Rule 144 Holding Period and Employee Stock Options

When does the Rule 144 holding period begin for restricted stock acquired under an Employee Stock Option plan?

The Option Grant Date Does Not Start the Rule 144 Holding Period

The Rule 144 holding period does not begin on the option grant date.  The grant of an option only gives an employee the right to acquire stock in the future.  The date of the employee’s stock option grant can never be used for Rule 144 holding period purposes, even if the exercise does not require the payment of cash or other consideration to the Issuer.

The Option Exercise Date Starts the Rule 144 Holding Period

The holding period under SEC Rule 144 starts on the date the option is exercised by the employee, and, unless the exercise is “cashless”, the full payment of the exercise price is made to the Issuer.  This is intuitive, since prior to exercising the option, the employee is not at risk, and the stock has not been in any way “earned” or “paid for.”

What is the Rationale Behind the Rule 144 Holding Period for Stock Options?

The SEC Rule 144 holding period does not begin to run until until the option is exercised.   The reason behind this is that because the employee did not pay for the option grant, prior to the issuance of the restricted stock, the employee “optionee” holds no investment risk in the Issuer.

The same rationale used here is consistent with that used when restricted stock is purchased through Subscription Agreement, since the Rule 144 holding period would not begin until the date of the check or wire transfer confirmation–when the subscription was actually paid for by the investor.

Rule 144 Securities Lawyer Matt Stout

OTC securities lawyer Matt Stout drafts Rule 144 and Section 4(a)(1) legal opinions for shareholders in OTC Markets and OTC Bulletin Board companies.   Copies of certificates and supporting documentation can be sent for a no cost review via mstout@otclawyers.com.   Shareholders who wish to clear restricted stock using Rule 144 opinion letters can contact Matt Stout at (410) 429-7076.