Timely Disclosure

Timely Disclosure

Updates and Commentary on Current issues in M&A, Corporate Finance and Capital Markets

CSA Prohibits Sale of Binary Options

On September 28, 2017, the securities regulatory authorities in all Canadian jurisdictions, other than British Columbia (CSA), issued CSA Multilateral Notice of Multilateral Instrument 91-102 Prohibition of Binary Options and Related Companion Policy (Instrument) in response to an increased number of complaints received relating to the marketing of binary options. Subject to the necessary approvals, the Instrument will come into force on December 12, 2017.

The Instrument defines a “binary option” as a contract or instrument that provides for only (a)  a predetermined fixed amount if the underlying interest referenced in the contract or instrument meets one or more predetermined conditions, and (b) zero or another predetermined fixed amount if the underlying interest referenced in the contract or instrument does not meet one or more predetermined conditions.  The underlying interest could include a security, index, currency, precious metal, price or other thing.  Some examples provided by the CSA of yes/no propositions that a binary option could be based on include: a change in the value of a currency, the outcome of an election or a change in a benchmark interest rate. Binary options are sometimes referred to as: all-or-nothing options, asset-or-nothing options, bet options, cash-or-nothing options, digital options, fixed-return options and one-touch options.

A binary option automatically exercises. This means that the option holder does not have the ability to choose whether to buy or sell the underlying asset. Often, the time period specified in the product’s contract for meeting the predetermined condition is very short. Sometimes, it is mere minutes.

The Instrument states that no person or company may advertise, offer, sell or otherwise trade a binary option having a term to maturity of less than 30 days with or to:

  • a person or a company established or used exclusively for trading a binary option; and
  • an individual.

Trade includes a person offering or soliciting transactions using a website or alternative electronic mechanism and acts in furtherance of a trade.

Of particular concern to the CSA was the fact that a number of online binary options platforms are unregistered dealers who operate off-shore. Although trading may occur on some platforms, the CSA have discovered that it is extremely difficult for investors to ‘win’ on their bets. For the most part, such platforms are fraudulent and the investor’s advanced payment on their credit card is simply taken without a trade ever occurring.

Once the Instrument is implemented, no offering of the type of binary options contemplated by the Instrument, even via a registered broker, dealer or platform will be permitted. Currently, there are no authorized platforms offering these options in Canada.

The CSA also reminded market participants that binary options that are not subject to the Instrument are nevertheless derivatives and/or securities in each jurisdiction of Canada and therefore subject to local securities legislation including with respect to registration, prospectus requirements, market conduct and disclosure, as applicable.

CSA Review of Women on Boards and in Executive Officer Positions

On October 5, 2017, the staff of securities regulatory authorities (SRA) in Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Nunavut, Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Yukon published CSA Multilateral Staff Notice 58-309, Staff Review of Women on Boards and in Executive Officer Positions – Compliance with NI 58-101 Disclosure of Corporate Governance Practices. The Staff Notice provides this year’s summary of the disclosure reviewed by the SRA relating to the Women on Boards and in Executive Positions Rules (WB/EP Rules).

The WB/EP Rules require that, on an annual basis, each non-venture issuer disclose:

  • the number and percentage of women on the issuer’s board of directors and in executive officer positions;
  • whether it has a policy relating to the identification and nomination of women directors;
  • whether it has director term limits or other mechanisms of board renewal;
  • whether it has targets for women on its board and in its executive officer positions; and
  • if it considers the representation of women in its director identification and selection process and in its executive officer appointments.

The Staff Notice focused on the disclosure of 660 TSX-listed issuers with year-ends between December 31, 2016 and March 31, 2017, who had filed information circulars or annual information forms by July 31, 2017. This is down from the 722 issuers who provided disclosure as part of the 2015 initial review. The SRA noted that Canadian banks, who are often early adopters of diversity programs, are not included in this summary. This is the third such annual review to have taken place.

