs, however, are insufficient to permit non-EU AIFMs to market their non-EU AIFs in any EU jurisdiction.  Rather, the EU Target Country must have a separate cooperation agreement with the regulator in the non-EU AIFM’s home jurisdiction (presumably these separate cooperation agreements will be based on the MOUs negotiated by ESMA).

Thus, for example, for a U.S. AIFM to be able to market its U.S. AIF in the UK, the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority must have a cooperation agreement with the United States’ Securities and Exchange Commission.

c. Exclusion of Non-Cooperative Country or Territory

Finally, pursuant to the AIFMD, to be able to market based on the EU Target Country’s private placement regime, neither the non-EU AIFM nor the non-EU AIF may be considered a country considered a “Non-Cooperative Country or Territory,” by the Financial Action Task Force on anti-money laundering, and terrorist financing.

In sum, through 2018, non-EU AIFMs may market their non-EU AIFs in EU jurisdictions according to the relevant EU Target Jurisdiction’s private placement regime, subject to a few additional AIFMD requirements.

VII. The AIFMD in Each EU Jurisdiction

The above discussion outlines the AIFMD’s general requirements pertaining to non-EU AIFMs marketing non-EU AIFs.

However, because to take effect the AIFMD must be transposed into the national law of each EU jurisdiction, and because through 2018 the AIFMD largely relies on national private placement rules to regulate non-EU AIFMs, there is bound to be substantial variation in the AIFMD’s application across EU jurisdictions.

The table below details relevant aspects of the AIFMD’s application in each of the EU jurisdictions (plus Norway, and Switzerland).  Supplementing the memorandum, the table serves as a basic guide for the AIFMD’s application to non-EU AIFMs seeking to market their non-EU AIFs in each of the EU jurisdictions.  The chart includes, for each country, whether it has transposed the AIFMD on time (“On time” / “Not on time”), an overview of the private placement regime, relevant reporting requirements, transitional provisions, and a list of the countries with which a cooperation agreement is in place.

Because some of the EU countries have yet to transpose the AIFMD, or have not completed the transposition, and cooperation agreement process we will indicate on the outline where completion of the process is pending.

BELGIUM

  • AIFMD Transposition
    • Not on time
  • Private Placement Regime
    • At present, AIFMs must be registered locally, and are subject to a minimum investment amount of € 250,000.
  • Relevant Reporting Requirements – Pending
  • Transitional Provisions – Pending
  • Cooperation Agreements with non-EU Countries – Pending

DENMARK

  • AIFMD Transposition
    • Not on time.
  • Private Placement Regime
    • Denmark permits marketing to a maximum of 8 offerees, and requires that a non-EU AIFM be licensed in its member state of reference.1
  • Relevant Reporting Requirements
    • Non-EU AIFs licensed in another EU jurisdiction pursuant to AIFM regulations must submit additional documentation to the Danish FSA, including operating and managing plans, and contact information.
  • Transitional Provisions
    • Transitional provisions will permit non-EU AIFMs to market AIFs under Denmark’s current private placement regime until at least July 22, 2014 (provided that the AIFMs commenced marketing prior to the transposition date of July 22, 2013).
  • Cooperation Agreements with non-EU Countries – Pending

FINLAND

  • AIFMD Transposition
    • Not on time.
  • Private Placement Regime
    • Finland’s private placement regime permits AIFMs to market only to “professional” clients.
  • Relevant Reporting Requirements – Pending
  • Transitional Provisions
    • The AIFMD is not expected to apply to non-EU AIFMs until 2015.
    • Transitional rules have been proposed (although not yet adopted) permitting AIFMs to market pursuant to existing private placement rules, provided that the AIFMs can show that they have made a good faith effort to comply with AIFMD.
  • Cooperation Agreements with non-EU Countries – Pending

