Tips for the Chinese Entrepreneur Accessing U.S. Small and Micro Cap Capital Markets

This article is meant to address the commitments a Chinese entrepreneur interested in accessing the US capital markets should be prepared to make.  Our intention is to address the company or businessperson who is interested in raising capital through a public vehicle listed on one of the dominant US exchanges, NASDAQ, the NYSE or the MKT (the “Exchange”). Since it is highly government and market regulated, the process tends to be complex and impossible to navigate without the aid of a team of professionals that specialize in the area of Corporate and Securities law. Generally, the team consists of attorneys, auditors and investor relations advisors and investment bankers, particularly if the company is raising capital.  In some instances, the company also may involve a “Promoter”. For purposes of this article we will use the term Promoter to mean a person or company that agrees to provide general business advice and cover some or all the expenses of the going public/financing process.  We will discuss more about the role of the Promoter later; but at the outset we think it is important to note and point out that many Chinese companies have gotten themselves into great difficulty by choosing dishonest or inexperienced Promoters, both in the US and China.

To get listed on an Exchange, the company will also need a Board of Directors, the majority of whom must be “independent” and one of which must be conversant with reading financial statements in United States Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (the “US GAAP”) and or International Financial Reporting Standards (“IFRS”). The company must also adhere to certain corporate governance standards imposed by the Sarbanes Oxley Act of 2002 (“SOX”) and the Exchange will have certain additional corporate governance standards. It is up to management and the Board of Directors to insure these standards are adhered to. The consequences for the failure to comply with corporate governance can be serious.

We have no doubt that many are aware of the off-again on-again love affair that the US small and micro-cap markets have had with China.  China, in our opinion, is the most promising country in the world for investors to deploy capital.  Some of the reasons are obvious, the sheer size of the Chinese domestic market for consumer goods and services, the ability to manufacture huge quantities of complex systems, large and small, and export them efficiently at reasonable prices, and on and on. Foxcon and Lenovo are perfect examples.

The more subtle reasons are in part, the lack of ready domestic sources of capital for expansion of small businesses, the desire of entrepreneurs to find homes abroad for some of their wealth, the perceived prestige and recognition that a US listing brings and the simple fact that people in the US relate well to their Chinese counterparts on all sorts of business and cultural levels. As access to capital for relatively small businesses goes, one should bear in mind that going public in China is a very different process than in the US.  In China, the process is regulated by the China Securities Regulatory Commission (the “CSRC”) which unlike its US counterpart, the SEC, makes qualitative determinations concerning  whether or not a company in question  is a proper candidate to go public, on the Shanghai or Shenzhen Exchange.  As a result only the largest, often state owned companies are deemed worthy of the privilege.  In the US, the SEC makes no such determinations.  The SEC’s role is to make sure that the company going public fully discloses all relevant financial and other facts and risks about its business to the investing public. It is up to each investor to determine how worthy he or she feels the company is.

An additional reason for China’s allure that cannot be ignored is that in many respects China is still a developing country in terms of foreign and domestic business; “developing” in the sense of presenting opportunities for business, profit, expansion, excitement, etc.  As people in the trenches when it comes to the small Cap and micro-Cap markets, we can say that very few professional investment businesses in the US have had much success in other developing countries when it comes to deploying the type of capital we are focused on in this article.

BDs, placement agents and private funds have explored India, Vietnam, other parts of Southeast Asia, Argentina, Brazil with little to show for it.  We are sure there are some but we don’t know of many successful small cap listings that have endured from any of the above.  A look at the countries of origin listed on the Exchanges would seem to prove the point.  That is not to say that India, Brazil, Argentina have no successful business using US capital in whole or in part, but, they are not small or microcap businesses.

Why “Off Again On Again”?

So if the US investment business loves China and China demands US capital to fund its smaller and growing business, where is the “off-again” part?  Simply put, (1) there have been ugly instances of fraud and negligence  in connection with a not insignificant number of Chinese offerings and (2) like their US counterparts, the listed shares of many Chinese public companies have not performed as well as  their Chinese backers expected. Because of the unique interplay of US and Chinese laws (particularly in the case of China, laws governing foreign ownership of Chinese businesses) the most often business model used by Chinese companies going public in the US, from Alibaba on down, is known as the VIE structure.  Simply put, the VIE structure separates the operating business (Chinese) from the management and the entity entitled to the profits; US.  The relationship is governed by an agreement between the Chinese and the US entity. However, because it is so difficult to judicially enforce a contract in China, many disappointed entrepreneurs simply “go dark” or opt to stop their SEC reporting and hence for all practical purposes being a US public company or simply walk away with continuing to own their operating company.

We think that it is a fair statement that the majority of companies that go public on any market, be it the NYSE, NASDAQ, LSE, Bourse, etc., have moments where they struggle or fail.  After all, as someone looking to enter these markets you must already realize that the markets award companies that perform and punish companies that don’t.

