Are you unknowingly a director or shareholder of a regulated private company? If so, what effect does this have on transactions involving the company’s shares?
The Companies Act, No 71 of 2008 (the new Companies Act) expanded the circumstances in which a private company may be regarded as a regulated company, having the effect that certain provisions of the new Companies Act and the takeover regulations, which would otherwise not be applicable to a private company, are unknowingly applicable to numerous private companies in South Africa. The application of these provisions may have adverse and unforeseen consequences in transactions involving the company’s shares.
In short, a shareholder increasing their shareholding in a regulated company is required to notify the company with each multiple of five percent of the shareholding that it acquires, is required to make a mandatory offer to purchase all remaining shares once its shareholding crosses the prescribed threshold, and may acquire the right to force minorities to sell their shares.
Having a share transaction reversed because the regulatory procedure was not followed, being unknowingly obliged to make a mandatory offer to all shareholders to acquire their shares, or unknowingly becoming a minority shareholder who can be squeezed out of a company, are situations which shareholders may best be advised to avoid. These risks can be amplified in long term share acquisition transactions, such as joint ventures which make use of shareholder earn-in provisions.
Regulated private companies in terms of the Companies Act
A private company becomes a regulated company in terms of the new Companies Act if the company expressly elects to be regarded as a regulated company in the company’s memorandum of incorporation, alternatively, if more than ten percent of the company’s issued securities have been transferred within the previous twenty four months other than by transfer between related or inter related persons.
Therefore, in the event that share transactions have taken place within the previous twenty four months a private company may potentially be classified as a regulated company. Once regarded as a regulated company the takeover regulations becomes applicable and the takeover regulation panel (TRP) becomes responsible for regulating all affected transactions, including any offer to enter into an affected transaction.
Share transactions as affected transactions
The definition of affected transactions insofar as it relates to share transactions include compulsory disclosures on the acquisition of shares amounting to five percent, ten percent, fifteen percent or any further multiple of five percent of the company’s issued shares, mandatory offers requiring any shareholder who acquires enough shares to take its shareholding above thirty five percent of the shares in the company to make an offer to the remaining shareholders to purchase their shares, and compulsory acquisition and squeeze out of minority shareholders.
Affected transactions are further governed by the takeover regulations and regulated by the TRP, meaning that the parties cannot give effect to the share transaction unless the procedures set out in the takeover regulations have been complied with and the TRP has either issued a compliance certificate or granted an exemption for the transaction.
The compulsory disclosure provisions apply to any person who sells or purchases shares in a regulated company and as a result of that acquisition the person holds a beneficial interest amounting to five percent, ten percent, fifteen percent or any further multiple of five percent. The seller or purchaser must notify the company within three business days after the disposal or acquisition of the shares. Once the company has received the disclosure notice the company must file the notice with the TRP.
In addition to the compulsory disclosures a fundamental provision within the new Companies Act is the provision requiring a mandatory offer to all shareholders to acquire their shares in a company if a person acquires shares in a regulated company and as a result of that acquisition the persons shareholding increases from an amount of less than thirty five percent to an amount of thirty five percent or more.
Once this threshold is reached the shareholder is required to give notice to the remaining shareholders offering to acquire any remaining shares and must comply with the takeover regulations.
The mandatory offer provisions are designed to protect minority shareholders, however, the squeeze out provisions may work to the detriment of minority shareholders.
In terms of the squeeze out provisions minorities holding less than ten percent of the issued share capital of a company may be forced to sell their shareholding, or “squeezed out”, should an offer for the acquisition of the entire class of shares of a regulated company be made and that that offer has been accepted by holders of at least ninety percent of that class of securities.
These provisions allow an offeror to acquire the shares of a minority holding less than ten percent of the issued share capital on the same terms and conditions as the shareholders who had accepted the original offer.
A word of caution in share transactions involving private companies
It becomes imperative that before shares in a private company are sold or purchased that it is determined that the private company has not elected to be a regulated company in its memorandum of incorporation and that no more than ten percent of the shares in the company have been transferred in the previous twenty four months. If so the company may be classified as a regulated company, requiring compulsory disclosures to be made with each five percent of the shares acquired, and once the threshold of thirty five percent shareholding is reached requiring a mandatory offer to acquire the remaining shares.
Caution must be taken to ensure that share transactions are structured in such a way to account for the company being classified as a regulated company.
In long term share acquisition transactions, such as joint ventures which make use of shareholder earn-in provisions, care must be taken in the drafting of the applicable contracts and the transaction should be structured to ensure that the intentions of the parties are not eroded should the company become a regulated company after the conclusion of the contracts and that both the rights of the acquiring shareholder is protected with each share tranche acquired, as well as the rights of minorities which may hold less than ten percent of the shares after the implementation of the transaction.