Opening the US securities markets

Michael Sykuta —  8 April 2011

Larry makes a strong argument below for why the proposed SEC rules changes reported today in the WSJ should not be heralded as some great opening up of US securities markets, but that the changes are little more than political posturing to prevent addressing the real problem of the costs imposed by securities regulation more generally. I don’t disagree that the proposed rules changes Larry targets are, at best, window dressing to release some (well-justified) pressure created by innovative market-based solutions to circumvent the rules that lie more at the root of the securities market problem.  So long as the costs associated with “public” placements are so high, investors and issuers will continue to look for ways to expand their access to capital within the “private” placement market, which by definition excludes many (especially smaller) investors.

That said, I will point out that one of the quotes in the article bemoaning this proposal comes from an institutional investor–one of the groups that is more likely to benefit from the current 500 entity cap. If raising the cap would not open up the market meaningfully to new potential investors, I wouldn’t expect to see such negative comments from one of the groups who will face this greater competition in the supply of private equity. So while the proposed changes certainly don’t address the real problem, it seems they may make the market a bit more open (and less subject to contrived and costly work-arounds like special purpose vehicles) than it currently is.

However, among the rules changes being proposed is one that should open up the market to greater access even to smaller investors (up to whatever new cap might replace the current 500 entity rule). And it’s a rule  change that appears a direct response to something Larry blogged about here just earlier this year.

According to the WSJ report, the SEC “is considering relaxing a strict ban on private companies publicizing share issues, known as the ‘general solicitation’ ban.” The current regulations are currently under Constitutional scrutiny as a potential violation of 1st Amendment speech rights, as a result of a case by Bulldog Investors that Larry discussed in his earlier post.  Again, how far will the ‘relaxing’ go and will it be a substantive change in the underlying problem, or just another hanging of curtains? But there should be no doubt that more open communication about private equity investment opportunities should further open the market to smaller investors.

All this to say, I believe Larry is on point for the big picture, but the proposed regulation changes don’t seem to be all bad. Of course, the devil is in the details–so we’ll have to reserve judgment until the specifics are revealed before having more confidence in that conclusion.

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