How to Go Public

There are several methods for a corporation to become a public company subject to the reporting requirements of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (“Exchange Act”) and have its shares traded in a U.S. public market. Under a traditional initial public offering (“IPO”) process, a company will engage an underwriter to sell shares to the public and file a preliminary registration statement under the Securities Act of 1933, as amended (“Securities Act”) with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”). Once the SEC has reviewed the registration statement and its comments are addressed, the company will file an acceleration request to allow the registration statement to go effective and the shares will be offered to the public. In conjunction with this process, the company will typically apply to have its shares listed on the Exchange, as opposed to trading on the OTC market. The traditional IPO process is not used by small companies to the extent it was in prior years. Smaller companies that would not meet Exchange listing requirements even after an IPO often enlist an alternate going public method as a Reverse Merger. For smaller companies that cannot utilize the traditional IPO process, there are several alternative methods available to become publicly traded, and thus reap the benefit of greater access to capital (which is typically seen as the main benefit of being a publicly traded corporation). One such alternative method of going public is through a process known as “self-registration.” This involves the filing of a registration statement under the Securities Act on Form S-1 shares of the original shareholders’ to be registered for sale to the public. The effectiveness of the company registration statement will subject the company to the reporting requirements of the Exchange Act and if the Company is qualified, will allow the company to list on an Exchange.

Another alternative method popular among Chinese companies is a “reverse merger,” which is the acquisition by a public company (“Pubco”) by a private company (“Privco”) pursuant to which the Privco shareholders obtain a controlling interest in Pubco and have the power to appoint the directors and officers of Pubco. As part of the transaction, the shareholders of Privco give up their shares in Privco in exchange for shares of Pubco. For legal purposes, the Pubco entity does not change, only the composition of the shareholders, however, for accounting purposes, Privco is considered the acquiring company and the financial statements of Privco become those of Pubco. There are numerous benefits to reverse mergers, including shorter time process, more control over the timing of the process, lower costs, less commitment of management resources, less dilution to the Privco shareholders and an existing shareholder base. Typically, the shareholders of Privco will receive between 90-99% of the outstanding shares of Pubco upon completion of the reverse merger, with the remaining 1-10% consisting of the shareholders of Pubco prior to the merger. Of course a reverse merger does not involve raising capital. Often a reverse merger is done in conjunction with a broker dealer raising money in a private placement.

Regardless of the method of going public, being a public company in the United States requires specialized attorneys and accountants.  The selection of the professionals, or the team, is of paramount importance. Without an experienced team, the process will be long and needlessly expensive. There are many ways to find your team but the best advice is to look for people that do this as a substantial part of their practice.  In short, professionals that do it all the time.  Your underwriter or placement agent can be very helpful in recommending your team. They will select people that they have dealt with before and that have proven themselves capable of the task.

The Attorneys

Going public and functioning as a public company is highly regulated by the federal government, some state governments and self-regulatory organizations such as the Exchanges themselves. This complexity demands engaging lawyers and law firms that are very experienced in these areas and, in effect, do it every day.

Since the authors of this article are attorneys, we bring our own unique perspective to the topic of choosing and working with attorneys in a public financing.  Two simple facts that the entrepreneur should be mindful of is: a) most investors, underwriters or placement agents like companies they are financing to hire attorneys they know – which diminishes the risk of something going wrong either with the financing source, the SEC or investors and b) there are a tremendous number of law firms in the US that can and do securities work so there is a lot to choose from and you need to be sure you have someone that is competent.  Always select a firm that your financing source approves and always select one that is known to have expertise in public company financing matters.

The role of the law firm in the process is principally to draft the disclosure document that your company and the underwriter or placement agent will give prospective investors prior to accepting their money.  A disclosure document informs investors about the company’s history, business, the risks inherent in the business, future plans and what the company intends to do with the money raised, the management of the company, management’s compensation and the terms, characteristics of the securities they will be buying (most often Common Stock) and audited financial statements for at least the past two years.  Of course, the financial statements are provided by the Company and audited by the auditor not the attorneys but the financial statements incorporate a great deal of the narrative prepared by your attorneys. In the case of an IPO, the attorneys draft the company’s registration statement that is filed with the SEC and contains a prospectus in the case of an IPO.  The SEC reviews the registration statement and most often comes back with comments or questions about the narrative or the financial statements. The lawyers and the company, with the assistance of auditors, respond to these comments or questions.  There are often several rounds of comments and responses before the SEC declares the registration statement “effective” and the public offering can commence.

Once your company is public, the attorneys will help you maintain compliance with the various aspects of securities laws as well as the rules of the Exchange.  In addition to filing quarterly and annual financial reports, public companies must make various filings with the SEC and the Exchange in the course of their business.  For example, entering into a “material agreement” or making a “significant acquisition” triggers various reporting requirement.  Putting matters before the shareholders to vote on requires special filings.  The requirements are very specific and highly technical and require the professional assistance of attorneys.   It is essential that you keep your lawyers updated on the development of your company, whether it is the appointment of new director, entry into a material agreement, adoption of a stock incentive plan or even trading of the company’s stock by affiliates, as companies are usually afforded a short time period to satisfy such reporting requirements.

