It may seem an odd time for some publicly traded companies to consider cash-out merger transactions because broad equity market indices are at or near record levels. Nonetheless, the changing market structure means some boards may want to consider it.

Among a small subset of public companies that may are those that are traded on OTC Markets Group’s Pink Open Market (“Pink”), the lowest of three tiers behind OTCQB Venture Market and OTCQX Best Market. Pink is the successor to the “pink sheets” which was published by a quotation firm that was purchased by investors who rechristened the firm OTC Markets Group.

Today, OTC Markets Group is an important operator in U.S. capital markets because it facilitates capital flows for 11,000 US and global securities that range from micro-cap and small-cap issuers across all major industries to ADRs of foreign large cap conglomerates. Many issuers are SEC registrants, too.

The issue that may cause some boards of companies traded on Pink to contemplate a cash-out merger or other transaction to reduce the number of shareholders is an amendment by the SEC to Rule 15c2-11, which governs the publication of OTC quotes and was last amended in 1991. Since then, markets and the public participation in markets have increased significantly as trading costs have declined and information has become more widely disseminated. The amendment applies only to Pink listed companies because those traded on OTCQB and OTCQX already meet the new requirements.

Because of a quirk in how the rule was written in conjunction with a “piggyback exception” for dealers, financial information for some Pink issuers is not publicly available. The amended rule, which goes into effect September 28, 2021, prohibits dealers from publishing quotes for companies that do not provide current information including balance sheets, income statements and retained earnings statements. OTC Markets Group requires companies to comply with the rule through posting information to the issuer’s publicly available landing page that it maintains.

While the disclosure requirement presumably is not burdensome, not all companies want to disclose such information, especially to competitors. Companies that choose not to comply with amended Rule 15c2-11 will no longer be eligible for quotation. Because shareholders of these companies historically have had the option to obtain liquidity, boards may want to evaluate an offer to repurchase shares or a cash-out merger transaction that reduces the number of shareholders.1

Also, some micro-cap and small-cap companies whether traded on an OTC market or a national exchange may not obtain as many advantages compared to a decade or so ago.

Given the rise of passive investing in which upwards of 50% of US equities are now held in a passively managed fund, companies that are not included in a major index such as the S&P 500, Russell 1000, NASDAQ or Russell 2000 are at a disadvantage given the amount of capital that now flows into passive funds. In some instances, it may make sense for these companies to go private, too.

Cash-out transactions can be particularly attractive for companies that have a high number of shareholders in which a small number of shareholders have substantial ownership. Cash-out merger transactions require significant planning with help from appropriate financial and legal advisors. The link here provides an overview of valuation and fairness issues to consider in going private and cash-out transactions for companies whether privately or publicly held.

Mercer Capital is a national valuation and financial advisory firm that works with companies, financial institutions, private equity and credit sponsors, high net worth individuals, benefit plan trustees, and government agencies to value illiquid securities and to provide financial advisory services related to M&A, divestitures, capital raises, buy-backs and other significant corporate transactions.

1 Cash-out merger transactions are also referred to as freeze-out mergers or squeeze-out mergers in shareholders owning fewer than a set number of shares receive cash for their shares while those holding more than the threshold amount will be continuing shareholders.


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