SEC Rule 144 is the most common safe harbor that Shareholders of restricted stock in OTC Markets companies use to sell their shares.
Rule 144 has three major questions that must be answered before it can be used to remove a restricted legend from a stock certificate. These questions determine Affiliate Status, 144 Holding Period and Shell Status.
Is the Shareholder an Affiliate of the Issuer under Rule 144?
Under Rule 144, an Affiliate is a “control person” which is most often an officer, director, or owner of greater than 9.99% of the total issued and outstanding shares of any class of stock in the Issuer.
If a Shareholder is an Affiliate, or was an Affiliate within the past 90 days, then he or she is subject to trading volume limitations under Rule 144.
What are the Affiliate Trading Volume Limitations Under Rule 144?
Affiliate Shareholders of OTC Bulletin Board and OTC Markets OTCQB, OTCQX and Pink Sheets, can only sell up to 1% of the Issuer’s total issued and outstanding shares during any 3 month period, and such sales must be reported to the SEC on Form 144.
What is the Shareholder’s Holding Period under Rule 144?
Whether or not the Shareholder is an Affiliate, the restricted stock must be held for a certain period of time, known as the Rule 144 “holding period” after the Shareholder acquires the shares and before the Shareholder sells the stock.
What is the 144 Holding Period for SEC Reporting Companies?
For SEC reporting public companies, like those quoted on the OTC Bulletin Board (OTCBB) and the OTC Markets OTCQB and OTCQX, and for those listed on the NASDAQ or NYSE MKT, the Rule 144 holding period is a minimum of six (6) months.
In order to qualify, the public company must be “subject to” the reporting requirements of Section 12 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. This is also known as a mandatory SEC filer.
Rule 144 Holding Period for Non Reporting Companies
For Non SEC Reporting Issuers, like those quoted on the OTC Markets Pink Sheets and filing OTC Markets Disclosure Statements, the Rule 144 holding period is twelve (12) months.
Voluntary SEC filers are also considered non reporting companies and have a Rule 144 holding period of twelve (12) months.
Voluntary filers are those which go public via S-1, but which have not yet filed an 8A-12g or 8A-12b or Form 10 under the 34 Act, so they are not yet technically “subject to” the reporting requirements of Section 12 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.
Was the Issuer Ever A “Shell Company” under Rule 144?
Current Shells Cannot Use Rule 144 to Clear Stock
Rule 144 does not allow Shareholders of public companies that are currently classified as a “shell company” to use its safe harbor to clear and sell restricted stock.
This is true even if the Shareholder is not an Affiliate, and if the Shareholder has held stock for longer than the required holding period under Rule 144.
Can Former Shells Use Rule 144?
Former shell companies that now have assets and an operating business must wait one (1) year after the Issuer ceases to be a shell before their shares may be sold using Rule 144, and then only if the public company is an SEC filer and subject to the filing requirements of the Exchange Act of 1934.
The moment a public company ceases to be a shell is sometimes clear because it is found in an SEC filing, like a “Super 8-K” for instance. This could be the date upon which the company acquired an operating business or assets, in a reverse merger.
The Evergreen Rule: Rule 144 Applied to Former Shell Companies
Former shells that are fully reporting OTCQB, OTCQX and OTC Bulletin Board companies must have filed current SEC reports like the 10-Q, 10-K and 8-K for a minimum of one (1) year from the date they ceased to be a shell, and they must be current in their filings now, before its Shareholders can avail themselves of the exemption from registration offered by Rule 144.
The term “Evergreen Rule” refers to the requirement that former shell companies must remain current in their filings (forever) in order for Rule 144 to be used. If a former shell becomes delinquent in SEC filings, Rule 144 cannot be used until the Issuer is current.
Non Reporting Pink Sheet Former Shells Cannot Use Rule 144
Former shell companies that are OTC Markets Pink Sheets cannot used Rule 144 even if they are “Pink Current” now meaning that they are up to date on their OTC Markets Quarterly Reports, Annual Reports and their Information & Disclosure Statements.
Section 4(a)(1) Can Be Used to Clear Stock of Pink Sheet Former Shells
If the shares are greater than Two (2) Year old, OTC shareholders in Pink Sheets or delinquent SEC filers may be able to use Section 4(a)(1) (also known as Section 4(1) or simply 4-1) to clear and deposit their restricted stock.
Section 4(a)(1) can only be used if the shareholder is not an Issuer, Underwriter or Dealer, and if the shareholder can document the origin and history of the Shares as dating back greater than Two (2) Years.
OTC Bulletin Board (OTCBB) and OTC Markets Issuers seeking a securities attorney with expertise in Rule 144 and Section 4(a)(1) can contact Matt Stout at (410) 429-7076 or firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.