- Understand what an initial public offering is and under what circumstances one is usually done.
- Examine the various requirements of selling stock.
- Discuss what adequate and valid consideration is in exchange for stock.
Sale of stock
Rather than using debt to finance operations, a corporation may instead sell stock. This is most often accomplished through an initial public offering (IPO), or the first time a corporation offers stock for sale to the public. The sale of securities, such as stock, is governed by the Securities Act of 1933. In particular, Section 5 of the 1933 act governs the specifics of the sale of securities. To return to BCT Bookstore, Inc., suppose the company wishes to sell stock on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) for the first time. That would be an IPO. The company would partner with securities lawyers and investment banks to accomplish the sale. The banks underwrite the sale of the securities: in exchange for a fee, the bank will buy the shares from BCT and then sell them. The company and its team prepare a registration statement, which contains required information about the IPO and is submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The SEC reviews the registration statement and makes the decision whether to permit or prohibit BCT’s IPO. Once the SEC approves the IPO, BCT’s investment banks purchase the shares in the primary market and then resell them to investors on the secondary market on the NYSE. (For a further discussion of these two markets, see Chapter 17 "Securities Regulation"). Stock sales are not limited to an IPO—publicly traded corporations may sell stock several times after going public. The requirements of the 1933 act remain but are loosened for well-known corporations (well-known seasoned issuers).
An IPO or stock sale has several advantages. A corporation may have too much debt and would prefer to raise funds through a sale of stock rather than increasing its debt. The total costs of selling stock are often lower than financing through debt: the IPO may be expensive, but debt costs can vastly exceed the IPO cost because of the interest payments on the debt. Also, IPOs are a popular method of increasing a firm’s exposure, bringing the corporation many more investors and increasing its public image. Issuing stock is also beneficial for the corporation because the corporation can use shares as compensation; for example, employment compensation may be in the form of stock, such as in an employee stock ownership plan. Investors also seek common stock, whether in an IPO or in the secondary market. While common stock is a riskier investment than a bond, stock ownership can have tremendous upside—after all, the sky is the limit on the price of a stock. On the other hand, there is the downside: the price of the stock can plummet, causing the shareholder significant monetary loss.
Certainly, an IPO has some disadvantages. Ownership is diluted: BCT had very few owners before its IPO but may have millions of owners after the IPO. As mentioned, an IPO can be expensive. An IPO can also be undervalued: the corporation and its investment banks may undervalue the IPO stock price, causing the corporation to lose out on the difference between its determined price and the market price. Being a public corporation also places the corporation under the purview of the SEC and requires ongoing disclosures. Timing can be problematic: the registration review process can take several weeks. The stock markets can change drastically over that waiting period. Furthermore, the offering could have insufficient purchasers to raise sufficient funds; that is, the public might not have enough interest in purchasing the company’s stock to bring in sufficient funds to the corporation. Finally, a firm that goes public releases information that is available to the public, which could be useful to competitors (trade secrets, innovations, new technology, etc.).
As mentioned, one of the main disadvantages of going public is the SEC review and disclosure requirements. The Securities Exchange Act of 1934 governs most secondary market transactions. The 1934 act places certain requirements on corporations that have sold securities. Both the 1933 and 1934 acts require corporations to disseminate information to the public and/or its investors. These requirements were strengthened after the collapse of Enron in 2001. The SEC realized that its disclosure requirements were not strong enough, as demonstrated by the accounting tricks and downfall of Enron and its accountant, Arthur Andersen. For a full discussion of Enron, see Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (New York: Portfolio, 2004).
As a result of Enron’s accounting scandal, as well as problems with other corporations, Congress tightened the noose by passing the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. Sarbanes-Oxley Act can be viewed at University of Cincinnati, “The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002,” Securities Lawyer’s Deskbook, taft.law.uc.edu/CCL/SOact/toc.html. This act increased the disclosure of financial information, increased transparency, and required the dissemination of information about what a corporation was doing. For example, Section 302 of Sarbanes-Oxley requires that a corporation’s chief executive officer and chief financial officer certify annual and quarterly reports and state that the report does not contain any material falsehoods and that the financial data accurately reflect the corporation’s condition.
Nature of the Consideration
Consideration is property or services exchanged for stock. While cash is commonly used to purchase stock, a stock purchaser may pay with something other than cash, such as property, whether tangible or intangible, or services or labor performed for the corporation. In most states, promissory notes and contracts for future services are not lawful forms of consideration. The case United Steel Industries, Inc. v. Manhart, (see Section 15.7.1 "Consideration in Exchange for Stock"), illustrates the problems that can arise when services or promises of future delivery are intended as payment for stock.
Evaluating the Consideration: Watered Stock
In United Steel Industries (Section 15.7.1 "Consideration in Exchange for Stock"), assume that Griffitts’s legal services had been thought by the corporation to be worth $6,000 but in fact were worth $1,000, and that he had received stock with par value of $6,000 (i.e., 6,000 shares of $1 par value stock) in exchange for his services. Would Griffitts be liable for the $5,000 difference between the actual value of his services and the stock’s par value? This is the problem of watered stock: the inflated consideration is in fact less than par value. The term itself comes from the ancient fraud of farmers and ranchers who increased the weight of their cattle (also known as stock) by forcing them to ingest excess water.
The majority of states follow the good-faith rule. As noted near the end of the United Steel Industries case, in the absence of fraud, “the judgment of the board of directors ‘as to the value of consideration received for shares’ is conclusive.” In other words, if the directors or shareholders conclude in good faith that the consideration does fairly reflect par value, then the stock is not watered and the stock buyer cannot be assessed for the difference. This is in line with the business judgment rule, discussed in Chapter 16 "Corporate Powers and Management". If the directors concluded in good faith that the consideration provided by Griffitts’s services accurately reflected the value of the shares, they would not be liable. The minority approach is the true value rule: the consideration must in fact equal par value by an objective standard at the time the shares are issued, regardless of the board’s good-faith judgment.
A shareholder may commence a derivative lawsuit (a suit by a shareholder, on behalf of the corporation, often filed against the corporation; see Chapter 16 "Corporate Powers and Management"). In a watered stock lawsuit, the derivative suit is filed against a shareholder who has failed to pay full consideration under either rule to recover the difference between the value received by the corporation and the par value.
Corporations may raise funds through the sale of stock. This can be accomplished through an initial public offering (IPO)—the first time a corporation sells stock—or through stock sales after an IPO. The SEC is the regulatory body that oversees the sale of stock. A sale of stock has several benefits for the corporation, such as avoiding the use of debt, which can be much more expensive than selling stock. Stock sales also increase the firm’s exposure and attract investors who prefer more risk than bonds. On the other hand, stock sales have some disadvantages, namely, the dilution of ownership of the corporation. Also, the corporation may undervalue its shares, thus missing out on additional capital because of the undervaluation. Being a publicly traded company places the corporation under the extensive requirements of the SEC and the 1933 and 1934 securities acts, such as shareholder meetings and annual financial reports. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act adds yet more requirements that a corporation may wish to avoid.
Consideration is property or services exchanged for stock. Most investors will exchange money for stock. Certain forms of consideration are not permitted. Finally, a corporation may be liable if it sells watered stock, where consideration received by the corporation is less than the stock par value.
- Describe the process of conducting an IPO.
- What are some advantages of selling stock?
- What are some disadvantages of selling stock?
- What is consideration? What are some types of consideration that may not be acceptable?