Some of the larger law firms have offices in China and other countries but most of the law firms working on Chinese financing deals do not.  Having said that, it is very important when selecting a law firm to make sure that the firm has a team of native Mandarin speaking lawyers.  In our experience, even if the founder/entrepreneur does not speak English, most Chinese companies thinking about financing in the US have English speaking employees usually at the management level. That is always helpful but having Mandarin speaking attorneys is critical in going through the company documents needed to draft the disclosure statement as well as in the due diligence process. Due diligence is an investigation conducted by the underwriter or placement agent, generally through their attorneys, to confirm everything they believe and have been told by the company about its history and business. The due diligence process is almost always conducted at the company’s offices or plant and involves generally a law firm partner and one or more associates.  At least one member of the team must be fluent in Chinese or the task will take an extraordinarily long time, be disruptive to the company’s business and frustrating for everyone involved.

Of course, financial arrangements are a critical issue when dealing with a law firm.  Most law firms have a pretty good idea what a particular transaction should cost whether it is an IPO, reverse merger or private placement. If they do not, that is a sign that you have the wrong firm.  Most law firms bill by the hour multiplied by an hourly rate and bill monthly.  That type of billing is generally not acceptable to emerging companies or companies doing early stage financings. This can be particularly devastating if for some reason the financing is not successfully completed.  Most law firms today are willing to use an alternate billing structure. They may be willing to quote a fixed fee or capped fee.  In any case, the company typically makes an initial payment when the work begins, another payment at some milestone, perhaps the completion of the disclosure document or the filing of a registration statement and the balance, which is usually 50%-70% of the fee is paid at the closing of the transaction when the company receives the proceeds of the financing.  If for whatever reason, financing is not successful, most firms agree in advance to a “broken deal” fee which is some fraction of the balance.

Apart from the US counsel, companies should also retain local PRC lawyers who will advise the company on the PRC laws and regulations with respect to going public in the US, particularly on the structuring of the public company in compliance with the PRC laws

For Chinese companies listed in the US, there are two commonly-used structures: (i) the straightforward offshore restructuring where the offshore holding company would acquire the domestic company’s equity interest from its PRC shareholders and (ii) the VIE structure where the offshore holding company would form a new wholly owned subsidiary in China which would control and receive the economic benefits of the domestic company (the “VIE”) through a series of contractual arrangements. The VIE structure is required because foreign ownership of certain types of businesses is subject to restrictions under the PRC laws. The VIE structure is very popular and many leading Chinese internet companies with this structure are listed on NASDAQ or NYSE.

Despite its popularity, the VIE structure presents a number of risks such as lack of official approval from the Chinese authorities and avoidance of Chinese regulatory supervision. Although the VIE agreements do not allow their foreign investors to directly own an equity stake in the operating company, the PRC authorities might view such indirect ownership as a foreign investment in a restricted sector without obtaining all the necessary approvals. The PRC government has not promulgated any law or regulations to endorse or deny the legality of VIE structure yet but the PRC governments have taken different positions and views on the VIE structure. If the state or local government disapproved the VIE structure, the company would face risks that the authorities may require the VIE structure to be unwound, depending on different government policies.

It is important that entrepreneurs consult with their PRC counsel to clearly understand how VIE structures work, why they are used, and the risks involved with using a VIE structure.

The Auditor

When it comes to establishing investor confidence in a public offering or any public financing, particularly among institutional investors, we think most professionals will agree that the selection of the auditor is arguably the most important factor.

Most large-cap companies which deal with very established underwriters usually use one of the top four international accounting firms, namely Ernst & Young, Deloitte & Touche, PWC and KPMG.

When it comes to microcap and small-cap offerings, it is often very difficult for smaller issuers to justify the expense of a top four or perhaps even a top ten firm. There are a number of smaller auditors that are very experienced in working with Chinese companies and some that are particularly popular with Chinese companies. Pursuant to US Corporate Governance and Sarbanes-Oxley, public company auditors are selected not by the management of the company but by the Audit Committee of the Board of Directors.   The Audit Committee is generally composed of three independent directors, with at least one member being well versed in reading and understanding financial statements in GAAP and/or IFRS.

The auditors not only audit the company’s annual financial statements which are filed with the SEC but also review the company’s unaudited quarterly financial statements which are also filed with the SEC.

The role of the auditor is not to assemble or draft a company’s financial statements but to certify their accuracy.  The audit report in the financial statements states in essence that in the auditor’s “opinion”, the financial statements fairly present the company’s financial condition. With respect to Chinese public companies, historically most of the problems in terms of fraud or misleading financial information resulted from the fact that in some cases the financial statements put forth were either inaccurate or were the product of the Company fraudulently altering the Company’s financial results. For example, there was a Chinese company that went public a few years ago in the United States where the company’s management paid middle level people at its bank to lie about the company’s cash deposits to the auditors and the people doing due diligence on the company.

In selecting an auditor for a public company, again you would be best advised to speak to your underwriter or placement agent about what firms they recommend. Price is always a factor but should not be the paramount factor. There are auditing firms that will work very cheaply but often the work is not accurate or looked at suspiciously by the SEC and the general public.  Look for a well-established auditor that has done a number of deals in China, and preferably has people in the country. The SEC in fact has complained that many United States auditors that have done work in China simply to perform the work using local mid-tier resident accountants that are not really part of the audit firm. Ask other public companies for recommendations and how they feel about their auditors. There are many auditors that are Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (“PCAOB”) approved and have had extensive experience with Chinese companies.

