Articles Posted in Securities

Cryptocurrency proponents tout the technology’s potentially “transformative” nature and its position as an arguably more stable store of value when compared with fiat money. [1] Yet SEC Chairman Gary Gensler cautioned crypto investors against an overly rosy view of the technology during a speech at the Penn Law Capital Markets Association Annual Conference this week. Instead, Gensler advocated for investor caution, along with a much broader regulatory and enforcement role for the SEC in cryptocurrency markets. [2]

Before sharing his view of the SEC’s role in crypto markets, Chairman Gensler first compared the technology to that of the dotcom bubble in 2000 and subprime lenders leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. His message: the flurry of attention on crypto and related innovations does little to vouch for its long-term viability or success. Instead, as was borne out in 2000 and again in 2008, cryptocurrency could indeed be a technology destined for failure.

The SEC’s role then, in Gensler’s view, is to protect investors from the potential financial blowback of such a failure. While Gensler lauded the spirit of entrepreneurship common in the United States, he also argued that the SEC should approach crypto regulation in a “technology neutral” way. In so doing, the SEC could carry out their mission to protect investors, facilitate capital formation, and maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, while still allowing crypto markets to flourish.

Peloton Interactive Inc. (“Peloton”) is making headlines this month – but not for the reasons its shareholders might hope. After reaching a peak of $162 per share at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in December 2020, Peloton’s share price now sits at just $27. [1]

While the driving factors behind this downturn are many, the impact of the pandemic is undeniable. As an at-home exercise equipment company with the ability to connect users from their homes across the world via real-time classes, it’s no wonder the company and its stock soared through 2020’s COVID-19 lockdowns. Less clear, as of now, is Peloton’s staying power as consumer demand wanes, leading the company to hire consultants at McKinsey & Co. to review finances and to halt production on several of its models. [2]

In light of Peloton’s precipitous fall, some have turned their attention to massive stock sales undertaken by Peloton insiders before the downturn began. SEC filings from late 2020 and into 2021 show that insiders at Peloton sold approximately $500 million in stock before the price began to plummet. [3]

Last week, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) released its long-awaited report formally debriefing the events that transpired during the January and February 2021 meme stock craze. The 44-page report, titled “Staff Report on Equity and Options Market Structure Conditions in Early 2021” provides SEC staff’s analysis of the mechanisms behind the meme stock phenomenon, ultimately debunking a few theories made popular over social media and other media outlets as the events unfolded.

By way of a brief overview, in January 2021 a group of about 100 stocks experienced monumental price and trading volume fluctuations. These stocks, many of which were consumer-centered companies with high brand awareness, gained rapid attention over social media platforms like Reddit and YouTube.

While the SEC’s report addresses the events and impacts of the meme stock phenomenon broadly, it focuses the bulk of its analysis around GameStop Corp (“GME”), arguably the most famous of the meme stocks.

In an order issued on September 24th, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) settled with Thomas Powell, Stefan Toth, and two entities they owned, Homebound Resources LLC (“Homebound”) and Resolute Capital Partners LTD LLC (“RCP”) on several charges of investment and securities fraud relating to oil and gas securities offerings. [1]

The SEC’s order concerns a period of time from 2016 through 2019, during which the SEC alleged that respondents made material misrepresentations and omissions about their oil and gas securities offerings. [1] The order states that neither Powell nor Toth were registered nor even associated with a registered broker-dealer during the relevant time period as they sold unregistered securities to investors. [2]

RCP is described as a private equity firm that “gives smart investors access to beyond-Wall Street assets, such as oil and gas wells” by creating, and then offering, oil and gas debt and equity investment vehicles for oil and gas wells. [2] In so doing, RCP relies on Homebound to identify and purchase these oil and gas wells. [2] During the relevant time period, Thomas Powell owned RCP while Stefan Toth owned and managed Homebound. [2]

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ponzi schemes have continued to pose a serious threat to unsuspecting investors here in Florida and around the world. On August 9, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a complaint in federal court against Johanna Garcia, of Broward County, and two companies she owns, MJ Capital Funding, LLC and MJ Taxes and More, for an alleged Ponzi scheme. [1]

The complaint alleges that Garcia has been operating a Ponzi scheme in which she has taken upwards of $70 million from over 2,000 investors under the guise that the investments funded Merchant Cash Advances (MCAs) for small businesses in need. Instead, the complaint alleges, the investments are being used in a “classic Ponzi scheme fashion” not to fund MCAs, but to pay the “returns” of investors before them. [2]

While MJ Taxes has been in existence since 2016, MJ Capital Funding was formed in June 2020, after the COVID-19 pandemic had already taken hold. From June until October 2020, MJ Taxes solicited six-month investments which typically promised a 10% monthly return, extrapolated out to substantial 120% annual returns. MJ Capital took over in October 2020, continuing to advertise as a source for MCAs while promising investors large and consistent returns.

Should a Special Purpose Acquisition Company (“SPAC”) be classified as an investment company? This is the question currently plaguing the SPAC industry, creating a divisive split between a long list of America’s biggest law firms on one side, and two preeminent securities law professors interested in investor protection on the other.

Robert Jackson, a professor at NYU School of Law and former SEC Commissioner, and John Morley, a Yale Law School professor, recently filed three suits against high-profiles SPACs in New York federal court. The suits argue that each SPAC is operating as an unregistered investment company, and under the Investment Company Act of 1940 (the “Act”), compensation paid to the SPAC’s sponsors and directors was illegal and void under the Act. However, in the decades-long history of SPACs, these entities have never been classified as investment companies under the Act, nor has the SEC purported that they should.

At the center of this debate lie two secondary, though potentially even more important, questions: what is a SPAC, and what is a SPAC’s primary purpose? The answer to these questions determines whether SPACs should indeed be classified as investment companies under the Act, as Jackson and Morley contend, or whether SPACs may continue to operate independently of the Act, as the SPAC industry and a wide coalition of law firms believe.

The recent announcement of securities fraud charges against Trevor Milton, the former CEO of Nikola Corporation, may prove to be the first in a line of similar cases involving electric vehicle (“EV”) companies, and more broadly, companies that go public via SPACs. This situation highlights the importance of careful investment decision making, particularly in the EV and other rapidly growing, highly complex industries.

At the heart of the civil and criminal complaints against Nikola are allegations that as its CEO, Trevor Milton, regularly spread false and misleading information about the progress of Nikola’s EV products and technologies. Nikola’s focus is on manufacturing low- and zero-emissions trucks, and the complaints allege in part that under Milton, Nikola published a promotional video of a prototype truck which did not actually work, but appeared to only because the truck was set in neutral and rolled down a hill.  [1]

Promotional videos like that one, along with Milton’s enthusiastic social media posts and numerous podcast and television appearances, all painted a picture of exciting and impressive forward progress at Nikola, which Federal prosecutors and SEC regulators allege was nothing more than an illusion. [2]

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