Size Matters: Reduced Compliance Cost Alternative Made Possible by the SEC

9 Min Read By: Sanjay M. Shirodkar, David J. Lavan

Recently, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) adopted amendments to the smaller reporting company (SRC) definition to increase the thresholds for eligibility and to adopt certain other changes. Under the new SRC definition, a company with less than $250 million of public float will be eligible to provide scaled disclosures. Companies with less than $100 million in annual revenues and either no public float or a public float that is less than $700 million will also be eligible to provide scaled disclosures. The SEC made no revisions to the actual scaled disclosure requirements available to SRCs. The revised SRC qualification rules are effective on September 10, 2018. 

What Is An SRC and What Did the SEC Change?

The SEC historically has recognized that a single-size regulatory structure for public companies does not fit all. As a result, the SEC has adopted a number of rules that, in effect, have created a graduated disclosure regime for public companies from accelerated filing requirements for larger companies to reduced disclosure requirements for emerging growth companies and SRCs. The SEC expects about 1,000 companies to qualify as an SRC as a result of the revised definition and to possibly take advantage of the new rule changes. Do you represent companies eligible to take advantage of these new changes, and if so should they take advantage of these new changes? What occurs if a company is initially not eligible, but becomes eligible at a later time? What exactly is “scaled disclosure,” and with which of the many SEC rules does a SRC need not comply? This article explores these and other related topics. 

The SEC’s new thresholds for determining SRC status are based on (1) having a public float of $250 million, or (2) a revenue test which also includes a public float component. Once a company determines that it qualifies as an SRC, it will remain an SRC until it exceeds the initial qualification thresholds. The new rules provide three paths to becoming an SRC: one for companies doing an initial public offering and two for existing public companies—a transition rule for this year using the IPO thresholds and, for companies that failed to meet the initial thresholds, the ability to become an SRC if it meets lower revenue and market cap thresholds. 

Initial Qualification 

The following table summarizes the amendments to the SRC thresholds for companies making an initial determination under the revised rules, or a current SRC confirming its continued compliance. A company must meet only one of the two thresholds. 

Criteria

 

Old SRC Threshold

 

New SRC Threshold

 

Public Float 

Public float of less than $75 million 

Public float of less than $250 million1 

Revenues 

Less than $50 million of annual revenues and no public float 

Annual revenues of less than $100 million2 and either: 

  • no public float, or 
  • public float of less than $700 million 

What If a Company Is Already Public?

Transition Rule for Existing Public Companies 

For the first fiscal year after September 10, 2018, existing public companies may qualify by applying the new initial qualification thresholds (summarized above) rather than the lower, subsequent qualification thresholds (summarized below). A calendar year company will test its status based on its revenues for the year ended December 31, 2017, and its public float as of June 29, 2018. 

What If a Company Is Initially Not Eligible, But Becomes Eligible At a Later Time?

Subsequent Qualification 

If a public company determines that it does not qualify for SRC status because it met neither of the foregoing thresholds, it will remain unqualified unless, when making a subsequent annual determination, it meets one or more lower qualification thresholds. The subsequent qualification thresholds, set forth in the table below, are set at 80 percent of the initial qualification thresholds. Stated differently, this test is for issuers that are currently required to file reports under sections 13(a) or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended. 

Criteria

 

Old SRC Threshold

 

New SRC Threshold

 

Public Float 

Public float of less than $50 million 

Public float3 of less than $200 million, if it previously had $250 million or more of public float 

Revenues 

Less than $40 million of annual revenues and no public float 

Less than $80 million of annual revenues4, if it previously had $100 million or more of annual revenues; and 

Less than $560 million of public float, if it previously had $700 million or more of public float. 

 

The SEC provided the following example in its guidance: 

Example: A company has a December 31 fiscal year end. Its public float as of June 28, 2019 was $710 million and its annual revenues for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2018 were $90 million. It therefore does not qualify as a SRC. At the next determination date (June 30, 2020), it will remain unqualified for SRC status unless it determines that its public float as of June 30, 2020 was less than $560 million and its annual revenues for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2019 remained less than $100 million. 

What Is "Scaled Disclosure" And With Which Of The Many SEC Rules Does An SRC Need Not Comply?

The advantage of being an SRC is that such a company can comply with certain SEC rules and regulations that are less onerous. An SRC can pick and choose between scaled or nonscaled, financial and nonfinancial disclosure requirements on an item-by-item basis. For a side-by-side comparison of the SRC rules and rules applicable to non-SRCs, see Appendix A. 

There are specific rules regarding entering and exiting the SRC reporting regime, and most companies solicit expert advice regarding compliance with such rules. A larger reporting company that determines it qualifies to be an SRC as of the last business day of its most recently completed, second fiscal quarter is permitted to file as an SRC in its quarterly report for such quarter. When a company no longer qualifies as an SRC as of the end of its most recently completed, second fiscal quarter, it can continue to use the scaled disclosure accommodations available to SRCs through its subsequent annual report Form 10-K. The filing deadline for the Form 10-K will be based on the company’s filing status as of the end of the fiscal year covered by the Form 10-K. 

Is It Always Better To Be An SRC?

