February 2, 2024
Among the meaningful changes in the Final Rules, the Commission did not adopt a safe harbor from the “investment company” definition under the Investment Company Act of 1940, as amended (the “Investment Company Act”) for SPACs.
On January 24, 2024, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (the “Commission”), by a three-to-two vote, adopted new rules and amendments (the “Final Rules”) to enhance disclosure and investor protections in initial public offerings (“IPO”) by special purpose acquisition companies (“SPACs”) and in subsequent business combinations between SPACs and private operating companies (“de-SPAC transaction”).
The Final Rules are thematically aligned with the rule proposal issued by the Commission nearly two years ago in March 2020, but with meaningful changes as noted below, including not adopting a safe harbor from the “investment company” definition under the Investment Company Act of 1940, as amended (the “Investment Company Act”) for SPACs.
The adopting release for the Final Rules (the “Adopting Release”) provides a lengthy and comprehensive discussion that builds upon the Commission’s prior statements and actions regarding SPAC IPOs and de-SPAC transactions. As noted by the Commission’s Chair, Gary Gensler, in the accompanying press release, the Final Rules are intended to “help ensure that the rules for SPACs are substantially aligned with those of traditional IPOs.” Chair Gensler further noted that the measures adopted in the Final Rules “will help protect investors by addressing information asymmetries, misleading information, and conflicts of interest in SPAC and de-SPAC transactions.”
The Adopting Release is available here and a Fact Sheet is available here. The Final Rules will become effective 125 days after publication in the Federal Register. Compliance with the structured data requirements, which require tagging of information disclosed pursuant to new subpart 1600 of Regulation S-K in Inline XBRL, will be required 490 days after publication of the rules in the Federal Register.
There are four key components of the Final Rules:
We provide below our key takeaways, a summary of the Final Rules and links to Commissioner statements regarding the Final Rules.
II. Key Takeaways
Below are the key takeaways from the Final Rules:
III. Summary of Final Rules
1. New Subpart 1600 of Regulation S-K
The Final Rules create a new Subpart 1600 of Regulation S-K solely related to SPAC IPOs and de-SPAC transactions. Among other things, this new Subpart 1600 prescribes specific disclosure requirements with respect to the sponsor, potential conflicts of interest, potential shareholder dilution, and fairness to shareholders.
Sponsor, Affiliates, and Promoters
To provide investors with a more complete understanding of the role of SPAC sponsors, affiliates, and promoters, the Commission has adopted Item 1603(a) of Regulation S-K, to require:
Potential Conflicts of Interest
To provide investors with a more complete understanding of the potential conflicts of interest between (i) any SPAC sponsor or affiliate, target company officers and directors, or the SPAC’s officers, directors, or promoters, and (ii) unaffiliated security holders of the SPAC, the Commission adopted a new Item 1603(b) of Regulation S-K. This new Item includes a discussion of conflicts arising as a result of a determination to proceed with a de-SPAC transaction and from the manner in which a SPAC compensates the sponsor or the SPAC’s executive officers and directors, or the manner in which the sponsor compensates its own executive officers and directors.
Relatedly, Item 1603(c) of Regulation S-K will require disclosure of the fiduciary duties that each officer and director of a SPAC owes to other companies.
Sources of Dilution
In an effort to conform and enhance disclosure relating to dilution in SPAC IPOs and de-SPAC transactions, the Commission has adopted Items 1602 and 1604 of Regulation S-K, respectively.
Board Determination Regarding De-SPAC Transaction
Under Item 1606, if the law of the jurisdiction of the SPAC’s organization requires the SPAC’s board of directors to determine whether the de-SPAC transaction is advisable and in the best interests of the SPAC and its shareholders, then the SPAC will be required to disclose that determination. Item 1606 of Regulation S-K will also require a discussion, of the material factors considered in making that determination. This is one of the few areas of the Final Rule where the Commission declined to adopt a more stringent standard, with the initial proposed rule creating a potential “backdoor” opinion requirement by asking that a board of directors affirmatively state whether it reasonably believes a de-SPAC transaction, including any related financing, was fair to the unaffiliated securityholders of the SPAC.