FRANCE

  • AIFMD Transposition
    • On time.
  • Private Placement Regime
    • Under its present private placement regime, France does not permit AIFMs to actively solicit investment.
  • Relevant Reporting Requirements – Pending
  • Transitional Provisions
    • It appears that a transitional period will apply until 22 July 2014, during which all French AIFMs will be able to continue marketing and / or managing any AIFs in France on the pre-AIFMD basis (for example by using reverse solicitation).
    • Other AIFMs (whether EU but outside France or non-EU) would, therefore, need to be authorized.
  • Cooperation Agreements with non-EU Countries – Pending

GERMANY

  • AIFMD Transposition
    • On time.
  • Private Placement Regime
    • Under the new German private placement regime, non-EU AIFMs may market to professional investors, subject to requirements.
    • To market in Germany, the non-EU AIFM must appoint an independent entity to act as a depositary (as defined in the AIFMD), and notify BaFin, Germany’s markets regulator, of the appointed depository’s identity.
  • Relevant Reporting Requirements
    • Notifying BaFin of its intention to market in Germany, and include an application with a comprehensive list of information and documents.  BaFin will have up to two months to review, and decide upon the application.
    • Making certain initial and ongoing investor disclosures.
    • Complying with reporting requirements to BaFin.
  • Transitional Provisions
    • Non-EU AIFMs that marketed funds in Germany by prior to the AIFMD’s July 22, 2013 effective date (“previously marketed funds”) will be permitted to continue marketing those previously marketed funds under existing private placement rules until July 21, 2014.
  • Cooperation Agreements with non-EU Countries – Pending

IRELAND

  • AIFMD Transposition
    • On time.
  • Private Placement Regime
    • Under Ireland’s private placement regime, non-EU AIFMs will be able to market in Ireland without restrictions additional to those of the AIFMD, discussed above.
  • Relevant Reporting Requirements
    • Ireland will only require that the non-EU AIFMs comply with the AIFMD’s reporting requirements for non-EU AIFMs discussed above.
  • Transitional Provisions
    • Non-EU AIFMs managing qualified investor alternative investment funds (“QIAIF”), as defined under the relevant Irish provisions, which were authorized prior to the July 22, 2013 transposition date will not be required to be AIFMD compliant until July 22, 2015.
    • Non-EU AIFMs managing QIAIFs authorized after July 22, 2013 will have two years from the QIAIF’s launch date to become AIFMD compliant.
  • Cooperation Agreements with non-EU Countries – Pending

ITALY

  • AIFMD Transposition
    • Not on time.
  • Private Placement Regime
    • Under Italy’s current private placement regime, which it seems will be available to non-EU AIFMs through 2015, AIFMs may market only to “expert” investors.
  • Relevant Reporting Requirements
    • Currently, AIFMs must disclose their balance sheets, certain administrative documents, and financial reports regarding their managers’ activities.
  • Transitional Provisions – Pending
  • Cooperation Agreements with non-EU Countries – Pending

LUXEMBOURG

  • AIFMD Transposition
    • On time.
  • Private Placement Regime
    • Through 2018, Luxembourg will permit small and non-EU AIFMs to market pursuant to its private placement regime.
  • Relevant Reporting Requirements
    • Luxembourg imposes certain transparency requirements on AIFMs, including disclosure of an AIFM’s net asset value, and disclosures upon gaining control of an EU company.
  • Transitional Provisions
    • Beginning on July 22, 2014, in addition to complying with Luxembourg’s private placement regime, non-EU AIFMs will be required to comply with the third country provisions of the AIFMD.
  • Cooperation Agreements with non-EU Countries
    • Luxembourg signed cooperation agreements with all 34 of the regulators that entered into MOUs with ESMA.