The SRA found minor improvements in the results from the gender-diversity findings determined in the first-year and second-year reviews. They are, as follows:

  • 14 per cent of total board seats were occupied by women
  • 61 percent of issuers reported having at least one woman on their board. This is a 6 per cent increase from Year 1 and a 12 per cent increase from Year 2
  • 26 per cent of board vacancies were filled by women
  • 11 per cent of issuers adopted targets for the representation of the number of women on their boards
  • of those that adopted targets, they had an average of 26 per cent female representation on their boards
  • the percentage of issuers with at least one woman in an executive officer position increased to 62 per cent
  • 54 per cent of mining issuers reported that they had one or more women on their boards, increasing from the 38% reported in Year 2 and from the 35% reported in Year 1
  • the retail industry (89%), utilities industry (86%) and the manufacturing industry (86%) reported the greatest percentage of issuers with one or more women on their boards.

Additionally, the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) has announced its Roundtable Agenda for the Third Review of Women on Boards and in Executive Officer Positions. The OSC roundtable will take place on October 24, 2017, from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. at the OSC’s offices. Interested parties should register online by Friday, October 13, 2017. A transcript of the proceedings will be posted on the OSC’s website.

Lessons of the Crew Gold Decision on M&A Engagement Letters

Financial advisors are often critical to the success of an M&A transaction. Often, but perhaps not always. Should the fees payable to a financial advisor be denied if, through no fault of its own, an M&A transaction is completed without any involvement of the advisor? This question is the subject matter of Crew Gold[1] a decision of the Ontario Superior Court which was recently affirmed by the Ontario Court of Appeal.

In M&A sell-side roles, financial advisors are typically retained to advise boards on strategy, as well as perform a number of related tasks, including: preparing a timetable, identifying prospective purchasers, preparing a confidential information memorandum (CIM) and standstill agreement, providing a market check on any offers received, assisting in the due diligence process, providing an opinion as to the financial fairness of any offers, reviewing various deal documents and assisting with communications to, and at times interacting with, the public, key stakeholders, rating agencies and proxy advisory firms.

M&A advisory fees for sell-side roles are typically success-based, payable on completion of a transaction. Prior to completion, the advisor may receive a fee for the delivery of an opinion relating to financial fairness and periodic work fees, all of which are usually credited against the success fee. Work fees are typically modest compared to the success fee, as most issuers prefer not to run up huge advisory costs if no transaction is ultimately completed. Besides, it is often argued, any success fee is effectively for the account of the acquirer.

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Kik Interactive Excludes Canadians from Kin Token Sale

As ICO regulatory landscape gradually takes shape, Kik Interactive excludes Canadians from Kin token sale

On September 7, 2017, Kik Interactive Inc. (Kik), a Waterloo-based digital messaging company, announced that it would not permit Canadian investors to purchase its “Kin” crypto-tokens in its currently ongoing public sales process. Kik had previously announced plans to sell up to U.S.$125 million of Kin tokens, including to Canadians. Kin tokens are envisioned as a general purpose cryptocurrency for use in services such as chat, social media, and payments, all within the Kin ecosystem.

The announcement was made in a blog post by Kik Chief Executive Officer Ted Livingston, who cited “weak guidance” from the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) regarding whether Kin tokens are securities as the reason for banning Canadians. The OSC later clarified to the National Post that they had reviewed the Kin token and concluded that it is a security, but that they were willing to grant Kik exemptive relief from certain securities law requirements provided additional protections were granted to retail investors.

While Kik’s submissions to the OSC and the details of the OSC’s conclusion are not public, the OSC’s conclusion nevertheless provides some regulatory guidance at a time when industry participants are eager to determine precisely when tokens will be subject to securities laws. Another example of such guidance was provided in the case of Impak’s MPK tokens, which are designed to allow holders to purchase goods and services from like-minded merchants operating within the “impact” economy. Similar to Kin, the MPK tokens are considered a security, in this case by both the Autorité des Marchés Financiers in Quebec (AMF) and the OSC.