Relatedly, if any director voted against, or abstained from voting on, approval of the de-SPAC transaction or any related financing transaction, SPACs would be required to identify the director, and indicate, if known, after making reasonable inquiry, the reasons for the vote against the transaction or abstention.
2. Aligning De-SPAC Transactions with IPOs
Target Company as Co-Registrant
Under the current rules, only the SPAC and its officers and directors are required to sign the registration statement and are liable for material misstatements or omissions. The Final Rules require the target company to be treated as a co-registrant with the SPAC when a Form S-4 or Form F-4 registration statement is filed by the SPAC in connection with a de-SPAC transaction. Registrant status for a target company and its officers and directors will result in such parties being liable for material misstatements or omissions pursuant to Section 11 of the Securities Act. Under the Final Rules, target companies and their officers and directors will be liable with respect to their own material misstatements or omissions, as well as any material misstatements or omissions made by the SPAC or its officers and directors. As a result, the Final Rules seeks to further incentivize target companies and SPACs to be diligent in monitoring each other’s disclosure.
Smaller Reporting Company Status
Currently, de-SPAC companies are able to avail themselves – as almost all SPACs have done since 2016 – of the smaller reporting company rules for at least one year following the de-SPAC transaction (and most SPACs would still retain this status at the time of the de-SPAC transaction when the SPAC is the legal acquirer of the target company). The “smaller reporting company” status benefits the combined company after the de-SPAC transaction by availing it of scaled disclosure and other accommodations as it adjusts to being a public company.
Citing the disparate treatment between traditional IPO companies and de-SPAC companies (the former having to determine smaller reporting company status at the time it files its initial registration statement and the latter retaining the SPAC’s smaller reporting company status until the next annual determination date), the Final Rules require de-SPAC companies to determine compliance with the public float threshold (i.e., public float of (i) less than $250 million, or (ii) in addition to annual revenues less than $100 million, less than $700 million or no public float) prior to the time it makes its first filing with the Commission (other than the Form 8-K filed with Form 10 information).
The public float must be measured as of a date within four business days after the consummation of the de-SPAC transaction. The revenue threshold must be determined by using the annual revenues of the target company as of the most recently completed fiscal year for which audited financial statements are available. The de-SPAC company must reflect its re-determination in its first periodic report due after a 45-day period following the consummation of the de-SPAC transaction.
Target companies will need to consider the burdens of additional reporting requirements in light of the potential of not being able to qualify as a smaller reporting company following their de-SPAC transactions.
PSLRA Safe Harbor
The PSLRA provides a safe harbor for forward-looking statements under the Securities Act and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (the “Exchange Act”), under which a company is protected from liability for forward-looking statements in any private right of action under the Securities Act or Exchange Act when, among other things, the forward-looking statement is identified as such and is accompanied by meaningful cautionary statements.
The safe harbor, however, is not available when the forward looking statement is made in connection with an offering by a “blank check company,” a company that is (i) a development stage company with no specific business plan or purpose or has indicated that its business plan is to engage in a merger or acquisition with an unidentified company or companies, or other entity or person, and (ii) is issuing “penny stock.”
Because of the penny stock requirement, many practitioners have considered SPACs to be afforded protection under the PSLRA safe harbor as it does not otherwise meet the second prong of the definition of blank check company for purposes of the PSLRA safe harbor. The Final Rules will adopt a new definition of “blank check company” for purposes of the PSLRA to remove the penny stock requirement, thus effectively removing a SPAC’s ability to qualify for the PSLRA safe harbor provision for the de-SPAC transaction.
This inability to rely on the PSLRA is coupled with the Final Rules’ addition of new and modified projections disclosure requirements (as further discussed below). It remains unclear whether the application of the Final Rules will lead to changes in the use of projections and assumptions (especially considering the current environment where market participants, investors, and financiers have come to expect detailed projections disclosure, similar to what is used in public merger and acquisitions (“M&A”) transactions), or the abandonment of projections in assessing and marketing a de-SPAC transaction.