In addition to being established and well regarded, auditors doing work for a public company have to be approved by the PCAOB, who establishes standards for audit work on public companies. It is easy to see if your auditor is a PCAOB member by going to the PCAOB website and looking at the list of approved firms.

Underwriter/Placement Agent/Promoter

It is pretty near impossible for a small/medium sized US company to raise any significant capital without the help of an underwriter or placement agent and it is virtually impossible for a Chinese company to do so.

First, what is an underwriter or placement agent?  Without becoming too technical and tied up in legal/SEC definitions, an underwriter raises money for a company through a public offering (often an IPO) and a placement agent raises money for the company without going through the securities registration process that is required by the SEC for a public offering. It does so by limiting the people to whom it can sell securities to sophisticated investors and gives them detailed information about the company, its history and financial condition – much like what would be available in a public offering but somewhat abbreviated. Both the underwriter and placement agents are broker/dealers (“BDs”) and as such are “licensed” by the SEC and are members of FINRA, a quasi-government industry regulatory body.  As a general rule, BDs raising capital for companies generally do both public and private offerings at one time and another.

Although larger BDs have offices in other countries including China, for the most part their offices are in the US and thus not readily accessible to Chinese entrepreneurs. Since China boasts the second highest number of US publicly traded companies second only to the US itself, people known as “Promoters” have made a business of introducing Chinese companies to underwriters and placement agents. The types of arrangements with Promoters differ widely as does the legality under US law.  A company contemplating this type of arrangement should not do so without the advice of counsel, references from other companies that have worked with the Promoter as well as looking at a number of deals they have completed to assess how they have done as public companies (not solely the responsibility of the Promoter).  It is not unusual for a prompter to front all or a large portion of the costs of going public including auditor fees, legal fees and fees for the investor relations firm.  This type of arrangement is both legal and insures your Promoter has a deep interest in seeing the project through to a happy conclusion. Under US securities law a Promoter cannot be compensated solely for introducing a company to a source of direct or indirect financing.

More often than not and aligned with having a deep interest in the project, Promoters take their fees in stock. The amount of stock a company is willing to give up should depend on how much of the cost burden and work the Promoter is doing.  A good Promoter will be at the company’s premises on several occasions to get a thorough understanding of the business and the people involved.  He will generally accompany the underwriter or placement agent on their visits and will consult with all involved to make sure the company is getting a fair valuation.

The Investor Relations Firm

Virtually every public company in the US has one or more investor relations/public relations (“IR”) firms on retainer.  The role of the IR Firm is important yet somewhat amorphous.  It tends to be what the company and the IR Firm make of it.  At the very least, the IR firm will help drafting press releases which are generally done whenever something material, good or bad, that happened to the company (often in conjunction with required SEC filings the lawyers are required to make). They also help management conduct quarterly earnings calls if management decides to hold these calls.  Earnings calls are quarterly conference calls that management makes when it is ready to release quarterly financial results. These calls are open to investors, BDs and members of the financial press.  After management (usually the CFO if he or she is reasonably fluent) presents the results, there is often a discussion of what the future may look like and then questions and answers.  The IR firm helps management prepare their remarks and rehearse possible questions. The IR firm will generally have someone sitting with management during the call.

IR firms draft descriptions of the company for general distribution, help with maintaining the company’s website and organize non-deal road shows.  Non-deal road shows are trips set up by the IR firms to meet with various BDs and institutional investors around the country whom they would like to take an active interest in the company’s stock—recommend it to their clients to purchase. The term “non-deal” simply means that the road show is not for the purpose of promoting a particular financing that the company is engaged in.

Not all IR firms do all the above which is why some companies engage more than one IR firms.  For example, a particular IR firm may be great at putting road shows together but not so much at conducting earnings calls.  Also, IR firms come in all sizes from one man shops to boutiques to national firms with offices in many cities.  There are also IR firms that specialize in certain industries such as healthcare.

IR firms are generally engaged by contract for a year or more and paid monthly.  Often with micro and small cap companies, the fees are paid partially in cash and partially in securities of the company (stock or options).   These  contracts should have a breakup fee so the company can terminate if it is not happy with the services and not being happy with IR services is the most common complaint companies will have towards their team.  One obvious reason is that companies hire IR firms in the hope that, among other things, their efforts will cause the company’s stock to go up and hence the market cap of the company to increase.  That will also make it easier for the company to raise additional capital.  Of course no IR firm can guarantee that result and that result or lack of result most often lies with the performance of the company.  On the other hand, there are IR firms that do little or nothing other than send press releases to the press, often releases drafted by the company.

The selection of the proper IR firm is of primary importance and as important as it is hard it is to find competent IR people.

About the authors

Jay Kaplowitz

Jay Kaplowitz

Mr. Kaplowitz advises small and medium sized companies on corporate finance, SEC disclosure matters, corporate governance, and private and public offerings, including equity offerings, high-yield, and convertible offerings.
Jay Kaplowitz

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    Wei Wang, Esq.

    Wei Wang, Esq.

    Wei Wang joined the Corporate and Securities Department of Sichenzia Ross Friedman Ference LLP in September 2010. Ms. Wang’'s practice focuses in the areas of Securities Law and General Corporate Law. A significant part of her practice is dedicated to representing clients in cross-border transactions between China and the United States.
    Wei Wang, Esq.

