In the run-up to Facebook’s initial public offering, which is expected to happen within days, smaller, lesser-known companies are preparing for their own foray onto U.S. stock exchanges as well. Naturally, they are alerting investors in public filings that their small stature and lack of public-company experience can make investing in their stock a risky endeavor. Some are going even further and emphasizing that the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act is itself a risk factor.

Over the past week, at least 13 companies — including HomeTrust Bancshares, Plesk Corp., and LegalZoom.com — have warned investors in their prospectuses filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission that the JOBS Act’s breaks on SEC rules could actually be a turnoff. “We cannot be certain if the reduced disclosure requirements applicable to emerging growth companies will make our common stock less attractive to investors,” reads a statement in boldface type by Cimarron Software in an S-1 form submitted to the SEC yesterday.

The trend may reflect an unintended consequence of the JOBS Act, which lawmakers hope will lead to a more active IPO market, according to Michael Stocker, a partner at law firm Labaton Sucharow, who represents institutional investors. The filings are saying “that because the companies are willing to take advantage of the related standards for disclosures under the JOBS Act, one real risk is that they will be punished by investors, since investors won’t be getting as much information and they may have less confidence in how the companies are doing,” says Stocker.

Indeed, so-called emerging-growth companies — those that take in less than $1 billion a year in revenue — can wait up to five years after their IPO before following all of the rules that larger listed businesses have to follow. They can submit two audited financial statements with the SEC instead of three, they can avoid holding say-on-pay votes, and, most significantly, they are not required to get their auditors’ signoffs on internal controls over financial reporting.

In the new risk-factor disclosures, these companies are mentioning the JOBS Act, which President Obama signed in April, and spell out their exemptions. At the same time, they note that they will lose their emerging-growth status before five years pass if their revenue increases beyond $1 billion, their market cap exceeds $700 billion, or if they issue more than $1 billion in nonconvertible debt. Not all companies preparing for an IPO that qualify as emerging-growth companies have included the law as a risk factor.

However, they may want to consider doing so, according to Thomas J. Murphy, a partner at law firm McDermott Will & Emery who helps companies with their public offerings. “It’s cheap insurance and good disclosure to call out for people places where you differ from other public companies,” he says.

The additional disclosure implies the company using it is trying to be comprehensive. Moreover, the lines of text may help it later on if it runs into trouble. “If an emerging-growth company has a failure of its controls and has to restate its financial statements, the disclosure is going to be a plus when that company defends itself against a lawsuit,” Murphy says. The business can respond by saying, “We warned you that there weren’t auditors looking independently at this.”

The plaintiffs’ bar could have a retort, however, Stocker suggests. “All the disclosure says is that because of the JOBS Act, the company’s stock may not trade as high a volume or [for as] good a price as you may hope,” he says. “It’s not saying because of the JOBS Act you may get a nasty surprise at the end of five years.”

 

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