Underwriter Status and Liability
Historically, Section 11 and Section 12(a)(2) of the Securities Act have imposed underwriter liability on underwriters of a SPAC’s IPO. The Commission declined to adopt its proposal to establish that a de-SPAC transaction would constitute a “distribution” under applicable underwriter regulations, which would have automatically extended underwriter liability to the SPAC IPO underwriter if it engaged in certain de-SPAC activities or compensation arrangements.
Instead, the Final Rules provide general guidance regarding statutory underwriter status, following its “longstanding practice of applying the statutory terms “distribution” and “underwriter” broadly and flexibly, as the facts and circumstances of any transaction may warrant.” The Commission may find a “statutory underwriter” where someone is selling for the issuer or participating in the distribution of securities in the combined company to the SPAC’s investors and the broader public, even though it may not be named as an underwriter in any given offering or may not be engaged in activities typical of a named underwriter in traditional capital raising.
The Commission’s extensive broad interpretation of the concept of “statutory underwriter,” coupled with the traditional “due diligence” defenses of underwriters, suggests that SPACs and target companies should expect extensive diligence requests from financial institutions, advisors, and their counsel in connection with a de-SPAC transaction, requests from investment banks that advisors to a SPAC and its target provide negative assurance and comfort letters in connection with the de-SPAC transaction, and other related changes to the de-SPAC transaction process that add complexity, time, and cost.
3. Business Combinations Involving Shell Companies
The Commission’s concern related to private companies becoming U.S. public companies via de-SPAC transactions is substantially related to the perceived opportunity for such private companies to avoid “Securities Act registration and the related disclosures which are intended to protect investors.”
Based on the structure of certain de-SPAC transactions, the Commission expressed concern that, unlike investors in transaction structures in which the Securities Act applies (and a registration statement would be filed, absent an exemption), investors in reporting shell companies may not always receive the disclosures and other protection afforded by the Securities Act at the time the change in the nature of their investment occurs, due to the business combination involving another entity that is not a shell company.
Rule 145a intends to address the issue by deeming any direct or indirect business combination of a reporting shell company (other than a business combination related shell company) involving another entity that is not a shell company constitutes “a sale of securities to the reporting shell company’s shareholders.” By deeming such transaction to be a “sale” of securities for the purposes of the Securities Act, the Final Rule is intended to address potential disparities in the disclosure and liability protections available to shareholders of reporting shell companies, depending on the transaction structure deployed.
Rule 145a defines a reporting shell company as a company (other than an asset-backed issuer as defined in Item 1101(b) of Regulation AB) that has:
The Final Rule notes that the sales covered by Rule 145a will not be covered by the exemption provided under Section 3(a)(9) of the Securities Act, because the exchange of securities would not be exclusively with the reporting shell company’s existing security holders, but also would include the target company’s existing security holders.
We would also note that this provision has broader market implications as it would apply to all reporting shell companies (other than a “business combination related shell company,” as defined in Rule 405 under the Securities Act and Rule 12b-2 under the Exchange Act), and not just SPAC transactions.
Financial Statement Requirements in Business Combination Transactions Involving Shell Companies
The Final Rule amends the financial statements required to be provided in a business combination with an intention to bridge the gap between such financial statements and the financial statements required to be provided in an IPO. The Commission views such Final Rule as simply codifying “current staff guidance for transactions involving shell companies.” While the below information is presented in the context of a de-SPAC transaction, we would note that these requirements will apply to all shell companies (other than a “business combination related shell company,” as defined in Rule 405 under the Securities Act and Rule 12b-2 under the Exchange Act), and not just SPAC transactions.
Number of Years of Financial Statements
Rule 15-01(b) will require a registration statement for a de-SPAC transaction where a business is combining with a shell company registrant to include the same financial statements for that business as would be required in a Securities Act registration statement for an IPO of that business.