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      Lijia Sanchez, Esq.

      Lijia Sanchez, Esq.

      Ms. Sanchez focuses her practice in the areas of securities, corporate finance and mergers and acquisitions. Ms. Sanchez represents domestic and international clients in a variety of industries, with a particular focus on securities regulation, public and private offerings, mergers and acquisitions, and general corporate and corporate governance matters.
      Lijia Sanchez, Esq.

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        中国企业家进入美国小微型企业资本市场的建议

        本文旨在说明有意进入美国资本市场的中国企业家需要作出的各项准备工作。我们的目的是面向有兴趣通过公开途径在美国主要交易所之一上市募集资金的公司或商人,美国主要交易所包括纳斯达克(NASDAQ)、纽约证券交易所(NYSE) 或纽约泛欧全美证券交易所( MKT )(下称“交易所”)。因为程序受到政府和市场的高度监管,程序往往非常复杂,在没有擅长公司和证券法律领域的专业团队的帮助下很难操作。通常,特别是有融资计划的公司,其专业团队应包括律师、审计师和投资者关系顾问以及投行专家。某些情况下,公司还可能需要一位“发起人”。为本文目的,我们使用的术语发起人是指同意提供一般公司咨询并且承担上市/融资程序之部分或所有费用的个人或公司。我们稍后将更多讨论发起人的功能;但是首先我们认为重要的是说明和指出很多中国公司自身由于在美国和中国挑选不诚实或缺乏经验的发起人而使公司陷入困境。

        为在一个交易所上市,公司还需要董事会,大多数成员必须是“独立的”并且其中一人必须精通阅读美国公认会计准则(“US GAAP”)和/或国际财务报告准则(“IFRS”) 之财务报表。公司还须遵守2002年《萨班斯法案》(“SOX”)实施的某些公司治理标准以及交易所还有其它某些公司治理标准。管理层和董事会有责任确保这些标准得以遵循。公司未能遵守公司治理可能会有严重后果。

        毫无疑问,很多人知道美国小微型企业资本市场与中国之间分分合合的关系。在我们看来,中国是世界上投资者部署资本最有前途的国家。有些理由显而易见,中国消费者商品和服务的巨大国内市场规模,生产大量复杂、大型和小型系统的能力,并且将其以合理价格高效出口,等等。富士康和联想就是最好的例子。

        部分更微妙的理由是,小型企业扩张缺乏可利用的国内资本资源,企业家希望将他们一些财富置于国外,美国上市所带来的让人感受到的名誉和认可,以及美国的人员与其中方在商业和文化方面关系容易处理这一简单的事实。相对小型的企业进入资本市场,需要牢记,在中国上市与在美国上市程序截然不同。与美方的证券交易委员会(SEC)不同,在中国,中国证券监督管理委员会(“CSRC”)监管程序, 制定关于正在考虑上市的公司是否为上海或深圳交易所上市的合理候选人的定性规定。因此,只有最大型且通常为国有企业的公司才被视为有资格获得这一特权。在美国,SEC 不制定该类规定。SEC 的职责是确保上市公司向投资大众充分披露所有相关财务以及其它与其企业相关的事实和风险。每位投资者决定其所感受的公司的价值大小。

        关于中国吸引力的另一个不能忽视的理由是,就外国和国内企业而言,中国在很多方面仍然是发展中国家;“发展中”意味着提供为企业、利润、扩展、激励等提供机会。作为进入小微型企业市场的一线人员,我们可以说,在其它发展中国家部署本文所关注的资本类型时,在美国极少专业投资企业能获得成功。

        经纪人-交易商(BDs)、发行代理商和私募基金考察了印度、越南、东南亚其它国家、阿根廷、巴西,但收获很小。当然,我们相信在上述地区中,还是存在一些成功上市的小型企业,并能够坚持下来的。但是据我们所知,数量不多。看下在交易所上市的来源国就能证明这一点。这不是说印度、巴西、阿根廷不存在成功使用部分或全部美国资本的企业,但是,他们不是小型或微型企业。

        为何“分分合合”?

        因此,若美国投资企业热衷中国,而中国又需要美国资本资助其小型和成长企业,哪里来的“分手”情节呢?简单来说,(1)存在大量中国发行相关的欺诈和疏忽的丑陋案例,并且(2)跟美方一样,股份上市的很多中国上市公司没有达到他们中国投资者的期望。由于美国和中国法律独特的相互作用(尤其是中国,适用中国企业外资所有权的法律),中国公司为在美国上市最常使用且为人所知的商业模式,如阿里巴巴(Alibaba )采用的,协议控制(VIE)结构。简单来说,VIE结构将经营实体(中国)与管理层和获得利润的实体(美国)分开;中国和美国的实体之间的关系通过协议控制。但是,因为在中国很难在司法上执行一份合同,因此很多受挫的企业只不过下市或选择停止其SEC 报告,因此基于所有实际目的成为美国上市公司或只是离开但继续持有其运营公司。

