Timely Disclosure

Timely Disclosure

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

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.

Canada’s Move to a T-2 Settlement Cycle

Effective September 5, 2017, the settlement cycle in the Canadian and US securities markets will be shortened from three days after the date of a trade (T+3) to two days after the date of a trade (T+2). In Canada, this change follows the announcement on April 27, 2017 by the Canadian Securities Administrators of their intentions to adopt amendments to National Instrument 24-101 Institutional Trade Matching and Settlement and its companion policy, to achieve a smooth transition to T+2 for equity and long-term debt market trades.

Benefits of the Change to T+2

The change from T+3 to T+2 will keep Canadian markets in line with simultaneous changes in the US markets, providing a uniform period for settling securities by T+2. It will also harmonize Canadian markets with the markets in Asia-Pacific, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, which have already made the move to T+2 settlement cycle. Overall, the move to T+2 is expected to enhance market efficiency, simplify cross-border trading, and reduce counterparty, market and liquidity risks.

Transition Period  

The change to a T+2 settlement cycle will result in ex-dates for dividends, distributions and other corporate actions changing from two business days prior to the record date to one business day prior to the record date. As a result of this transition, no listed security will commence ex trading on Tuesday, September 5, 2017. The chart below provides examples of the ex-dates under the new T+2 settlement cycle:

Record Date Ex-Date
September 1, 2017(1) August 30, 2017
September 5, 2017(2) August 31, 2017(3)
September 6, 2017 September 1, 2017(3)
September 7, 2017 September 6, 2017

(1) Last day of T+3 settlement cycle.
(2) First day of T+2 settlement cycle.
(3) September 4, 2017 is a holiday and there will be no ex-date on this date.

Public Company Directors Take Note: Canadian Securities Regulators weigh in on Material Conflict of Interest Transactions

On Thursday, July 27, 2017, staff of the Ontario Securities Commission and its counterparts in Québec, Alberta, Manitoba and New Brunswick (Staff) published important guidance on Staff’s expectations of market participants, including boards and their advisors, in material conflict of interest transactions.[1]  The guidance highlights the important role of public company directors in such transactions, including conducting a sufficiently rigorous and independent process while appropriately addressing the interests of minority security holders and ensuring detailed public disclosure of the board’s review and approval process.  In addition, the guidance confirms that Staff are actively reviewing such transactions “on a real-time basis” to assess compliance, to determine whether a transaction raises potential public interest concerns, and, if appropriate, to intervene on a timely basis prior to any security holder vote or closing of the transaction.

“material conflict of interest transactions” and “minority security holders”

Staff note that a “material conflict of interest transaction” is a transaction governed by Multilateral Instrument 61-101 Protection of Minority Security Holders in Special Transactions (MI 61-101) that gives rise to substantive concerns as to the protection of minority security holders, being equity security holders who are not “interested parties” in the transaction.  For example, a transaction pursuant to which an insider of the company acquires the company would be considered to be a material conflict of interest transaction.  Among other things, MI 61-101 prescribes detailed procedural safeguards when a company undertakes an insider bid, issuer bid, business combination, or related party transaction, including enhanced disclosure and, absent an exemption, a requirement to obtain “minority approval” (essentially an affirmative vote by a majority of the votes cast by minority security holders) and a formal valuation of the subject matter of the transaction.  In interpreting MI 61-101, Staff note that they apply a “broad and purposive interpretation” to these requirements that emphasizes the instrument’s underlying policy rationale.

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SEC Concludes that Slock.It’s DAO Digital Currency Tokens are Securities

On July 25, 2017, the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued a report of investigation (Report) concluding that the digital currency “tokens” sold by DAO (DAO Tokens) in a 2016 initial coin offering (ICO) are securities for purposes of federal United States securities laws. This conclusion could have far-reaching implications for businesses that have completed or are contemplating an ICO, businesses dealing with tokens or cryptocurrencies, such as cryptocurrency exchanges, as well as the still-developing legal landscape relating to ICOs and distributed ledger or “blockchain” technology.

Beginning in 2013, many entities that use blockchain technology as their operational foundation have raised funds through ICOs. While precise data is not available, various sources estimate that since the beginning of 2016, between 84 and 139 ICOs have been completed, raising gross proceeds of between U.S.$281 million and U.S.$1.35 billion.(1) In some cases, ICOs have sold out in a matter of seconds, such as the Basic Attention Token ICO in May 2017 which raised U.S.$35 million in less than 30 seconds.(2)

Pursuant to an ICO, an entity offers digital currency tokens to purchasers, typically in exchange for digital consideration such as Bitcoin or Ether. The rights attaching to these tokens vary greatly, with some resembling “kick-starter” style crowd-funding in that token holders have pre-paid for goods or services offered by the entity and others resembling common shares in a company in that token holders have certain voting rights and certain rights to dividend-like payments from the entity.

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