Rule 15-01(a) will require the examination of the financial statements of a business that is or will be a predecessor to a shell company to be audited by an independent accountant in accordance with the standards of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (“PCAOB”) for the purpose of expressing an opinion, to the same extent as a registrant would be audited for an IPO, effectively codifying the staff’s existing guidance.
Age of Financial Statements
Rule 15-01(c) will provide for the age of the financial statements of a business involved in a business combination with a shell company to be based on whether such private company would qualify as a smaller reporting company in a traditional IPO process, ultimately aligning with the financial statement requirements in a traditional IPO.
Acquisitions of a Business or Real Estate Operation by a Predecessor
The Commission is implementing a series of rules intended to clarify when companies should disclose financial statements of businesses acquired by SPAC targets or where such business are probable of being acquired by SPAC targets. Rule 15-01(d) will address situations where financial statements of other businesses (other than the predecessor) that have been acquired or are probable to be acquired should be included in a registration statement or proxy/information statement for a de-SPAC transaction. The Final Rule will require application of Rule 3-05 and Rule 8-04 (or Rule 3-14 and Rule 8-06 with respect to real estate operation) of Regulation S-X to acquisitions by a predecessor to the shell company, which the staff views as codifying its existing guidance.
Amendments to the significance tests in Rule 1-02(w) of Regulation S-X will require the significance of the acquisition target of the private target in a de-SPAC transaction to be calculated using the SPAC’s target’s financial information, rather than the SPAC’s financial information.
In addition, Rule 15-01(d)(2) will require the de-SPAC company to file the financial statements of a recently acquired business, that is not or will not be its predecessor pursuant to Rule 3-05(b)(4)(i) in an Item 2.01(f) of Form 8-K filed in connection with the closing of the de-SPAC transaction where such financial statements were omitted from the registration statement for the de-SPAC transaction, to the extent the significance of the acquisition is greater than 20% but less than 50%.
Financial Statements of a Shell Company Registrant after the Combination with Predecessor
Rule 15-01(e) allows a registrant to exclude the financial statements of a SPAC for the period prior to the de-SPAC transaction if (i) all financial statements of the SPAC have been filed for all required periods through the de-SPAC transaction, and (ii) the financial statements of the registrant include the period on which the de-SPAC transaction was consummated. The Final Rule eliminates any distinction between a de-SPAC structured as a forward acquisition or a reverse recapitalization.
In addition, the Final Rules are also addressing the following related amendments:
4. Enhanced Projections Disclosure
Disclosure of financial projections is not expressly required by the U.S. federal securities laws; however, it has been common practice for SPACs to use projections of the target company and post-de-SPAC company in its assessment of a proposed de-SPAC transaction, its investor presentations, and soliciting material once a definitive agreement is executed.
The Final Rules amend existing Commission guidance under Item 10(b) of Regulation S-K with respect to the use of any projections of future economic performance for any registrant and persons other than the registrant for any filings subject to Regulation S-K, as well as to add new, supplemental disclosure requirements applying only to de-SPAC transactions, under the new Item 1609 of Regulation S‑K.
Amended Item 10(b) of Regulation S-K
Under Item 10(b) of Regulation S-K, management may present projections regarding a registrant’s future performance, provided that (i) there is a reasonable and good faith basis for such projections, and (ii) they include disclosure of the assumptions underlying the projections and the limitations of such projections, and the presentation and format of such projections. Citing concerns of instances where target companies have disclosed projections that lack a reasonable basis, the Final Rules amend Item 10(b) of Regulation S-K as follows:
Important to note that the guidance in the amended Item 10(b) applies to all projections of future economic performance of any registrant and persons other than the registrant that are included in the registrant’s filings with the Commission (not only to de-SPAC transactions).
Proposed Item 1609 of Regulation S-K
In light of the traditional SPAC sponsor compensation structure (i.e., compensation in the form of post-closing equity) and the potential incentives and overall dynamics of a de-SPAC transaction, the Commission has adopted a new rule specific to de-SPAC transactions that will supplement the amendments to Item 10(b) of Regulation S-K (as discussed above). Specifically, the new Item 1609 of Regulation S-K that will require SPACs to provide the accompanying disclosures to financial projections:
Similar to the amendments to Item 10(b), the first two requirements summarized above should not come as a particular surprise to existing SPACs and their counsel as projections disclosure has been a significant area of scrutiny by the Commission in the registration statement and proxy statement review process.