        我们认为,可以合理公正地说,在任何市场(NYSE、NASDAQ、LSE、Bourse等)上市的大多数公司,均有过挣扎或失败的时刻。毕竟,在准备进入这些市场时,你必须要知道,市场奖励表现好的企业,也会惩罚表现不好的企业。

        如何上市

        根据1934年《证券交易法》及其修订(“交易法”)之报告要求,公司有多种方法成为上市公司并使其股份在美国公开市场交易。根据传统的首次公开发行(“IPO”)程序,公司将聘请一名承销商向公众销售股票,根据1933年《证券法》及其修订(“证券法”)向证券交易委员会(“SEC”)提交初步登记上市报告。一旦SEC 审查了登记上市报告并说明其意见,公司将提交一份加速请求,使登记上市报告生效,并且股票将向公众发售。与此程序同时,与在OTC 市场交易相反,公司往往将申请其股票在交易所上市。在公司前几年,小型公司不使用传统的IPO 程序。较小公司不能满足交易所上市要求,即使IPO 通常利用反向并购作为替代上市方法。对于不能使用传统IPO程序的较小公司而言,存在能使其上市的多个替代方法,因此得到轻易获取资本的利益(往往是成为公开上市公司的主要利益)。其中一种上市替代方式叫做“自行登记”程序。需要根据《证券法》表格S-1登记向公众出售的原始股东股份,提交登记上市报告。公司登记上市报告的有效性取决于公司是否符合《证券法》报告要求,若公司符合条件,则将被允许在交易所上市。

        中国公司大多采用的是另一个替代方法:“反向并购”,是指上市公司(”Pubco”)与私人公司(”Privco”)之间的收购,根据该收购,Privco 的股东获得Pubco 的控制利益,有权任命 Pubco 的董事和高级管理人员。作为交易的一部分,Privco 的股东放弃Privco 的股份以换取 Pubco 的股份。基于法律目的,Pubco 实体不会变更,只有公司股东组成发生变更,但是基于会计目的,Privo 被认为是收购公司并且Privco 的财务报表成为 Pubco 的财务报表。反向并购的好处很多,包括用时较短、对时间进度的更多控制、低成本、管理资源的更少投入、对Privco 股东和现有股东基础的较少稀释。通常,在完成反向并购时,Privco 的股东接收Pubco 发行在外股份的90-99% ,并购之前的股东持有剩下1-10% 的股份。当然,反向并购不涉及募集资本。通常,反向并购中会有一位经纪人交易商通过私募方式募集资金。

        无论采用何种上市方式,成为美国上市公司需要专业律师和会计师。挑选专业人士或团队至为重要。没有富有经验的团队,进度将冗长,并且会产生不必要的过多费用。寻找团队的方法很多,但是最佳建议是找那些将此作为其重要执业部分的人士。简而言之,一直致力于这个业务方向的专业人士。您的承销商或发行代理商在您的团队建议方面可能很有帮助。他们将挑选此前他们合作过的并且证明能胜任工作的人士。

        律师

        上市并以上市公司运营将受到联邦政府、一些州政府和自我监管组织(例如交易所本身)的高度监管。其复杂度需要聘请在这些领域富有经验并且实际上每天都从事这些业务的律师和律师事务所。

        因为本文的作者为律师,因此我们将在上市融资方面就选择并与律师合作的话题提供我们的独特观点。企业家需要留心的两个简单事实是:a)大多数投资者、承销商或发行代理商喜欢他们所投资的公司聘请他们所知道的律师—这能降低融资来源、SEC 或投资者方面出错的风险以及  b)在美国大量律师事务所从事证券工作,因此可选数量很多,您需要确保选择能胜任工作的律所。通常选择您的融资来源批准的律所,并且通常选择在上市公司融资问题方面知名的律所。

        律所在上市程序中的作用主要是起草公司披露文件,在接受潜在投资者的资金之前,您公司和承销商或发行代理商将向他们提供该信息公开文件。免责文件告知投资者关于公司的历史、业务、业务潜在风险、未来计划以及公司所募资金的用途、公司管理层、管理层薪酬和任期、他们将购买的股票(通常为普通股)的特征以及至少过去两年经审计的财务报表。当然,由公司提供财务报表并经审计师而非律师审计,但是财务报表中引入的大量事实性陈述条款均由律师编制。若发生IPO,律师起草向SEC 提交的公司登记上市报告,该报告中包含招股说明书。SEC 审查登记上市报告并且常常对事实性陈述条款或财务报表反馈意见或问题。在审计师的帮助下,律师和公司回复这些意见或问题。在SEC 宣布登记上市报告“生效”并且公开发行开始之前,通常会有多轮意见和回复。

        一旦公司上市,律师将帮助您保持遵守证券法以及交易所规则的各个方面。除提交季度和年度财务报告之外,上市公司在其业务过程中需要向SEC 和交易所提交各种文件。例如,签订“重大协议”或开展“重要收购”都需要准备大量的报告。让股东投票的事项需要提交特殊文件。该要求非常具体并且具有高度技术性,要求律师的专业帮助。   让律师随时知道贵公司每一步发展进度、最新情况是很重要的,无论是新董事任命、签订重大协议、通过股票激励计划或甚至关联公司之间的公司股票交易,因为公司通常需要在很短时间之内就要提供相关的报告。