THE NETHERLANDS

  • AIFMD Transposition
    • On time.
  • Private Placement Regime
    • Netherlands will permit certain AIFMs to market pursuant to its private placement regime provided offerings are: (1) to less than 150 persons; (2) units have an individual nominal value of at least EUR 100,000 or consist of a package of units with at value of at least EUR 100,000; or (3) offered to professional investors only.
    • Non-EU AIFMs are exempted for offerings to qualified investors only if the AIFM is not domiciled in a non cooperative country under FATF rules and the Dutch regulator and the foreign regulator entered into a MOU.
    • AIFMs licensed by the relevant securities regulators in the USA, Jersey and Guernsey may offer to any investor under a license recognition regime.
  • Relevant Reporting Requirements
    • Notification to Netherlands Financial Markets Authority and reporting of investments, risk positions and investment strategy of AIF to Dutch Central Bank.
  • Transitional Provisions
    • Several grandfathering provisions for non-EU AIF’s that stopped marketing prior to 22 July 2013.
  • Cooperation Agreements with non-EU Countries – Pending

POLAND

  • AIFMD Transposition
    • Not on time.
  • Private Placement Regime
    • So far, the Polish regulator has not published an AIFMD transposition regulation.
    • However, under the existing private placement regime, non-EU AIFs that wish to market its units in Poland may do so if:
      • The units are qualified as equity or debt securities under their respective governing law; and
      • The units are offered under the “private placement” regime, meaning a nonpublic offer to sell securities to no more than 149 identified investors
  • Relevant Reporting Requirements – Pending
  • Transitional Provisions
    • As mentioned above, the Polish regulator has not made an official announcement concerning AIFMS transposition.
  • However, a representative of the Polish regulator recently indicated in an interview that:
    • AIFMs currently marketing AIFs in Poland will have two years to determine whether they fall within the regulations of the AIFD; and
    • If so, the AIFMs will be required to become AIFMD compliant within the two-year period.
  • Cooperation Agreements with non-EU Countries – Pending

SPAIN

  • AIFMD Transposition
    • Not on time.
  • Private Placement Regime
    • Currently, no private placement regime is available, and it in not anticipated that a private placement regime will be made available in the implementation of the AIFMD.
    • Under proposed rules, registration with, and authorization from the Spanish regulator is required for non-EU AIFMs to market non-EU AIFs to professional investors only in Spain.
    • Authorization to market may be denied if:
      • The non-EU AIF’s home state applies discriminatory marketing rules against Spanish AIFs;
      • The non-EU AIF provides insufficient assurance of compliance with Spanish law, or insufficient protection of Spanish investors; or
      • The non-EU AIFs will disrupt competition in the Spanish AIF market.
  • Relevant Reporting Requirements – Pending
  • Transitional Provisions – Pending
  • Cooperation Agreements with non-EU Countries – Pending

SWEDEN

  • AIFMD Transposition
    • Not on time.
  • Private Placement Regime
    • At present, there is no private placement regime for marketing AIFs in Sweden.
    • Many AIFs, simply fall outside the scope of Sweden’s regulations, and may market freely in Sweden
    • Other AIFs affected by Sweden’s regulation may only be marketed by a Swedish AIFM, or an AIFM regulated in another EU country.
    • It is unclear whether non-EU AIFMs will be able to continue to market freely after the AIFMD comes into force, or whether they will be prevented from marketing in Sweden altogether
  • Relevant Reporting Requirements – Pending
  • Transitional Provisions – Pending
  • Cooperation Agreements with non-EU Countries – Pending

UNITED KINGDOM

  • AIFMD Transposition
    • On time.
  • Private Placement Regime
    • Provided that an AIF has been marketed by the non-EU AIFM prior to July 22, 2013 in an EEA jurisdiction, the non-EU AIFM will be able to continue to market the funds under the UK’s private placement regime until July 21, 2014 without complying with the requirements of the AIFMD.
    • For new funds marketed from July 22, 2013, the non-EU AIFM will need to comply with the reporting requirements of the AIFMD set out below.
  • Relevant Reporting Requirements
    • Prior to marketing in the UK, an AIFM must give the FCA written notification of its intention to do so.
    • In the notification, the AIFM must affirm that it is responsible for complying with the relevant AIFMD requirements, and that these relevant requirements have been satisfied.
    • Once it has submitted the notification to the FCA, the AIFM may begin marketing—it need not wait for the FCA’s approval.
    • Additionally, the AIFM is subject to disclosure requirements, including:
      • Ensuring that investor disclosure in fund marketing materials meets the disclosure and transparency requirements set out in the directive;
      • Reporting either annually or semi-annually to the FCA proscribed information; and
      • Submitting and publishing an annual report for each AIF that the AIFM manages or markets.
  • Transitional Provisions
    • The non-EU AIFMs that marketed any AIF in the EU prior to the AIFMD’s July 22, 2013 effective date will be permitted to market AIFs in the UK under the pre-AIFMD rules until July 21, 2014.
    • Non-EU AIFMs taking advantage of the transitional provision may do so irrespective of whether or not the FSA has cooperation agreements in place
  • Cooperation Agreements with non-EU Countries
    • The UK signed cooperation agreements with all 34 of the regulators that entered into MOUs with ESMA.