No. SRCs are subject to additional disclosure requirements with respect to transactions with related persons, promoters, and certain control persons under Regulation S-K, Item 404. However, rather than the $120,000 threshold under Item 404, SRCs are subject to a threshold that is the lesser of $120,000 or one percent of total assets. The resulting disclosure must address the two preceding years. In addition, SRCs are also subject to additional Item 404 disclosure requirements regarding any underwriting compensation received by their corporate parent or any related persons. This Item 404 disclosure is mandatory for all companies qualifying as an SRC, regardless of whether it elects to take advantage of the scaled disclosure accommodations for SRCs. 

Must SRCs File Auditors' Attestation Reports Under Section 404(B) Of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act I?

Sometimes. Only “nonaccelerated filers” and “emerging-growth companies” are exempt from the requirement to provide an auditors’ attestation report. As a result, it is possible that a company could qualify as an SRC and be eligible to provide scaled disclosure, but at the same time meet the definition as an accelerated filer required to provide an auditors’ attestation report. Note that SEC Chairman Jay Clayton has directed SEC staff to exempt some companies from the Sarbanes-Oxley Act Section 404(b) auditors’ attestation report. 

Pointers:

  • Companies that have completed an initial public offering in the last five years will soon lose their emerging growth company eligibility due to the passage of time. Qualifying for SRC status will enable them to take advantage of the scaled disclosure regime. 
  • There will be a greater number of companies that qualify as both an SRC and an accelerated filer, and will be required to check both boxes on the cover page. 
  • Companies should keep in mind the status of their competitors and whether qualifying as an SRC may negatively impact market perception of the company. Given the complexity of the federal securities laws, it is prudent to consider some of these issues sufficiently in advance. In addition, companies should keep in mind their long-term capital raising plans as the market practices develop. 
  • Given the rampant use of stock buy-backs, a company could plan its entry into the SRC regime based on its revenues and public float. 
  • It is possible for a company not to have a public float. This could occur if a company does not have any public common equity outstanding, or no market price for its common equity exists. 
  • If you are a tech company, or a pre-clinical life sciences company, with no revenue, it is highly likely that you will qualify as an SRC. 

Appendix A

 

Regulations S-K and S-X

 

  

Item

 

Scaled disclosure obligations

 

101 — Description of Business

 

May satisfy disclosure obligations by describing the development of its business during the last three, rather than five, years. 

Business development description requirements are less detailed than disclosure requirements for non-smaller reporting companies. 

201 — Market Price of and Dividends on the Registrant’s Common Equity and Related Stockholder Matters

 

Stock performance graph not required. 

301 — Selected Financial Data

 

Not required. 

302 — Supplementary Financial Information

 

Not required. 

303 — Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations (MD&A)

 

Two-year, rather than three-year, MD&A discussion. 

Two-year, rather than three-year, discussion about the effect of inflation and changes in prices. 

Tabular disclosure of contractual obligations not required. 

305 — Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures about Market Risk

 

Not required. 

402 — Executive Compensation

 

Three named executive officers (not five). 

Two years of summary compensation table information (not three). 

Not required: 

  • Compensation Discussion and Analysis;  
  • Grants of plan-based awards table; 
  • Option exercises and stock vested table; 
  • Pension benefits table; 
  • Nonqualified deferred compensation table; 
  • Disclosure of compensation policies and practices related to risk management; and 
  • Pay ratio disclosure. 

404 – Transactions

With

Related Persons, Promoters and Certain Control Persons

 

Description of policies/procedures for the review, approval or ratification of related party transactions not required. 

407 – Corporate Governance

 

Audit committee financial expert disclosure not required in first annual report. 

Compensation committee interlocks and insider participation disclosure not required. 

 Compensation committee report not required. 

503 – Prospectus Summary, Risk Factors and Ratio of Earnings to Fixed Charges

 

No ratio of earnings to fixed charges disclosure required. 

No risk factors required in Exchange Act filings. 

601 – Exhibits

 

Statements regarding computation of ratios not required. 

8-02 – Annual Financial Statements

 

Two years of income statements rather than three years. 

Two years of cash flow statements rather than three years. 

Two years of changes in stockholders’ equity statements rather than three years. 

8-03 – Interim Financial Statements

 

Permits certain historical financial data in lieu of separate historical financial statements of equity investees. 

8-04 – Financial Statements of Businesses Acquired or to Be Acquired

 

Maximum of two years of acquiree financial statements rather than three years. 

8-05 – Pro forma Financial Information

 

Fewer circumstances under which pro forma financial statements are required. 

8-06 – Real Estate Operations Acquired or to Be Acquired

 

Maximum of two years of financial statements for acquisition of properties from related parties rather than three years. 

8-08 – Age of Financial Statements

 

Less stringent age of financial statements requirements. 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Washington, D.C.

Sanjay M. Shirodkar

Sanjay Shirodkar is an Of Counsel in the Washington, DC office of DLA Piper. Before joining the firm, he was a Special Counsel in the…

Washington, D.C.

David J. Lavan

David is a former special counsel in the Division of Corporation Finance of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

He focuses his practice on all aspects of SEC registration, reporting…

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