        一些大型律师事务所在中国和其它国家有办公室,但大多数从事中国融资交易的律师事务所却并没有如此。尽管如此,当挑选律师事务所时,确保律所有一支母语为中文的律师团队至关重要。根据我们的经验,即使创始人/企业家不说英语,想在美国融资的大多数中国公司中说英语的雇员通常为管理层。这通常对公司有利,但是有一支说中文的律师团队,在起草信息公开文件以及尽职调查过程中需要审阅公司文件时,是至关重要的。尽职调查是承销商或发行代理商开展的调查,通常通过其律师开展,以确认他们所相信以及公司告知的与公司历史和业务相关的所有事情。尽职调查程序几乎一直在公司办公室或工厂开展,并且通常需要一名律师事务所合伙人和一名或多名律师。团队中至少一名成员必须中文流利否则工作将持续特别长时间,对公司业务造成影响,并且令参与的所有人极度沮丧。

        当然,与律师事务所打交道时,财务安排是很重要的问题。大多数律师事务所均非常清楚无论特定交易是IPO,反向并购或私募所产生的费用。如果他们不清楚,那就说明您找的这家律所无法胜任。大多数律所按小时数乘以每小时费率计费,按月发账单。新兴公司或处于早期融资阶段的公司通常不能接受该种计费方式。如果基于某种原因,融资未能成功,这一点对公司有极大破坏力。大多数律所现在愿意使用替代计费结构。他们可能愿意按约定费用或最高额报价。任何情况下,当工作开始时公司通常支付首付款,在某些里程碑节点支付另一笔费用,可能是完成披露文件或提交登记上市报告,然后是剩余款项,通常是费用的50%-70%,当公司收到融资款项,在交易交割的时候进行最后支付。若由于任何原因,融资不成功,大多数律所预先同意“终止交易”费,通常为剩余款项的一小部分。

        除美国律师之外,公司同样应聘请当地中国律师对与在美国上市的相关中国法律和法规提供意见,特别是上市公司架构是否符合中国法律。

        就在美国上市的中国公司而言,通常使用两种结构:(i)简单的离岸结构,离岸控股公司将从其中国股东收购国内公司股权,以及(ii)协议控制 结构,离岸控股公司将在中国设立新的全资子公司,通过一系列协议控制并收取国内公司的经济利益(“VIE”)。因为根据中国法律某些外资企业存在行业限制,因此需要VIE结构。VIE 结构非常普遍并且很多主流的中国互联网公司采用此结构在 NASDAQ 或 NYSE 上市。

        尽管被普遍使用,但是VIE 结构呈现出很多风险,例如缺少中国政府部门的正式审批以及规避中国监管机构的监管。虽然VIE 协议不允许其外资投资者直接持有运营公司的股权,但是中国政府部门可能认为该外商投资间接持股限制行业未获得所有必要审批。中国政府未颁布任何法律或法规以执行或否定VIE结构的合法性,但是中国政府对VIE结构表达了不同的观点和意见。若国家或地方政府否决VIE结构,公司可能面临政府部门要求解除VIE结构的风险,这取决于不同的政府政策。

        对企业来说重要的是,咨询其中国律师以清楚理解VIE结构怎样搭建,使用该结构的理由,以及使用VIE 结构所涉及的风险。

        审计师

        为了在公开发行或任何上市融资中建立投资者信心,特别是机构投资者之间,我们认为大多数专业人士会同意挑选审计师可以认为是最重要的因素。

        与知名承销商合作的大多数大型公司通常使用四家顶级国际会计师事务所之一,即安永、德勤、普华永道和毕马威。

        微型和小型企业公开发行时,小型发行人经常很难承担四家顶级或者甚至前十家会计师事务所的费用。有很多小型会计师事务所与中国公司合作的经验非常丰富,有些特别受中国公司欢迎。根据美国公司治理和萨班斯法案,上市公司审计师不由公司管理层挑选,而是由董事会审计委员会挑选。   审计委员会通常由三名独立董事组成,其中至少一名成员精通阅读和理解GAAP 和/或 IFRS 财务报表。

        审计师不仅审计公司向SEC 提交的年度财务报表,而且审查公司同样提交给SEC 的未经审计的季度财务报表。

        审计师的作用不是组合或起草公司的财务报表,而是证明其准确性。财务报表的审计报告实质上说明,根据审计师的“意见”,财务报表合法地说明了公司的财务情况。关于中国上市公司,历史上大多数与欺诈或误导财务信息相关的问题,是由于在某些情况下,财务报表发布的事实不正确,或者是公司欺诈修改公司财务数据的结果。例如,多年前一家在美国上市的中国公司的管理层,在银行向其中层人员付款,以向审计师和在公司做尽职调查的人员虚报公司现金存款。

        在挑选上市公司审计师的时候,再次建议您最好是咨询下您的承销商或发行代理商,听取一下他们的推荐。价格往往是一个因素,但不是至为重要的因素。有些审计事务所很便宜,但是通常工作不准确或被SEC 和公众所质疑。寻找一位在中国完成很多交易的知名审计师,并且最好是在中国有其工作人员。事实上,SEC 曾指出,很多在中国工作的美国审计师仅使用当地的中档会计师(并非审计事务所的成员)开展工作。咨询其它上市公司的意见,并且了解他们对其审计师的想法。很多审计师经美国上市公司会计监管委员会(“PCAOB”)审批,并且在帮助中国公司方面有丰富的工作经验。