We note, however, that the requirement under Item 1609 to add disclosure as to management’s and/or the board’s current views likely will require additional disclosure beyond what has been typical market practice. In particular, projections disclosure in a registration statement or proxy statement is often made in the context of a historical lookback to the projections in place at the time the board of directors of the SPAC assessed whether to enter into a de-SPAC transaction with the target company. These projections typically are not updated with newer data during the pendency of the transaction since the purpose of such disclosure is to inform investors of the board’s rationale for approving the transaction. Item 1609 does not explicitly require the updating of projections, but it does require the parties to disclose whether the included projections reflect the view of the SPAC and the target company as of the date of filing. Moreover, the potential to provide revised projections, coupled with obligations to disclose management’s and board’s continuing views, may prove challenging disclosure to be made between the signing of a business combination agreement and the filing of a registration statement or proxy statement and during the review period for such registration statement or proxy statement.
5. Status of SPACs under the Investment Company Act of 1940
Because pre-transaction SPACs are not engaged in any meaningful business other than investing their IPO proceeds, there has been uncertainty regarding whether they are “investment companies” under the Investment Company Act of 1940. The Proposed Rules included a safe harbor that would have excluded certain SPACs from being defined as investment companies; however, the Commission instead set forth in the Final Rules facts and circumstances guidance relevant to investment-company classification using the five Tonopah factors employed in the standard analysis.
SPACs should carefully assess all the facts and circumstances to determine whether they must register as investment companies. In particular, they should pay attention to the 12- and 18-month thresholds and whether investment securities account for most of their assets, income, or efforts.
These Final Rules come as no surprise to SPAC market participants. Indeed, a comparison of existing de-SPAC transaction disclosure practices with many of the Final Rules merely evidences a codification of what the market has already adopted and anticipated over the nearly twenty-two month period since the Proposed Rules were first released. While the market appears to have already anticipated some of these changes, it remains to be seen whether the Final Rules will have any meaningful effect on current market conditions, as evidenced by the substantial retraction in the SPAC market over the last year, or if the SPAC market itself has naturally run its course in light of broader macro-economic trends.
Although we may view many of the Final Rules as reiterating the status quo, the Commission’s efforts here are noteworthy in that the Final Rules also touch upon broader market considerations. For example, the Final Rules’ facts and circumstances guidance with respect to the applicability of “underwriter” or “investment company” status, and the changes to Item 10(b) related to projections disclosure, are not limited solely to SPACs and should be considered relevant to other public market participants and advisors in similar and adjacent circumstances. As a result, we encourage our clients and public market participants to reach out to us to see how this rulemaking may affect their going-forward operations and business plans.
V. Commissioner Statements
For the published statements of the Commissioners, please see the following links:
 U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Special Purpose Acquisition Companies, Shell Companies, and Projections, Exchange Act Release No. 99418 (January 24, 2024) (“Final Rules”), available at https://www.sec.gov/files/rules/final/2024/33-11265.pdf.
 For our discussion of the proposed rules, see Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, SEC Proposes Rules to Align SPACs More Closely with IPOs (April 6, 2022), available at https://www.gibsondunn.com/sec-proposes-rules-to-align-spacs-more-closely-with-ipos/.
 See Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, SEC Staff Issues Cautionary Guidance Related to Business Combinations with SPACs (April 6, 2021), link here (addressing certain accounting, financial reporting and governance issues related to SPACs and the combined company following a SPAC business combination), see also Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, SEC Division of Corporation Finance Issues Interpretations Addressed to SPACs’ Business Combinations (March 24, 2022), link here (discussing new Compliance and Disclosure Interpretations that addressed certain issues related to the business combination process of de-SPAC transactions), and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, SEC Publishes C&DIs Addressing Tender Offer Issues (March 17, 2023), link here (discussing new Compliance and Disclosure Interpretations that addressed various tender offer issues in connection with de-SPAC transactions).
