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ASX has introduced temporary relief to facilitate emergency capital raising by ASX-listed entities until 31 July 2020. ASX has introduced this relief as recognition that many ASX-listed entities will need to urgently raise capital in the coming months to sustain their operations and protect themselves from a steep drop in revenue caused by the economic disruptions of COVID-19.
Many ASX-listed entities are going to come to the conclusion in the coming weeks and months that raising capital is necessary. During a crisis such as this, effective boards should remain informed about the relief available to them and consider whether their financial situation warrants taking advantage of such relief.
ASX is introducing three key measures as part of this temporary relief:
Back-to-back trading halts: ASX will permit an entity to request two consecutive trading halts (enabling up to a 4 day trading halt) to consider, plan and complete a capital raising.
Increase in the 15% placement capacity to 25%: ASX has increased the 15% limit on placements in listing rule 7.1 to 25%. Entities that already have shareholder approval for the additional 10% placement capacity under listing rule 7.1A will be able to elect to use that additional placement capacity or the additional 10% placement capacity available under this temporary measure, not both. Entities who utilise this temporary additional capacity must also offer securities under a pro-rata entitlement offer or a follow-on offer under an SPP to retail investors at the same or lower price.
The increase in placement capacity is a one-off measure meaning, once utilised, an ASX-listed entity will not be able to replenish its temporary extra placement capacity. Furthermore, ASX will only allow listed entities to undertake one placement to take advantage of their temporary extra placement capacity. Should a listed entity seek to undertake more than one placement using their temporary extra placement capacity, the entity will need to approach ASX for an individual waiver.
Waiver of the one-for-one cap on non-renounceable entitlement offers: ASX will waive the requirement that the ratio of securities offered under a standard non-renouncement entitlement offer must not be greater than one security for each security held by a shareholder. The waiver of the one-for-one cap provided in listing rule 7.11.3 will apply to standard non renounceable entitlement offers and ANREOs. (Renounceable offers may still be offered at a ratio greater than 1 for 1, but we would expect that in many cases non-renounceable offer structures will be required in order for the offer to be successful.)
The above measures will be implemented by class waivers, meaning there is no requirement for ASX-listed entities to apply individually to gain access to the above relief measures. ASX will review the above measures with industry participants closer to 31 July 2020 to determine whether they warrant an extension or alteration if they are not have the desired effect on capital raisings.
ASX has also advised that it supports the guidance given by ASIC in its "Market Integrity Update – COVID-19 Special Issue – 31 March 2020" which clarified ASIC's expectations regarding fair treatment of retail shareholders in capital raisings. Importantly, as part of its relief measures, ASIC has increased the allowable suspension period for listed entities undertaking "low doc" offers (including rights offers, placements and SPPs) to include listed entities that have been suspended for a total of up to 10 days in the previous 12-month period (the previously allowable limit was up to 5 days in the previous 12-month period).
ASX also reiterated its expectation that capital raising will be conducted in the best interest of the entity – such as the need for quick and certain capital and that the capital raising relief being provided will not be abused by listed entities.
ASX, in consultation with ASIC, has now released updated temporary class waivers that will apply to capital raisings announced on or after 23 April 2020.
Since ASX released the initial class waivers, there have been a significant number of equity capital raisings, with several entities seeking to rely on the increased placement capacity to quickly raise cash to support their businesses or continue to pursue growth opportunities in the current COVID-19 crisis. While the temporary measures implemented by ASX to facilitate capital raisings in these challenging times have been applauded by many, they have also drawn criticism. For example, some comments are directed to the perceived unfairness of preferencing institutional investors through the placement at the expense of existing high net worth and retail shareholders or the dark arts of the share allocation process.
However, there's more sides to this story of course, for example: share purchase plans can make many retail shareholders whole; high net worth shareholders can often bid into placements directly or through brokers (and some smart minds are looking to enhance this ability); boards will generally look to encourage participation by existing shareholders; some institutional investors are quality long-term investors that will enhance a register for the benefit of all shareholders; new cornerstone investors can be necessary to get deals away; and covering a retail "tail" with sub-underwriting to promote deal certainty can be harder than you think. The list goes on, reflecting the reality that every deal is different and that the fundraising process can be more art than science.
ASX is attuned to these intricacies and, having moved with considered speed, has refined its model. It requires details in advance around the proposed use of the 25% placement waiver and is willing to refuse access to the waiver where it feels it is unwarranted. The changes made in the updated waivers include enhanced disclosure obligations that seek to promote transparency in relation to the allocation processes adopted by entities that rely on the increased placement capacity in a way that reflects multiple sides of the story.
The most significant changes to the temporary class waivers have been to include additional disclosure requirements for those listed entities relying on the temporary extra placement capacity waiver (which increases the limit on placements from 15% to 25%). ASX have also included a number of changes to clarify the operation of the temporary class waivers.
The amendments to the temporary extra placement capacity class waiver include the following:
ASX has increased the disclosure requirements for entities wishing to rely on the increased placement capacity class waiver. Entities must announce to the market the following matters within 5 business days of completion of the placement:
Listed entities relying on the waiver must also provide ASIC and ASX with an allocation spreadsheet (not for release to the market) containing details of participants and the number of shares allocated to each participant.
These enhanced disclosure obligations have been supported by ASIC, stating that "ASIC will be reviewing the allocation spreadsheets and monitoring the disclosures made by companies about placements, rights offers and SPPs to ensure they are accurate, sufficiently detailed and provide meaningful, rather than ‘boiler plate’ disclosure".
Where there is a limit on the amount to be raised under an SPP, a listed entity must now disclose the reason for the limit, and how it was determined. A listed entity will also be required to use all reasonable endeavours to ensure that SPP offer participants have a reasonable opportunity to participate equitably in the overall capital raising.
ASX has clarified that any scale back under SPPs must be applied on a pro rata basis, based on either the size of a participant's holding, or the number of securities applied for.
The changes that clarify or expand the existing temporary extra placement capacity class waiver include the following:
In addition, as noted above, if an entity wishes to rely on either temporary class waiver, ASX has explained that the notice of reliance to be provided by listed entities is not for public release and must:
ASX has also clarified its power to withdraw the class waivers either:
ASX has also stated in its Compliance Update no 04/20 that entities wishing to seek two consecutive trading halts must make this clear in the request (otherwise ASX will only grant a single trading halt of up to two trading days). ASX also expects any request for two consecutive trading halts to state that the trading halt is for the purpose of considering, planning and executing a capital raising.Source: Clayton UTZ