        除公认且受到推崇外,为上市公司工作的审计师须经PCAOB 审批,PCAOB 制定上市公司审计工作的标准。前往 PCAOB 网站,查找已审批的事务所名单便可很容易知道您的审计师是否是PCAOB 成员。

        承销商/发行代理商/发起人

        没有承销商或发行代理商的帮助,美国小型/中型公司很难募集任何重大资本,事实上中国公司也是如此。

        首先,什么是承销商或发行代理商?如果略过过于专业化且与法律/SEC 定义相关解释,承销商通过公开发行(通常是IPO)为公司募集资金,发行代理商无需通过SEC 对公开发行要求的证券登记程序为公司募集资金。通过将证券销售对象限制为精明的投资者,并且为他们提供公司及其历史和财务情况的详细信息(很像公开发行中能知道的信息但是多少有些省略)而实现融资。承销商和发行代理商是经纪人/交易商(“BD”)并且经SEC “许可”,是FINRA 的成员,FINRA是一个准政府行业监管机构。作为一般规则,BD 通常在不同时期不同场合同时通过上市和私募为公司募集资金。

        虽然大的BDs 在包括中国在内的其它国家有办公室,他们大多数办公室在美国,因此不太有机会接触中国企业。因为中国拥有第二大数量的在美上市公司,仅次于美国本身,“发起人”将中国公司介绍给承销商和发行代理商。正如其美国法下的协议合法性,发起人的协议类型普遍不同。考虑这种协议类型的公司应咨询律师,获得与发起人合作过的其他公司的参考意见,以及查阅发起人已经完成的大量交易,评估作为上市公司他们如何操作(不仅仅是发起人的责任)。通常发起人会预收所有或大部分上市费用,包括审计师费用、法律服务费用和投资者关系公司的费用。这种协议类型合法,并且同时确保您的发起人对圆满完成项目拥有浓厚兴趣。根据美国证券法,发起人不能仅因为向公司介绍了直接或间接融资资源而获得报酬。

        通常并且与项目具有浓厚兴趣相关,发起人以股票作为其费用。公司愿意放弃的股票数量取决于费用负担以及发起人完成的工作。一位优秀的发起人会多次前往公司的办公场所,详细了解业务和相关工作人员。他通常会陪同承销商或发行代理商一起拜访,并且咨询全部所涉人员以确保公司获得合理估值。

        投资者关系公司

        事实上,每个美国上市公司都会聘请一位或多位投资者关系/上市关系(“IR”)公司。IR 公司的作用很重要,但仍然稍微有点混乱。往往是公司和IR 公司如何理解其作用。至少,IR 公司通常会在公司发生重大的、好或坏的事情的时候帮助起草媒体新闻(通常与律师必需准备的SEC 所要求的文件相关)。若公司管理层决定召开季度收益电话会议,他们也会从旁协助。管理成准备好公布季度财务结果时,就会召开收益电话会议。该电话会议向投资者、BDs 以及财经媒体成员开放。在管理层(通常是CFO,若其语言相当流利)发布结果后,通常会讨论未来的结果将怎样,然后是答疑环节。IR 公司帮助管理层准备其评论,并且预演可能的问题。 IR 公司通常在电话会议中会安排人与管理层坐一起。

        IR 公司起草公司一般发行的说明书,帮助维护保持公司的网页,并组织非融资目的的各地宣传。非融资目的的宣传是IR 公司安排的行程以满足各种 BDs 和全国各地机构投资者的要求,他们可能对公司的股票极具兴趣,推荐他们的客户购买该股票。术语“非融资目的”仅指这种宣传并非基于推动公司所从事的特定融资目的。

        并不是所有 IR 公司从事以上所有事情,这就是为何公司聘请多家IR 公司。例如,某具体IR 公司可能很擅长开展各地宣传,但是不擅长举行收益电话会议。同样,IR 公司大小各异,从一人公司到精品店,再到在很多城市拥有办公室的全国性公司。还有的IR 公司专门擅长于某行业,例如医疗保健。

        IR 公司通常协议聘请一年或多年,并且按月支付费用。经常,微型和小型公司的费用部分用现金支付,部分用公司证券(股票或期权)支付。   这些合同中规定了终止费,若公司对服务不满意,就可以终止合同,对IR 服务不满意是公司对IR 团队最常见的投诉。一个很明显的理由是,公司雇佣IR 公司尤其希望其努力促使公司的股票上涨,以带来公司的市总值增加。那也会使公司更容易为公司募集其它资本。当然没有IR 公司能保证结果,并且结果或缺乏结果通常取决于公司的业绩。另一方面,除了向媒体发送新闻稿之外,IR公司做的很少或不参与什么工作,通常新闻稿是由公司起草的。

        挑选合适的IR 公司对公司及其重要,重要程度与其寻找有能力的IR 人员的难度是一样的。

        撰稿 Jay Kaplowitz, 王伟曹丽嘉