 U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Press Release (2024-8), SEC Adopts Rules to Enhance Investor Protections Relating to SPACs, Shell Companies, and Projections (January 24, 2024), available at https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2024-8.
 Under Section 6(a) of the Securities Act, each “issuer” must sign a Securities Act registration statement. The Securities Act broadly defines the term “issuer” to include every person who issues or proposes to issue any securities.
 The term “penny stock” is defined in 17 CFR 240.3a51-1.
 Section 11 of the Securities Act imposes on underwriters, among other parties identified in Section 11(a), civil liability for any part of the registration statement, at effectiveness, which contained an untrue statement of a material fact or omitted to state a material fact required to be stated therein or necessary to make the statements therein not misleading, to any person acquiring such security. Further, Section 12(a)(2) imposes liability upon anyone, including underwriters, who offers or sells a security, by means of a prospectus or oral communication, which includes an untrue statement of a material fact or omits to state a material fact necessary in order to make the statements, in the light of the circumstances under which they were made, not misleading, to any person purchasing such security from them.
 Although the Securities Act does not expressly require an underwriter to conduct a due diligence investigation, the Final Rules reiterates the Commission’s long-standing view that underwriters nonetheless have an affirmative obligation to conduct reasonable due diligence. Final Rules, p. 288. This was also mentioned by the Commission in fn. 184 of the Proposed Rule (citing In re Charles E. Bailey & Co., 35 S.E.C. 33, at 41 (Mar. 25, 1953) (“[An underwriter] owe[s] a duty to the investing public to exercise a degree of care reasonable under the circumstances of th[e] offering to assure the substantial accuracy of representations made in the prospectus and other sales literature.”); In re Brown, Barton & Engel, 41 SEC 59, at 64 (June 8, 1962) (“[I]n undertaking a distribution . . . [the underwriter] had a responsibility to make a reasonable investigation to assure [itself] that there was a basis for the representations they made and that a fair picture, including adverse as well as favorable factors, was presented to investors.”); In the Matter of the Richmond Corp., infra note 185 (“It is a well-established practice, and a standard of the business, for underwriters to exercise diligence and care in examining into an issuer’s business and the accuracy and adequacy of the information contained in the registration statement . . . The underwriter who does not make a reasonable investigation is derelict in his responsibilities to deal fairly with the investing public.”)).
 For example, the Commission cites to recent enforcement actions against SPACs, alleging the use of baseless or unsupported projections about future revenues and the use of materially misleading underlying financial projections. See, e.g., In the Matter of Momentus, Inc., et al., Exch. Act Rel. No. 34-92391 (July 13, 2021); SEC vs. Hurgin, et al., Case No. 1:19-cv05705 (S.D.N.Y., filed June 18, 2019); In the Matter of Benjamin H. Gordon, Exch. Act Rel. No. 34-86164 (June 20, 2019); and SEC vs. Milton, Case No. 1:21-cv-6445 (S.D.N.Y., filed July 29, 2021).
 The Final Rules made three technical revisions to item 10(b). The first two changes are to enhance clarity and avoid potential ambiguity. The third revision is to create consistency with the terms used in existing Item 10(e)(1)(i)(A) of Regulation S-K. In Item 10(b)(2)(i), they replaced the term “foregoing measures of income” with the term “foregoing measurers of income (loss).” In Item 10(b)(2)(iii), they replaced the term “historical financial measure” with the term “historical financial results.” In Item 10(b)(2)(iv), they revised the item to require a description of the GAAP financial measure “most directly comparable” to the non-GAAP measure, rather than “mostly closely related.”
 Two examples of “discount rates” are: (1) the weighted average cost of capital used to discount to present value the future cash flows over the period of years projected in a discounted cash flow analysis and (2) the rate applied to the terminal value in a discounted cash flow analysis to calculate its present value.
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