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Hostile Plan of Arrangement Application to be Heard in Alberta 

On March 7, 2017, 1891868 Alberta Ltd., a wholly-owned indirect subsidiary of Sprott Inc. (Sprott, and together with its wholly-owned subsidiaries, Sprott Group), filed an originating application (Application) in the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta (Court) for an order approving a proposed plan of arrangement (Arrangement) with Central Fund of Canada Limited (Target), Sprott Physical Gold and Silver Trust (to be formed and managed by Sprott Asset Management LP (Trust)), the holders of class A non-voting shares (Class A Shares) of the Target and, as applicable, the holders of common shares (Common Shares) of the Target pursuant to Section 193(2) of the Business Corporations Act (Alberta) (Act).  The Application has been scheduled to be heard by the Court on September 7, 2017.

The Application

The Application seeks an interim order for the calling and holding of a meeting of shareholders (Target Shareholders) of the Target to approve the Arrangement proposed by the Sprott Group.  It should be noted that applications for court orders approving arrangements are typically made by target companies.  Accordingly, this application, which is not supported by the Target, could be characterized as a “hostile” plan of arrangement.  At an application held in April, the Court agreed to set a date in September for the interim application.

According to the Sprott Group, there are a number of qualitative and quantitative benefits to the Target Shareholders which are anticipated to result from the Arrangement and the transactions contemplated thereby, including eliminating the dual-class share structure, continued exposure to the future growth of the Target’s portfolio of assets, the availability of a physical redemption feature, and the potential for the Class A Shares to trade at, near or above their net asset value (instead of at a discount to net asset value, which is currently the case).

According to the Target, the Application is one of numerous steps already taken by the Sprott Group to seek control of the Target. Among other measures taken, the Sprott Group has previously attempted to requisition a meeting of the Target to, among other things, elect a slate of directors (Requisition), commenced a derivative action against the Target and appealed to the Court of Appeal the Court’s finding that the Requisition was invalid.  All of these attempts were unsuccessful.

In this context, a take-over bid made directly to the holders of Common Shares and Class A Shares would likely be ineffective since, according to Sprott, at least 75% of the Common Shares are held by directors and officer of the Target and such persons are not expected to tender to the bid.

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Canadian Securities Administrators Issue Guidance Regarding Cryptocurrency Offerings

On August 24, 2017, the staff of the Canadian Securities Administrators other than Saskatchewan (CSA) published CSA Staff Notice 46-307 Cryptocurrency Offerings (the Staff Notice) in response to increased activity within the distributed ledger technology or “blockchain” industry. The Staff Notice provides guidance regarding the application of Canadian securities laws to businesses operating in that industry, in particular those undertaking initial “coin” or “token” offerings (ICOs), exchanges on which those coins, tokens and cryptocurrencies are traded and investment funds that invest in such assets.

The Staff Notice provides that in the CSA’s view many coins, tokens and cryptocurrencies fall within the definition of “securities” under Canadian securities laws. An offering of such tokens would therefore require a prospectus or exemption from prospectus requirements and businesses supporting and operating ancillary to such tokens could be subject to registration requirements. The Staff Notice also provides that such products may also be derivatives and subject to the derivatives laws adopted by the Canadian securities regulatory authorities.

The Staff Notice confirms speculation among industry participants and advisors that Canadian regulators would take this approach, which is similar to the positions articulated by the United States Securities & Exchange Commission and securities regulators in Singapore.

With respect to ICOs, the Staff Notice provides that, from the CSA’s perspective, many of the ICOs completed to date involved the sale of securities and that securities laws in Canada will apply if the person or company selling the securities is conducting business from within Canada or there are Canadian investors in the tokens.

The CSA are aware of businesses marketing their tokens as software products and taking the position that the tokens are not subject to securities laws.  It appears to be the CSA’s view, however, that in many cases, when the totality of the offering or arrangement is considered, the tokens should properly be considered securities.  In assessing whether or not securities laws apply, the Staff Notice states that the CSA will consider substance over form and apply a purposive interpretation to the law with the objective of investor protection in mind.

