What Are American Depositary Receipts?

The stocks of most foreign companies that trade in the U.S. markets are traded as American Depositary Receipts (“ADRs”).

An ADR is basically a stock that trades in the United States representing a specified number of shares in a foreign corporation. ADRs are traded on US markets just like stock in domestic companies, and are issued and sponsored in the U.S. by a bank or brokerage.

An ADR represents one or more shares of foreign stock or a fraction of a share. If an investor owns an ADR, he or she has the right to obtain the foreign stock it represents.  However, most U.S. investors find it more convenient to own the ADR instead. The trading price of an ADR corresponds to the price of the foreign stock in its home country’s market, which is adjusted to the ratio of the ADRs to foreign company shares.

ADRs were introduced beginning in 1927 to make it easier for US investors to counter the the difficulties involved with purchasing foreign stock trading at different prices and currency values. To counter this inherent difficulty, U.S. banks purchase bulk lots of shares from the foreign company, and bundle the shares into ADRs for trading.

Does the Issued and Outstanding Matter When Selling Restricted Stock Under Rule 144?

Yes, it does.  While drafting a restricted stock opinion using Rule 144, an experienced securities attorney like Matt Stout will review the Issuer’s profile at OTCMarkets.com.   The Company Info tab provides useful information such as the total issued and outstanding shares of common stock, which is essential information for Rule 144.

Under SEC Rule 144, a Shareholder must not own greater than ten (10%) percent of the Company’s issued and outstanding shares any class of stock.  Usually this will refer to common stock–both free trading and restricted stock. This applies to any Issuer, whether it is an OTC Bulletin Board (OTCBB), or an OTC Markets OTCQX, OTCQB, Pink Sheet or even an Issuer listed on a national exchange like NASDAQ or NYSE MKT.

If the Issuer is up to date in its OTC Markets filings, the issued and outstanding shares will be current, as well.   Depending on how recently the Issuer’s Transfer Agent updated its shareholder list, the information may be just a few days old, or it may date to the previous quarter or fiscal year end.

This information is cited in the Rule 144 opinion by securities lawyers since it can help demonstrate that a Shareholder is not an insider or “Affiliate” by virtue of owning more than 10% of the Issuer’s voting stock. If the Shareholder is classified as an Affiliate, there are trading volume limitations on the sale of Affiliate stock.

Shareholder with questions on clearing and selling restricted stock under Rule 144 can contact securities lawyer Matheau J. W. Stout, Esq. at (410) 429-7076 or mstout@otclawyers.com.

What is a Section 4(1) Legal Opinion for the Sale of Restricted Stock?

Shareholders of restricted stock in over-the-counter Issuers soon become familiar with SEC Rule 144 since it is the most popular method by which a securities lawyer can help a Shareholder remove the restrictive legend from their shares.  However, there are some instances when Rule 144 cannot be used.

Rule 144 Holding Period for SEC Reporting Issuers

Rule 144 has a holding period requirement of six (6) months for shares in an SEC Reporting Company like an OTC Bulletin Board, OTCBB, and OTC Markets OTCQB and OTCQX.  This means that a Shareholder must have held the shares for that long before trying to sell under Rule 144.

Rule 144 Holding Period for Pink Sheets

The holding period under Rule 144 for shares in a Non Reporting Company such as an OTC Markets Pink Sheet Issuer is twelve (12) months.   So a Shareholder in a Pink Sheet must have held the shares for a year before using Rule 144 to clear the restricted stock.

Current Public Information Requirement Under Rule 144

Rule 144 also requires that the Issuer of the restricted stock provide “current public information” and this is where many Shareholders in OTC stock are prevented from removing the restrictive legends and selling their restricted stock.

Some companies fall behind in their filings and soon become Pink Sheet No Information (Pink Sheet Stop Sign) on OTC Markets.  This happens when an Issuer is more than a quarter behind in its SEC filings or the posting of its financials and disclosures on OTCMarkets.com.

Section 4(1) Can Be Used to Sell Restricted Stock in Pink Sheet Stop Signs

When an Issuer is a Pink Sheet Stop Sign, Rule 144 cannot be used to sell the restricted stock, even if the Shareholder is a Non Affiliate and the Shares have been held for greater than a year.   This is a problem for many Shareholders because it is difficult to persuade or force an Issuer to become current in its filings, especially in development stage public companies that may have little cash flow.

Holding Period Under Section 4(1)

For Shareholders that have held their restricted stock in a Pink Sheet Stop Sign for at least two (2) years, Section 4(1) may be available where Rule 144 is not.   This is because the elements of a Section 4(1) legal opinion are centered around the identity and role of the Shareholder, rather than the Issuer itself.

Shareholder Must Not Be an Underwriter, Broker or Dealer Under Section 4(1)

If the Shareholder can be shown not to be an Underwriter, or Broker, or Dealer, and if the origin and history of the Shares can be documented, an experienced securities attorney like Matt Stout can draft a Section 4(1) opinion.  These Section 4(1) opinions are often longer and more detailed than a standard Rule 144 opinion because they discuss case law in depth.

As always, the best policy is to provide a securities lawyer with a copy of the Shareholder’s restricted stock certificate, and as much of the underlying documentation as possible, including stock purchase agreement, promissory notes and debt conversion paperwork or consulting agreements, as applicable.

The more detail provided to the securities lawyer, the faster the restricted stock opinion can be researched and drafted, whether that is under Rule 144 or under the provisions of Section 4(1).   Securities lawyer Matheau J. W. Stout can be reached at (410) 429-7076 with questions on clearing restricted stock.

How Do I Remove the Restricted Legend on Rule 144 Stocks?

The first step in removing the restricted legend from a stock certificate under Rule 144 is to contact a qualified securities attorney who has expertise in drafting 144 legal opinions.

Only the Issuer’s Transfer Agent can remove a restrictive legend from the cert, and usually cannot happen unless the Shareholder’s request is accompanied by a Rule 144 opinion letter from securities counsel.  Although the consent of the Issuer is helpful, it is not necessary, especially if the Issuer is uncooperative.

If the securities lawyer drafting the opinion is well known by the Transfer Agent due to having drafted 144 legal opinions many times in the past, and the requirements under SEC Rule 144 have clearly been met, the restricted legend can be removed even over the Issuer’s objection.

According to the SEC, removing the restricted legend can be “a complicated process requiring you to work with an attorney who specializes in securities law” and that is true.  However, for securities attorneys who frequently draft 144 legal opinions, like the Law Office of Matheau J. W. Stout, Esq., the turn around time for such a letter can be as little as one day if all of the shareholder’s documentation is presented at the outset.