NORWAY2

  • Private Placement Regime
    • At present, Norway does not permit soliciting investment in AIFs.
  • Relevant Reporting Requirements – Pending
  • Transitional Provisions – Pending
  • Cooperation Agreements with EU Countries – Pending

SWITZERLAND

  • Private Placement Regime
    • Non-EU AIFMs may market through the Swiss private placement regime without any additional regulation, approval, or license requirement or the investor is:
      • A License financial institution;
      • A regulated insurance institution; or
      • An investor that has concluded a written discretionary asset management agreement with a licensed financial institution, or a financial intermediary, provided that information is provided to the investor through the financial institution, or intermediary, and that the financial intermediary is:
        • Regulated by anti-money laundering regulation;
        • Governed by the code of conduct employed by a specific self-regulatory body recognized by the Swiss regulator; and
        • Compliant with the recognized standards of the self-regulatory body.
  • Relevant Reporting Requirements – Pending
  • Transitional Provisions
    • Non-Swiss AIFMs have until March 1, 2015 to:
      • Appoint a Swizz representative, and a Swiss paying agent; and
      • Comply with all relevant regulations.
    • Non-Swiss AIFMs that have yet to be subject to Swiss regulation must:
      • Contact, and register with the Swiss regulator by September 1, 2013; and
      • If not sufficiently licensed in their home country, apply for a license by March 1, 2015.
    • Cooperation Agreements with EU Countries – Pending

1 An AIFM’s member state of reference (“MSR”) is the member state where the marketing of most of the AIF takes place.  So, for example if a U.S. AIFM markets in Denmark, and Denmark is the Member State of Reference, then the Danish FSA must issue the U.S. AIFM a license prior to commencement of the U.S. AIFM’s marketing activities in Denmark.

2 Norway, and Switzerland are non-EU countries of interest.  Because they are not part of the EU, they are not required to transpose the AIFMD.

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What the SEC’s Elimination of the Prohibition on General Solicitation for Rule 506 Offerings Means to the EB-5 Community

Sheppard Mullin 2012

As we previously reported, on July 10, 2013, the SEC adopted the amendments required under the JOBS Act to Rule 506 that would permit issuers to use broad-based marketing methods such as the Internet, social media, email campaigns, television advertising and seminars open to the general public.  These types of methods are referred to in U.S. securities laws as “general solicitation,” and they have until now been prohibited in most offerings of securities that are not registered with the SEC. This is an important development to the EB-5 community because EB-5 offerings very often rely on Rule 506 as an exemption from offering registration requirements.

In addition, the SEC amended Rule 506 to disqualify felons and other “bad actors” from being able to rely on Rule 506.  This is also an important development for the EB-5 community, which has developed a heightened sensitivity to the potential for fraud in the wake of the Chicago Convention Center project.

Please note that these new rules are not yet effective.  See “When do the new rules become effective?” below.

Overview

Companies intending to raise capital through the sale of securities in or from the United States must either register the securities offering with the SEC or rely on an exemption from registration.   Failure to assure an available exemption for unregistered securities can result in civil and criminal penalties for the participants in the offering and rescission rights in favor of the investors.