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The CSA’s Continuous Disclosure Review Program

On July 27, 2017, the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA) announced in CSA Staff Notice 51-351 Continuous Disclosure Review Program Activities for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2017 that a CSA Staff Notice detailing the results of the continuous disclosure review program (CD Review Program) will be published every two years instead of annually. As a result, there will be no CSA Staff Notice related to the CD Review Program for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2017 and instead the next CSA Staff Notice will be for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2018.

CSA Staff Notices regarding the results of the CD Review Program are aimed at providing an overview of common continuous disclosure deficiencies. Further details regarding the CD Review Program can be found in CSA Staff Notice 51-312 (revised) Harmonized Continuous Disclosure Review Program and have been summarized below.

In 2004, the CSA established the CD Review Program. The goal of the CD Review Program is to improve the completeness, quality and timeliness of continuous disclosure by reporting issuers in Canada. The CD Review Program educates issuers during continuous disclosure reviews and identifies material disclosure deficiencies and questionable transactions that affect the reliability and accuracy of an issuer’s disclosure record.

Under the CD Review program, the principal regulator is responsible for reviewing the issuer’s continuous disclosure record and taking further steps related to continuous disclosure compliance. The CSA uses a risk-based approach to select issuers to review and to determine the type of reviews to conduct, which can either be a “full” review or an “issue-oriented” review. Staff review the overall quality of the issuer’s disclosure, and in particular, assess whether there is sufficient information for the reader to understand the issuer’s financial performance, financial position, business risks and future prospects. Issues identified during the review are typically communicated to the issuer through a comment letter, which then invites the issuer to provide a written response.

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At-The-Market Offerings In The Canadian Capital Markets: Flexibility At A Lower Cost

When seeking to access capital in the public markets in an uncertain economy, traditional follow-on financing methods might not be the right choice for some issuers. It may be that “bought deal” and “best efforts” public financings are unavailable or otherwise available but on terms that are unsuitable.

In these circumstances, issuers may consider an alternative financing method provided for in Canadian securities legislation: namely, an at-the-market (ATM) public offering. Under an ATM offering, an issuer sells its shares directly into the market through the facilities of a stock exchange or marketplace. In establishing an ATM offering, the issuer sets a maximum number of securities to be issued, and then determines on an ongoing basis how many securities to issue and sell (if any) by setting the specific minimum price, quantity of securities, and sales timing.

This post discusses the framework for ATM offerings and explores some of the advantages and disadvantages associated with this kind of financing.

General Framework

Base Shelf Prospectus

The first formal step by the issuer in setting up an ATM offering is to file a base shelf prospectus in accordance with National Instrument 44-102 Shelf Distributions (NI 44-102). A base shelf prospectus is a type of short-form prospectus where an issuer normally qualifies the distribution of various types of securities up to a specified maximum dollar amount, which can then be issued over a 25-month period.

While the general rule under securities laws is that all distributions of securities under a prospectus must be made at a fixed price, NI 44-102 provides an exception to this rule for ATM offerings. To give effect to this exception, the shelf prospectus must disclose that the issuer may undertake non-fixed price offering transactions by way of ATM offerings.

Note that NI 44-102 places certain limits on ATM offerings. First, it limits the securities that may be issued by way of an ATM offering to “equity securities”, which are securities that carry a residual right to participate in the earnings of an issuer and, upon liquidation or winding-up of the issuer, in its assets. This typically excludes ATM offerings in respect of preferred shares and debt securities. Second, NI 44-102 limits the market value of equity securities that can be distributed under an ATM offering to 10% of the aggregate market value of the equity securities of that class (for this calculation, securities controlled by persons holding more than 10% of the issuer’s total outstanding equity securities are excluded). Finally, it prohibits an overallotment of securities or any other transaction made with the intention of stabilizing or maintaining the market price of securities.