For EB-5 programs, a widely used exemption from registration is Rule 506 of Regulation D, under which an issuer may raise an unlimited amount of capital from an unlimited number of “accredited investors” and up to 35 non-accredited investors.  Historically, this exemption has prohibited general solicitation or advertising in connection with the offering, including publicly available web sites, social media, email campaigns, television advertising and seminars open to the general public.

The other commonly used exemption, Regulation S, has been less restrictive on general solicitation, but is not available for investors already present in the United States and does not preempt state securities law registration/exemption obligations, which often prohibit general solicitation.  Rule 506 does preempt such state laws (except as to notice filings and filing fees).  For many EB-5 programs and investors, there is no available exemption other than Rule 506 that does not also prohibit general solicitation.

In connection with the passage by Congress of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act in April 2012, Congress directed the SEC to remove the prohibition on general solicitation or general advertising for securities offerings relying on Rule 506, provided that sales are limited to accredited investors only and that the issuer takes reasonable steps to verify that all purchasers of the securities meet the requirements for accredited investors. The SEC initially proposed a rule to implement these changes in August 2012, but did not pass final rules on the changes to Rule 506 until now.

What changes were made to Rule 506?

The final rule adds a new Rule 506(c), which permits issuers (that is, the partnerships or other organizations actually issuing partnership interests and the like in exchange for EB-5 capital) to use general solicitation and general advertising  for the offer their securities, provided that:

  • All purchasers of the securities are accredited investors as defined under Rule 501; and
  • The issuer takes “reasonable steps” to verify that the purchasers are all accredited investors.

Who is an accredited investor?

Under Rule 501 of Regulation D, a natural person qualifies as an “accredited investor” if he or she is either:

  • An individual net worth (or joint net worth with a spouse) that exceeds $1 million at the time of the purchase, excluding the value of a primary residence; or
  • An individual annual income of at least $200,000 for each of the two most recent years (or a joint annual income with a spouse of at least $300,000 for those years), and a reasonable expectation of the same level of income in the current year.

What are reasonable steps to verify that an investor is accredited?

What steps are reasonable will be an objective determination by the issuer (or those acting on its behalf), in the context of the particular facts and circumstances of each purchaser and transaction.  The SEC indicates that among the factors that issuers should consider under this facts and circumstances analysis are:

  • the nature of the purchaser and the type of accredited investor that the purchaser claims to be;
  • the amount and type of information that the issuer has about the purchaser; and
  • the nature of the offering, such as the manner in which the purchaser was solicited to participate in the offering, and the terms of the offering, such as a minimum investment amount.

The final rule provides a non-exclusive list of methods that issuers may use to satisfy the verification requirement for purchasers who are natural persons, including:

  • For the income test, reviewing copies of any IRS form that reports the income of the purchaser for the two most recent years and obtaining a written representation that the purchaser will likely continue to earn the necessary income in the current year.
  • For the net worth test, reviewing one or more of the following types of documentation dated within the prior three months and obtaining a written representation from the purchaser that all liabilities necessary to make a determination of net worth have been disclosed:
    • With respect to assets: bank statements, brokerage statements and other statements of securities holdings, certificates of deposit, tax assessments, and appraisal reports issued by independent third parties; and
    • With respect to liabilities: a consumer report from at least one of the nationwide consumer reporting agencies;
  • As an alternative to either of the above, an issuer may receive a written confirmation from a registered broker-dealer, SEC-registered investment adviser, licensed attorney, or certified public accountant that it has taken reasonable steps within the prior three months to verify the purchaser’s accredited status.

Simply relying on a representation from the purchaser, or merely checking a box on an accredited investor questionnaire, will not meet the requirement for objective verification. EB-5 Regional Centers should consider this carefully if they intend to make “accredited investor” determinations.

What actions must an issuer take to rely on the new exemption?

Issuers selling securities under Regulation D using general solicitation must file a Form D. The final rule amends the Form D to add a separate box for issuers to check if they are claiming the new Rule 506 exemption and engaging in general solicitation or general advertising. An issuer is currently required to file Form D within 15 days of the first sale of securities in an offering, but the SEC promulgated proposed rules to require an earlier filing.  See “Are there any other changes contemplated for Rule 506?” below.

Will the new rule affect other Rule 506 offerings that do not use general solicitation?

Not directly. The existing provisions of Rule 506 remain available as an exemption. This means that an issuer conducting a Rule 506 offering without using general solicitation or advertising is not required to perform the additional verification steps.

Who is excluded from using the Rule 506 exemption?

Under the new rule regarding “bad actors” required by the Dodd-Frank Act, an issuer cannot rely on a Rule 506 exemption (including the existing Rule 506 exemption) if the issuer or any other person covered by the rule has had a “disqualifying event.”  The persons covered by the rule are the issuer, including its predecessors and affiliated issuers, as well as:

  • Directors and certain officers, general partners, and managing members of the issuer;
  • 20% beneficial owners of the issuer;
  • Promoters;
  • Investment managers and principals of pooled investment funds; and
  • People compensated for soliciting investors as well as the general partners, directors, officers, and managing members of any compensated solicitor.

What is a “disqualifying event?”

A “disqualifying event” includes:

  • Felony and misdemeanor criminal convictions in connection with the purchase or sale of a security, making of a false filing with the SEC or arising out of the conduct of certain types of financial intermediaries. The criminal conviction must have occurred within 10 years of the proposed sale of securities (or five years in the case of the issuer and its predecessors and affiliated issuers).
  • Court injunctions or restraining orders in connection with the purchase or sale of a security, making of a false filing with the SEC, or arising out of the conduct of certain types of financial intermediaries. The injunction or restraining order must have occurred within five years of the proposed sale of securities.
  • Final orders from certain regulatory authorities that:
    • bar the issuer from associating with a regulated entity, engaging in the business of securities, insurance or banking, or engaging in savings association or credit union activities, or
    • are based on fraudulent, manipulative, or deceptive conduct and were issued within 10 years of the proposed sale of securities.
  • Certain SEC disciplinary orders relating to brokers, dealers, municipal securities dealers, investment companies, and investment advisers and their associated persons.
  • SEC cease-and-desist orders related to violations of certain anti-fraud provisions and registration requirements of the federal securities laws.
  • Suspension or expulsion from membership in or association with a self-regulatory organization (such as FINRA, the membership organization for broker-dealers).
  • U.S. Postal Service false representation orders issued within five years before the proposed sale of securities.

What disqualifying events apply?

Only disqualifying events that occur after the effective date of the new rule will disqualify an issuer from relying on Rule 506. However, matters that existed before the effective date of the rule and would otherwise be disqualifying must be disclosed to investors.

Are there exceptions to the disqualification?

Yes. An exception from disqualification exists when the issuer can that show it did not know and, in the exercise of reasonable care, could not have known that a covered person with a disqualifying event participated in the offering.  The SEC can also grant a waiver of the disqualification upon a showing of good cause.

When do the new rules become effective?

Both rule amendments will become effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.  Publication normally occurs within two weeks after final rules are adopted.

Are there any other changes contemplated for Rule 506?

In connection with the foregoing final rules, the SEC separately published for comment a proposed rule change intended to enhance the SEC’s ability to assess developments in the private placement market based on the new rules regarding general solicitation. This proposal would require issuers to provide additional information to the SEC, including:

  • identification of the issuer’s website;
  • expanded information about the issuer;
  • information about the offered securities;
  • the types of investors in the offering;
  • the use of proceeds from the offering;
  • information on the types of general solicitation used; and
  • the methods used to verify the accredited investor status of investors.

Though this proposed rules is not specifically directed to EB-5 offerings, the SEC could use such information to enhance the monitoring it is already doing of EB-5 programs.

The proposed rule would also require issuers that intend to engage in general solicitation as part of a Rule 506 offering to file the Form D at least 15 calendar days before engaging in general solicitation for the offering. Then, within 30 days of completing the offering, the issuer would be required to update the information contained in the Form D and indicate that the offering had ended.

The proposed rule has a 60-day comment period.

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