Prospectus Supplement

Once the final base shelf prospectus has been receipted by the applicable securities regulators and all other above steps are complete, the issuer then files a prospectus supplement to the final base shelf prospectus. The prospectus supplement sets out the parameters and terms of the ATM offering and describes the securities that are the subject of such offering. This document generally is not reviewed by the securities regulators and can be quite brief. However, it must set out either the maximum number of shares to be sold or the maximum aggregate offering size, and it must identify the securities dealers that are implementing the ATM offering and specify any commissions to be paid.

Distribution Agreement

Concurrent with the filing of the prospectus supplement for an ATM offering, the issuer typically executes a distribution or sales agency agreement (Distribution Agreement) with the securities dealer selected to act as the issuer’s agent for the ATM offering. Distribution Agreements for ATM offerings contain standard securities dealer protections, including customary covenants, representations and warranties made by the issuer, and customary closing conditions for each placement of securities. Securities dealers are subject to statutory underwriter liability, and so will engage in standard due diligence practices. Because ATM offerings are ongoing affairs, securities dealers will seek comfort letters and legal opinions both as of the time of execution of the Distribution Agreement and on a periodic basis.

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ETF Facts – Upcoming Transition Date

Exchange-traded fund (ETF) managers are reminded that, as of September 1, 2017, they will be required to file an “ETF Facts” document in conjunction with the filing of any ETF prospectus.

Similar to “Fund Facts” for conventional mutual funds, “ETF Facts” are summary disclosure documents for ETFs.  Amendments to National Instrument 41-101 General Prospectus Requirements came into force on March 8, 2017 (Amendments) and established the regime and content requirements under which ETF Facts must be produced and delivered.  The Amendments also serve to replace the disclosure regime that has previously been in place for ETFs.  Such previous disclosure regime required ETF managers to obtain exemptive relief and to produce, for delivery through selling dealers, an ETF “Summary Document”.  Delivery by a dealer of a Summary Document, and now ETF Facts, to a purchaser of an ETF security within required time frames satisfies the prospectus delivery requirement under applicable securities legislation.

Pursuant to the Amendments, a staged transition was established for the implementation of the new disclosure regime using ETF Facts.  Under the transition rules, as of September 1, 2017, ETF managers may no longer utilize Summary Documents and must file ETF Facts in connection with the filing of any new or renewal prospectus.  The last date on the transition calendar is November 12, 2018 – as of such date, all ETFs that have not yet filed ETF Facts must do so.

Sale of ETFs – Proficiency Standards Approved

Last month, provincial securities regulators approved Policy No. 8 (Policy) of The Mutual Fund Dealers Association of Canada (MFDA).  The Policy establishes proficiency standards for mutual fund dealing representatives (Representatives) who wish to sell exchange-traded fund (ETFs).

Although Representatives are legally permitted to sell certain types of ETFs (which are a type of mutual fund), to date, the number of Representatives actually doing so has been limited.  Representatives have been restricted both in their access to systems permitting the settlement of an ETF sale, as well as educational opportunities that would allow for required proficiency standards to be met.

Under MFDA rules, in order to sell any mutual fund security, Representatives must ensure they have the education, training and experience necessary to perform such activity competently.  Historically, however, educational courses available to Representatives in order to sell conventional mutual funds did not include material pertaining to ETFs.

As ETFs differ from conventional mutual funds in a number of respects, the Policy, and its approval by provincial securities regulators, provides important regulatory guidance as to the minimum training standards required for Representatives to sell ETFs. As outlined in the Policy, such training must at a minimum include:

  • detailed product information in respect of ETFs approved for sale by the Representative’s firm
  • how market quotes will be obtained
  • the types of trades accepted and the information required for each trade accepted
  • the disclosure information required for each transaction
  • how evidence of trade instructions, whether executed or unexecuted, and disclosures will be maintained
  • how trade orders will be processed.

The Policy, and the approval of the minimum training standards it describes, is expected to provide clarity to Representatives as to how to meet their proficiency standards.  Combined with technical advances relating to the settlement of ETF trades, Representatives should be optimistic about increasing their access to the ETF market.